Remembering Dmitri (Doug) Belser

The city of Berkeley is mourning the loss of Dmitri Belser. He died April 22, 3 months after being diagnosed with cancer. He was 63.

Belser — who was known as Doug Belser when he grew up in Westport — was legally blind, due to macular degeneration. A leader in the disability rights movement, he helped create the Ed Roberts Campus. It includes offices for independent living organizations, accessible meeting rooms, a computer/media resource center, fitness center, café and child development center. Belser served 2 terms as ERC president.

For more than 20 years, he was also was executive director of the Center for Accessible Technology.

Dmitri (Doug) Belser (Photo credit Tom White)

Previously he worked as a sign language interpreter and coordinator of deaf student services at San  Francisco State University, and manager of Pacific Bell’s Deaf and Disabled Service Center.

Belser and his husband, Tom White, renovated 10 century-old houses in Berkeley. They saved several from demolition.

Belser was a member of Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, and chair of the Commission on Disabilities.

He also restored cars, including a 1939 and ’50 DeSoto, ’57 and ’67 Volkswagens, and a ’63 VW van.

Belser always loved cars. After graduating a semester early from Staples High School — in January of 1976 — he and fellow grad Diane Stapkowski drove a VW Bug he had rebuilt to San Francisco.

The vehicle was named Gerry — in honor of Staples English teacher Gerry Kuroghlian.

After that adventure, Belser went to Hampshire College. He met White there.

In 1985 the couple adopted a baby girl, Talia. Open adoption was rare at the time, reports Berkeleyside. Belser, White and the girl’s birth mother remained friends until his death.

Four years later, Belser and White adopted 5-month-0ld Sebastian.

The partners had a civil union in Vermont in 2001, a marriage ceremony in Vancouver, Canada in 2005, and a legal US marriage in Oakland in 2008.

Describing his vision loss (he called himself “hard of seeing”), Belser said:

I’m used to who I am and the kind of vision I have. [Without vision difficulties] I wouldn’t be me. The experience I’ve had being an outsider, living a different kind of life, has helped make me the person I am now. What I’ve gotten from having vision loss is, I think, bigger than what I’ve lost by it.

Two days before he died, a Berkeley City Council proclamation expressed “our sincere appreciation for his many contributions to the city and its residents.”

Staples Class of 1976 graduate Tim Garvin remembers Belser as “a wonderful, inventive, creative person.”

In addition to his husband and children, he is survived by his mother Charlotte (who was active in planning and zoning affairs in Westport); sisters Stephanie and Ann; brother Mark; 3 nephews and 1 niece.

Contributions in his name can be made to CforAT, with “EBSHC” in the memo line, and sent to EBSHC, c/o  Center for Accessible Technology, 3075 Adeline Street, Suite 220, Berkeley, CA 94703.

(Click here for the full Berkeleyside obituary. Hat tip: Barbara Sherburne)

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