Going Blind & Catching Up with PEACE MCALLISTER:
An Interview with PETER D’ELIA
November 23rd, 2022
Outreach Coordinator of A Closer Look Inc., Peace McAllister, continues Andrea Yu’s series of interviews with characters from Going Blind (2010) to figure out where they are now in their sight-loss journeys.
Peace spoke with Peter D’Elia and his wife Peg Rinaldi, following his 100th birthday.
To listen to the interview, use the video player below. A transcript of the interview follows. To view the film, Going Blind, click here.
PEACE MCALLISTER: Hi, my name is Peace McAllister. I’m the Outreach Coordinator for Going Blind and Going Forward, an outreach campaign based on the film Going Blind: Coming out of the Dark about Vision Loss. In the film, we tell the personal stories of seven individuals dealing with vision loss. But, today we’re specifically trying to catch up with Peter D’Elia, a then 85 year old Jersey architect dealing with age-related macular degeneration. Peter recently celebrated his 100th birthday, and with this accomplishment we thought it worthwhile to catch up with him and hear about his experiences in life and with his vision since the film. Speaking of the film, if you haven’t watched it yet, you should definitely watch it before this video as this is a follow up video. The film provides so much important context to the lives of individuals living with vision loss outside of just Peter and I think it is definitely worthwhile to pursue before getting into interviews like these. Anyway, here’s the interview.
PM: Today here we have Peg Rinaldi as well as Peter D’Elia. Who were both featured in Going Blind: Coming out of the Dark about Vision Loss. And here we’re trying to follow up and see what’s been going with both of them since the film was made. So, it’s nice to have you, also Peter congratulations on your 100th birthday.
PEG RINALDI: Thank you!
PM: I was curious; I know in the film there is a point in time where you have a procedure that gives you a lot of your vision back. I’m curious from the film until now, how much more vision you’ve lost if any?
PETER D’ELIA: What’s happened is I’ve lost reading. I can’t read, that’s the only thing that I’ve lost. But distance is fine, I can see in the distance. And my right eye is the same as it always has been. That’s where we found out the problem was, it was my right eye. And they’ve done a beautiful job in keeping my vision so I can see. It happened just like that, I couldn’t read anymore. So, they went and had new glasses made and I had to bring the glasses to a book or a newspaper, that high, all it did was put pressure on my eye and I don’t use it at all.
PM: From the years that have passed, you could say that most the vision loss you have experienced or the effects to your vision that you’ve experienced are mostly based on the actual…on AMD itself rather than aging? Because I think a lot of times, you know, it can be confusing whether or not some of the afflictions you’re having are due to just like natural aging processes or AMD itself, but it seems like you’re saying you’ve been doing pretty well.
PD: Well the injections are working on me all the time. It’s preserving the fact that I can see distance and all and that I don’t get macular degeneration again in this left eye, they’re really taking care of it. That also happened for the New York doctor at the eye and ear hospital, he’s the one that really did the first time of giving me a shot and scared the hell out of me for a minute because of when they put that needle into you, but you never feel it. They do a beautiful job.
PM: Yeah it does seem definitely scary, I remember watching parts of the film that have the medical procedure and always wincing a little bit because I don’t know if I can do that. Do you feel like since the past fifteen years have passed do you feel like the medical treatment has gotten better or do you feel like it’s about the same?
PD: Well I will tell you that it’s about the same. It hasn’t changed, I mean the vision is good and all that, the only thing as I said, I can’t read, that’s all. That happened just overnight, just like that. I was reading real well and one day I got a book got to read and I couldn’t see a damn thing.
PM: And has the treatment gotten better like the doctors, do you feel like the medical procedures have increased in effectiveness?
PD: I did ask the doctors why, “Why did my reading go?” And there was no explanation why. They couldn’t…and no one told me why. It’s surprising, I hope that I am the first one that this has happened to. So maybe you should do a survey on has this affected someone else besides Peter?
PM: That’d be a good question for sure, do you think that there’s a chance that it may come back? Because I know Joe with his glaucoma there are days where has some sight loss that goes back and forth with days where he feels like he can do some things and days where he can’t. Do you think there’s a chance that your reading ability will come back?
PD: I would hope so.
PR: But it hasn’t happened yet though has it?
PD: No. You know they have three things, you know when you hold it in your hand and read it’s pretty hard to do because you only get a certain amount of reading out of it. You know I have another one which is larger. It’s plastic not glass and when you bring it close or away from me, it’s still very difficult to understand what it’s all about. And I was a damn good reader, I used to read two or three books at a time. And I can’t even read a scale, as an architect, I can’t even read the scale that’s there anymore.
PM: Well that brings up something…that brings up two questions for me. Are you still working as an architect?
