Did you know that Homer, the ancient Greek writer of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” was blind or that the typewriter was invented as a private writing device for a blind member of a royal family? I, myself had no idea, but they say that you learn something new every day. Here are some other bits of information that I’ve learned today…
Did you know that King George III (1783-1820) the ruler of England during the time of the American Revolution, took the throne in 1760, and had repeated bouts of mental illness during his reign? He was removed from power after an extended metal breakdown, in 1811 by his son George IV.
Did you know that in 1784, after seeing a group of blind men being cruelly exhibited in a Paris sideshow, Valentin Huay, known as the “father and apostle of the blind,” established the Institution for Blind Children to help make life for the blind more “tolerable”? Huay also discovered that sightless persons could read texts printed with raised letters.
Did you know that in 1776, when Stephen Hopkins signed the U.S. Declaration of Independence, that he was referring to his Cerebral Palsy when he said, “My hands may tremble, but my heart does not.”
Did you know that Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard established the methods used today in the education of the mentally disabled through his controversial work with Victor, the “wild boy of Aveyron” in 1801?
Did you know that a blind Frenchman named Louis Braille developed the idea, of reading using a series of patterned raised dots assigned to each alphabet and other symbols? His idea built upon a rejected idea for military code and ‘Braille’ was put into practice in 1825. Louis Braille also attended the Paris Blind School, which was originated by Valentin Huay.
Did you know that the French Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), developed Rheumatoid Arthritis late in life and required a wheelchair to get around the last few years of his life. In order to continue painting, Renoir employed assistants who would dip brushes in the paint for him and strap the brushes to his hands. Renoir’s later paintings are celebrated for their looser brushwork. It is probable that his looser brushwork is the result of his arthritis.
Did you know that Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) was born with an overly large head and had developmental disabilities which slowed his early motor and language skills? Doctors claimed he would be “an invalid”. At age twelve he was almost completely deafened by scarlet fever. Edison’s school diagnosed him as “mentally ill” and “unteachable”because he could not complete his academic work. His mother Nancy Edison, a former teacher, removed her son from school and home-schooled him. She struggled to find methods to accommodate for Edison’s developmental disabilities and dyslexia, and eventually found that Edison had to see and test things for himself. Edison went on to become one of the most recognized inventors of all the time. He was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large teamwork to the process of invention, and therefore, is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.
Did you know that when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, he was attempting to convert speech to visual representation in order to accommodate for his wife’s hearing loss? Unfortunately, Bell’s invention failed to convert sounds to visual representations, though it extended verbal communications in ways Bell never could imagine.
Did you know that the baseball hand signals used by umpires to signify balls, strikes, out and safe originated in the late 1800’s, from the Washington Senators, Outfielder William Hoy? He requested that umpires use arm signals because he was deaf and could not hear the umpires’ verbal calls. The umpire lifted his right arm to indicate that the pitch was a strike, and his left arm to signal that it was a ball.
Did you know that modern data processing began with the inventions of American engineer, Herman Hollerith, a person with learning disabilities? Herman, a mining engineer who received poor grades in bookkeeping eventually became successful in the data processing industry, despite his disabilities. Hollerith was an American statistician who developed a mechanical tabulator based on punched cards to rapidly tabulate statistics from millions of pieces of data. In 1890, he devised a punch card system to help tabulate the U.S. Census. He went on to found the Tabulation Machine company which later became known as International Business Machines or IBM.
Did you know that in 1920 as a result of the large number of WWI veterans returning with disabilities, Congress passed the first major rehabilitation program for soldiers? This bill funding vocational rehabilitation guarantees federal money for job counseling and vocational training for disabled in the general public.
Did you know that Samuel Orton began his extensive study of dyslexia in 1925? He hypothesized that it could be neurological versus visual and that it was likely connected to left-handedness. His first assumptions was right. His second one, not so.
Did you know that in 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt became the 32nd president of the United States and was re-elected for an unprecedented four terms before dying in office in April 1945? In August 1921, while vacationing at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Roosevelt contracted an illness, believed to be polio, which resulted in total and permanent paralysis from the waist down. After becoming President, he helped found the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (Known today as March of Dimes). His leadership in this organization is one reason he is commemorated on the dime.
Did you know that in 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, establishing a program of permanent assistance to adults with disabilities?
Did you know that in the 1960’s, a deaf scientist named Robert Weitbrecht helped solve the problem of communication via telephone between the hearing and non-hearing? He created the teletypewriter, or TTY, a sort of text telephone where users could type messages to each other that were transmitted through a normal telephone line. Though the technology was initially limited to communication between people who both had TTY devices, relay services began to allow TTY users to call people who had regular telephones. As a pre-cursor to today’s cell phone, TTY was an innovative aid allowing deaf people (and others) to keep up with relationships and call 911 if necessary.
Did you know that the microchip, thermal printer and handheld calculator were all invented by Jack Kilby (1923 -2005)? Kilby, a Texan, won the Nobel Prize for physics for helping to lead the way into the digital age. Kilby had a hearing impairment and before the inventions that made him famous, he helped to develop the transistor-based hearing aid.
Did you know that in 1984 Gallaudet University football quarterback Paul Hubbard created the “huddle” to prevent the opposing team from seeing the signs the Gallaudet team used to communicate their next play to their teammates?
Did you know that you can read an email in part because of Vinton Cerf ? In the late 1980’s he was instrumental in the creation of the first commercial email service to be connected to the Internet (MCI Mail). Cerf, who is hearing impaired, has been called “one of the fathers of the Internet” for his pioneering work in computer science and information technology. He used early text messaging technologies to communicate with his wife, who was deaf.
Did you know that from the 1990’s to the present, Dr. Temple Grandin has invented many of the animal handling devices in the world today and her focus is on the humane treatment of animals while being contained? She did this work despite having a diagnosis of autism at the age of three. Grandin, in fact, didn’t even speak her first words until she was almost four years old. Yet the struggles she had with autism, fueled her work as an inventor and helped to transform an industry that she loved. She currently teaches at Colorado State University as an animal sciences professor, furthering her work to reduce fear and stress in animals.
The accomplishments of these great minds should not only inspire us but also help change the way we perceive people with various challenges. After all, great science, research, discovery, and inventions are limitless.