Editor’s note: This article is a part of series that tells the story behind photographs from Newsday’s archives.
Most people dread having to get their photo taken at the DMV, but for Curtis Long, it was one of his most prized achievements.
Long was born legally blind and became one of the first visually impaired people in the state to earn a driver’s license with corrected vision while he was living in Amityville in 1976. The feat landed Long in the news, including in a story in Newsday.
His determination to drive has served as a source of motivation for his son, Curtis Long Jr., who was a year old and went by the nickname “Curty” at the time Newsday snapped a photo of his father beaming behind the wheel in March 1976.
Forty years later, Curtis Long Jr.’s leg sports a tattoo of the photo of his father, keeping alive the memory of the man who inspires him to appreciate what he has.
“He never expected to be able to do stuff like that,” said the younger Long, who is now a 41-year-old personal trainer in White Plains. “He really appreciated the gift of being able to drive.”
Curtis Long was born legally blind, he told Newsday in the 1976 interview. Growing up in Pelham, he thought little about his sight as he played with friends; learned to play the piano, saxophone and clarinet; and became a varsity athlete.
“I never gave much thought to my handicap until I was older and my friends began learning to drive,” he said.
Manoris Long, his wife, who also now lives in White Plains, said she remembers the frustration her husband felt while struggling to find transportation to work as an adult. He worked at Doubleday Publishing for several years and had held previous jobs as a piano tuner and professional musician.
He wore contact lenses that improved his vision to the level of a severely nearsighted person, but it wasn’t enough to allow him to drive, Manoris Long said.
In 1975, he was offered the opportunity to work with the National Institute for Rehabilitation Engineering, a nonprofit in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, to help get him behind the wheel.
Long had about 10 sessions of going to the doctor and driving with him, Manoris Long, 72, said.
The institute gave Long a special set of glasses with a small outer telescopic lens that allowed him to view details on the road. He would switch his focus between the plain glass lenses and telescopic glass to read road signs and markings. He used a special extended rear view mirror to see around the car.
“He was a very good driver,” Manoris Long said. “We went everywhere.”
Long drove to visit family in Westchester. He drove to the Catskills. At one point, he drove a commute of more than an hour to work. His wife was never afraid with him behind the wheel, and her husband would even take Curty out for drives, she said.
One of his favorite memories was taking his son to a Yankees game, the Long family said. Curtis Long Jr. said he was about 7 or 8 at the time and he sat in the front seat, reading out signs and exit numbers on the highway on the way to the stadium.
“He said, ‘Curty, you have to help daddy with the directions,’ ” Manoris said. “He said that was one of the greatest experiences of his life, taking his son to a Yankees games.”
But in 2004, New York State changed its license requirements, leading Long into a dispute with officials about whether he could safely drive, despite his pristine driving record, his family said. Curtis Long lost his license, and he was devastated, his family said.
“They took his license away for no reason of his own doing, and that hurt him pretty badly,” Curtis Long Jr. said. “His whole demeanor changed. He felt like it was something he worked so hard to get.”
He kept fighting to get his license back until his death, Manoris said.
Long died of cancer on Dec. 6, 2008.
Though Long never regained his driver’s license, his story continues to inspire his son. Sometimes his father’s story is the extra push his clients need to make it through a difficult workout, and other times it motivates Curtis Long Jr. himself to take a risk or try something new.
“The experience of my dad driving has transformed who I am,” Long said. “I know there’s no limits to what I can do.”