Portraits: Exceptional and empowered
There are many people who have done exceptionally well in different fields despite having a disability, and sometimes one that is considered necessary to do well in the field they have excelled in. The tales of such people is truly inspiring for everyone and shows that courage and determination can be used to overcome any hurdle.
Let us celebrate the achievements of some of these remarkable men and women.
Stephen Hawking: The most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein, Stephen Hawking is the Isaac Newton Professor of Mathematics of the University of Cambridge and his big bang and black hole theories made the world rewrite science books.
When Hawking was 21, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, a motor neurone disease which made him unable to walk, talk, breathe easy, swallow and hold up his head. The doctors predicted that he would not live more than two years — in January this year this genius celebrated his 70th birthday!
Paralysed, he communicates through a speech generating device. His remarkable research is compiled in his famous book A Brief History of Time.
Thomas Alva Edison: Thomas Alva Edison is considered as the greatest inventor of all time, who has more than a thousand patents to his name, these include the light bulb, and he developed the telegraph system. However, as a child he was hardly a remarkable student because he had a learning disability that made him inattentive in class, and the problem was further intensified when he developed hearing problem after an illness.
He only leant to read after he was 12 and due to numerous complains from his teachers, he was home-schooled and his intelligence and inventive qualities bloomed after an initially slow start. He was also a good businessman who knew how to market what he invented.
Albert Einstein: The father of modern science, Einstein was a theoretical physicist who developed the general theory of relativity. But it is said that he too had a learning disability due to which he started speaking when he was four and he was not good at expressing himself through writing too.
Helen Keller: When Helen Keller was two, she fell ill and lost her sight and hearing, and thus became mute too. With the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, Keller leant to communicate, and Keller became the first person with hearing, speaking and visual disabilities to graduate from college, in 1904. She went on to become an author, political activist and lecturer.
Keller was well-travelled and an outspoken opponent of war. She campaigned for women’s suffrage, workers’ rights, and socialism, as well as many other causes. She earned worldwide fame and respect due to her accomplishments.
Ludwig van Beethoven: One of the greatest composer and musician the world has ever produced, Beethoven created outstanding compositions even after he started losing his hearing around the age of 26. Beethoven’s finest works are also among the best of their kind in music history: the 9th Symphony, the 5th Piano Concerto, the Violin Concerto, the Late Quartets, and Missa Solemnis.
His friends wrote in his ‘conversation books’ in order to communicate with him and he responded either orally or by writing in the book.
Marla Runyan: Runyan developed Stargardt’s Disease, which causes macular degeneration, and became legally blind. But the this American prolific runner had a lot of mental strength that led her to win four gold medals in the 1992 summer Paralympics, a silver in the shot put and gold in the Pentathlon at 1996 Paralympics; and in 2000 she became the first legally blind paralympian to compete in the Olympic Games in Sydney.
Tanni Grey-Thompson: Tanni Grey is a famous Paralympics athlete who has won an unparalleled 11 Paralympic golds, set 30 world records and won six London Marathons. She was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair and since retiring from sports, she has become a campaigning politician and is also a television presenter.
Her international sporting career began with a bronze medal in the 400m at Seoul, in 1988. She also competed in wheelchair basketball and she appeared for the last times at the Athens Paralympic Games (2004) where she won two gold medals in wheelchair racing in the 100m and 400m.— Ahzam Ahmed