PD: No, those days are gone forever. But, I had close to sixty seventy years of it. So, I enjoyed every bit of it.
PM: That’s wild. I think it’s amazing determination that you show in the film and also the willingness to work through the things that you were experiencing to be able to continue working as an architect through the course of losing your vision, I thought that was really inspiring.
PR: He’s very willing to give his advice on projects though![Laughs]
PM: The passion never leaves!
PM: You’ve talked about how much of an avid reader you were, do you feel like, and you also talk about in the film how you were feeling frustrated at the time…has that frustration…are you still feeling frustrated and a little anxious about the fact that you’ve lost so much vision or that you were losing so much vision at the time or do you feel like that frustration and anxiety has subsided?
PD: It’s just accepting that these things are happening, you know? And, one day I’d like to why it happens. That’s the only thing I’d like to know. No one out there ever explains to me why, and I guess they don’t know why either, or else they would tell me.
PR: I think in their own way they have described it to you, but you didn’t wanna hear it.
PD: Maybe not. [laughs] That could be true.
PM: Maybe the doctors have a little bit of separation there, maybe its just like a lack of the ability to translate which is unfortunate… Peg I had a question for you, watching your husband lose vision, I’m curious how you had to cope with that and how you’re currently coping with that and what advice you might have for partners helping people who are losing their vision
PR: It’s very disturbing because he was such an avid reader and now he cant even read the newspaper anymore and he always enjoyed that in the morning. And its happened so slowly over the years .Some days it be very frustrating to me because I can’t tell him to sit down and read a book or something, but you have to have a lot of patience and understanding what he’s going through
PM: What about you, how have you dealt with that?
PR: I’ve tried all different ways and brought him to different places like the Lighthouse and places into Boston, New England school of optometry, I’ve just tried working with him over it and understanding what he’s going through.
PD: If you could just give me something where I could sit down and read the book, I’d be so happy. I hate television because there’s too darn many commercials. So I don’t look at television too much, maybe the news or a sports program. But, still television isn’t what makes me happy, sitting down reading a book and not bothering anyone, sitting in a corner and doing things.
PM: Have you tried audio books have you used any audio books before?
PD: Funny, you’re the second person that’s told me that. And they said why don’t you try it Peter. I never tried it…maybe someday I’ll try it.
PM: Yeah it can be relaxing, a lot for seeing people use it like a way to pass time like on their way to work or like even sometimes at the gym, but even laying down or sitting down listening to an audio book if there is something you really wanna read or hear be read, it can be like a nice experience. Especially some like narrative audio books have like character voices so people will voice act the characters they’re speaking as which can add a whole new dimension to whatever book you’re reading.
PR: He wears two hearing aids and I think he’s wondering how we’d be able to hear. But if you have some decent ear pieces, I’m sure it would work.
PM: Or you could play it aloud, like if you have your hearing aids in you could play it aloud from your computer with the volume up, I think that’d probably work.
PR: Oh, okay; I didn’t think of that.
PD: I might try it just to prove to myself that I was wrong and not accepting.[Laughs]
PD: Might be a good idea. You’re not the first one to tell me that.
PM: Speaking of audio books, that’d be a great example of potential things you’ve used to help you get past with your vision loss. Like obviously in the film there are people with seeing eye dogs, people walking with canes which Joe uses now, he uses a cane when he goes out. And then there’s JAWS which was the program that people used to read their computer to them, I was curious if you have any programs or pieces of equipment that help you with your vision loss.
PR: No he doesn’t; I’ve never heard of that: JAWS.
PM: Yeah it’s a program that some people have for their computer for the text on their computer to be read aloud to them and has probably gone through multiple iterations since the film came out but I know that I got an email from someone the other day who was using it when we were giving out Going Blind for World Sight Day. Have you ever considered…is there anything that you might want to use or anything that interests you besides JAWS, that you’re interested in using to help you with your vision loss?
PD: Oh anything! If anyone can come up with a way for me to use something to read, I’d be so happy. I mean, that surprises me too, I’m not the first one this has happened to, it has probably happened to many many people years ago. You’d think that someone would’ve come up with something really really good. Maybe they will.
PM: I had another question, that I just thought of but I think I lost it… Oh! I was curious if you felt like overtime, things have changed technologically. How you feel technology has changed to benefit people suffering from low vision or people whore blind
PD: Well, it’s hard to say what they’ve done in the time that was important.
PR: There have been so many devices…
PD: I’ve seen these whole large, big glass …its pretty frustrating I think to go back and forth like this.
PR: They also have the large machines that almost…
PR: Since he’s not computer savvy even with the keyboard, he backs away from them. But…
PD: There have been quite a lot of things but they haven’t hit it yet. Some day they will…
PR: As far as Peter’s concerned.
