Burleson man ‘blessed’ despite losing sight
You may have seen Chad Duncan standing at different street corners in Burleson holding up a sign that says, ‘everybody love everybody.’ Duncan bravely spends a few hours each week doing this even though he is blind. However, since going blind, Duncan said he has been blessed with many opportunities, including telling his story on the popular podcast, “Risk.”
Duncan was married to a loving spouse and had a fulfilling career in education when he suddenly lost his sight. Though he is now completely blind, the Burleson man has had many special opportunities presented to him that he did not have when he was a sighted person.
“It was February 2011 and I lost my sight overnight,” Duncan said. “I didn’t know I had a ticking time-bomb. It was genetics.”
Choroideremia is a disease that affects the cornea and is characterized by progressive vision loss. The disease mainly affects males and is estimated to affect one in 50,000 to 100,000 people.
Duncan first noticed something was wrong when he was looking at a brand-new cellphone and the screen looked smeared. He asked his wife to look at the phone, who said it looked fine.
“We had just booked the trip of a lifetime - Italy, Greece, and Egypt,” Duncan said. “When I woke up the next morning I kept seeing these flashes and the flashes wouldn’t stop.”
An ophthalmologist did not quell Duncan’s fears when the doctor said that he had only seen three cases since medical school.
Duncan worked in alternative education for BISD at the time with students who, in his words, have the most difficulties to overcome.
“These were the kids who would yell and throw things,” he said. “But my goal was to make them feel safe and de-escalate the situation.”
However, when his sight started to fail him, Duncan had some choices to make. He continued on in an advisory role while also working with students, along with a teacher’s aide.
“My principal was very supportive. He said, ‘You exude calm,’ but I didn’t feel calm. I had these flashes going everywhere and I felt like I was being smothered,” Duncan said.
One day, Duncan heard a loud noise but couldn’t see what had happened. A student had to be restrained and while doing some paperwork, Duncan’s TA said a student tried to throw a chair at him.
“My TA caught the chair,” Duncan said. “I thought if I couldn’t make it safe for the other students and protect them, they needed to get someone else.”
Duncan said while he has never experienced clinical depression, a dark cloud came over him and he was filled with grief and mourning over the loss of his sight. While friends and family offered to help, Duncan felt isolated. Watching TV wasn’t an option. That’s when Duncan discovered podcasts. Podcasts are a bit like a news story you’d hear on National Public Radio, but longer. There are thousands of different podcasts and different genres covering anything from interesting history, medical news and cuisine. Duncan was particularly drawn to a show called Risk, in which individuals would tell stories about their lives that they never thought they would share.
“These people would go up on stage and talk about tremendously difficult or hilarious things they had experienced, and there was usually a resilience to their story,” Duncan said.
During this early period of his blindness, Duncan went back to school and got his masters degree in social work.
“Once you’ve achieved that, you’ve reached the pinnacle of being a social worker,” he said. “You get your Willy Wonka card, you should be able to find any job.”
But it wasn’t that way for Duncan. Instead, Duncan filled his time by volunteering. At the time, he was volunteering at Safe Haven of Tarrant County, a nonprofit for victims of domestic violence. An intern asked him what he did in his spare time.
“I said I listened to podcasts,” he said. “I told her my favorite was Risk and why I really liked it.”
Later, the intern came by and told Duncan that the show was coming to Dallas for a live taping and suggested that he pitch the story to the producers.
While in the early stage of his blindness, Duncan and his wife still took their once in a lifetime trip to Egypt, where he did something risky even for a sighted person. Duncan borrowed a friend’s recording studio and for the first time, told this his “risky” story to someone besides his wife.
“It was something I never thought I would do,” Duncan said. “I told my wife after the event took place and I got back on the riverboat, ‘We can’t tell anyone what I just did because I don’t know how people will react back in the states.’”
The Star is withholding the event that transpired from the story because Risk loved Duncan’s story so much, they asked him to come to a live show in Dallas and tell the story. His story will also be made into print form in Risk’s first book, which goes by the same title of the show, and is set to be released on July 17.
Duncan debuted his story for the live show of Risk on Valentines Day 2016. For the live taping, Duncan chose to bring his guide dog, Perry.
“I fumbled over the story once, but the producers had told me to just be myself and authentic,” he said. “After I told the story, I had to get off stage and I was just swimming in my own head. I had to trust Perry but he didn’t let me down.”
Kevin Allison, the creator of Risk loved Duncan’s story so much, he asked Duncan to speak at the show’s largest show in Chicago held at Lincoln Hall, and also participate in a book taping. That will be held on October 10.
“This one, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get through it,” he said. “The story I’m going to tell is about my guide dog. When you have a guide dog, you can’t ever anticipate what that is like. I’ve never shared what happened during this event, which transpired on April 14.”
Duncan is currently working with one of Risk’s story instructors to help him refine the edges of his stories.
“I’m not a story-teller, and they wanted to help me work out the details,” he said. “They want it to be very relaxed and like you are speaking with a friend over coffee or a beer. You’re just sharing part of your heart.”
Duncan had just finished up walk with Perry and was headed back home. The walk back required crossing a busy street. Duncan could feel Perry looking at the traffic, back and forth.
“He’s looking off to the right but I don’t hear anything,” Duncan said. “I was tired, it was hot. I’m like, ok let’s go. Sometimes you have to ‘jump-start’ your guide dog and take that first step to get them going. I took half a step and Perry didn’t budge. I heard a thud and bump of tires right in the middle of the intersection of a car I didn’t hear, and Perry had seen it. He was looking right up at me making sure I wouldn’t walk forward.”
While Duncan was experiencing success as a podcast story-teller, he was also successful in landing a job at Safe Haven, where he had been volunteering. He’s currently a crisis services coordinator and has been working for Safe Haven since 2015. He answers a hotline and helps families that are experiencing violence to get them to a pick-up location and implement a safety plan.
“It’s an amazing experience to take someone who has been in danger to get them to safety,” he said. “They never know that I am blind. I’m just a faceless voice, but I can help them. I can hear the fear in their voice. I can do all these things because now that I’m blind it only makes sense that I’m using the senses I do have at their most.”
Recently, Duncan was inspired by the ‘everybody love everybody’ campaign. The movement was first started by Chris Bailey, a resident of Trophy Club, after the shooting and death of five Dallas Police officers on July 7, 2016. Bailey walked around the area in downtown Dallas where the officers were shot holding up a sign that said ‘everybody love everybody.’ The event resonated with Duncan.
“He just wanted to spread some love,” Duncan said. “I wanted to bring the same message to Burleson.”
Duncan can be seen on various corners of Burleson holding up his own ‘everybody love everybody’ sign a few days a week. He said the positive reaction he has received from people has been heartwarming.
“People will get out of their cars and want to give me a hug. If a blind man is holding a sign up and it’s creating such a positive feeling that people need to stop and just hug and hear words of affirmation, it’s nothing I’ll regret doing. It’s making a difference.”