Blind state lawmaker 1st Iranian-American elected in U.S.

SEATTLE -- One of the newest members of the state Legislature has a unique view on immigrant issues.

Rep. Cyrus Habib's parents were born in Iran, and moved to the U.S. in the 70s. He is the first Iranian-American elected to state office in the entire country, and that's not his most distinguishing trait.

Like every freshman representative, Habib is learning his way around the Capitol, getting acquainted with the many staircases and the shortcuts. But there is a twist in his learning curve.

"I lost my eyesight to a fairly rare form of childhood cancer, so I was totally blind by the time I was 8 years old," said Habib, the first blind legislator in Washington state for perhaps a century.

He represents the technology-driven Eastside -- including Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland, where he campaigned on a platform of funding higher education and growing small business -- by door-knocking, personally walking up to seven thousand homes.

"A lot of times, they thought I was coming for community services for the blind when I knocked on the door. I had one person say they were about to go and collect all their clothes to contribute. So it was funny when I had to tell them, 'No, I'm here for another reason,'" he said.

Habib is used to the confusion his blindness can cause, and says he enjoys teaching people how he emails, sends text messages, and reads house bills.

His ears are tuned to understand what sounds like speed-reading on steroids to the rest of us. It is one of many advances in technology that help Habib achieve a belief his parents instilled in him -- that losing his eyesight would never hold him back.

"My story is of a person who was given opportunity despite a very challenging set of life circumstances. I was given the opportunity to work hard. I did work hard. And I want every Washingtonian to get that same opportunity," he said.

Habib says another blind lawmaker represented the state of Washington exactly 100 years ago, in 1913.