PD: I’m hoping they will because if you lost your sight, its sad, and its sad… Peggy has to write a check for me because I can’t see what the hell I’m writing. And newspaper, I’ll get the newspaper, “What does this say?” I mean, its sad that I can’t find out for myself.
PR: Frustrating. You know, I’m sure overall all these new devices that have come out overtime since the film that have helped a tremendous amount of people who are maybe younger who are trying to do things and know their keyboard an all that.
PD: Just like the program that Joe did, Going Blind, so many things have they talked about on there that is true and what they’ve done with it. I think he’s done a beautiful job with what he’s been doing and should continue to do what he is doing. I had an aunt who had glaucoma and she was walking on the sidewalk and was killed by a car backing out of the driveway, she didn’t see this car at all. So, I mean these are things that we have to try and help them do. So you can tell Joe that he does a beautiful job…you do a beautiful job.
PM: Thank you. Yeah, I think that an effort should definitely be made because obviously there are a lot of technological advancements but an effort should definitely be made to make it more accessible to people who don’t have the experience with that technology. Right now, it’s kind of isolated.
PD: Well, I’m 100 years old. My back is out, my ears are out, my eyes out, but my heart is still going.. The doctors are doing a good job.
PM: You’ve got the heart of a warrior, you should that when you were doing architecture into your 80s.
PD: Peace, they’ve done a good job for me. They had a Americans of all ages do a beautiful job appreciating my services oversees in World War II, was aboard the USS Constitution which is the oldest ship inn the navy, which I was on and they gave me big medals and all of that. And people wherever I go, in the restaurant, they buy me drinks and send things to give me a meal. It’s so nice that people respect us.
PM: I’m gonna ask you the last question I have, which is kind of a big one, so take your time answering it. I’m just curious throughout this whole journey of vision loss as a partnership and as individual people what you’ve learned?
PD: I guess, to accept these things that’s happening. I’m hoping that someday they’ll come out with the right thing for me, that’s all. It’s not their fault that I’m going blind, it just happened. But, I’m hoping that they come up with something for other people, I’m in the last stages of my life, I’ve had a wonderful life, I can’t complain. I’ve done a lot of reading a lot of drawing. I left a legacy behind me, Joe also, that my children have seen and other people have seen. I met beautiful people too because of architecture: what I did. I hope that somewhere along the line, they come up with something good. They will, it’s gonna come. Someday.
PR: I have learned that there are so many wonderful people out there in respect to the way Peter has been treated in respect to his work and the appreciation. Sometimes you just look at a house and say “That’s the way I wanted it.” But they just appreciated everything he’d done for them. And quite often re-wanted him when it was finished. And the way that he has spent the past year celebrating his birthday has been amazing again with the people that have approached him and been apart of has been wonderful. Seeing him be appreciated has been wonderful.
PD: Yeah, it’s been a good life. Can’t complain; can’t complain.
PR: I appreciate the fact that we are still together at this age and as you said, have been able to experience this together and appreciate it and the love that’s out there has been wonderful. Doctors have commented on it and even in the hospital yesterday one of the nurses said “I saw you on TV.” Everybody just appreciates everything. So, it’s been a good run as Peter says.
PD: In life I met some very very nice people. And as far as I’m concerned you and Joe have done a good job. Thank you for this and I certainly hope I can give you better news…
PM: Guys this was amazing, I really thank you for the call! I really appreciate you making the time for me and being able to give me your perspective.
PD: When you think about it, I could’ve gone downstairs and put a house…one of the houses…[Laughs]
PR: Maybe he’ll take a ride out someday!
PM: We can always have a follow up call, this doesn’t have to be the only time. Well it was nice talking to you guys, the meetings about to end so I’m going to say my goodbyes now. If there’s anything you’d like to say to the people who may be watching this video.. you can say it in the next..right now!
PD: There’s nothing I can say, I’m very emotional.
PR: Very emotional right now.
PD: I hope it helps people, whatever you’re doing. That’s all I care.
PM: Thank you both.
PR: Thank you.
PM: I’ll talk to you guys later.
PM: I hope you enjoyed the interview. Peter wasn’t the first and won’t be the last person we catch up with. To listen to the others, you should check out goingbindmovie.com. There we have other interviews and information on how to become part of the Going Blind outreach. Going Blind is only one of multiple films by A Closer Look, Inc. a non-profit organization that works to minimize suffering, maximize empathy and inspire action on health and social justice issues through the use of media. To help us fulfill our mission and to hear more of the varied stories we tell, you should check out some of our other films too. Thanks for watching and I hope to see you again soon!