Blindness is the condition of partial or total vision loss. Total blindness is the complete lack of form and visual light perception and is clinically recorded as NLP, an abbreviation for “no light perception.”
WHO estimates that there are 285 million visually impaired people in the world, of which 246 million have low vision and 39 million are blind.
These women were at one time visually impaired, legally blind or completely blind and sometimes deaf as well (as in the case of Helen Keller), but that didn’t stop them from achieving the goals they had set out for themselves. And this makes them stand out in the history books because they serve as proof that disabilities is not an excuse for you not fully living your life or achieving your dreams
10. Lisa Czechowski
Lisa Czechowski (née Banta) is an American goalball player and athlete born with nystagmus and diagnosed with cone dystrophy while in middle school, both conditions affecting her vision. In high school she tried various track and field events, eventually moving to shotput and discus
Finally, in 2001, she decided to focus on goalball. The women’s goalball team was very successful in the Paralympics that followed, taking silver in 2004 and gold in 2008.
Czechowski has been recognized as a major contributor to her sport, winning “top scorer of the championships” at the International Blind Sports Federation’s World Championships in 2002 and “most valuable player” at the 2008 U.S. Association of Blind Athletes Goalball Nationals. She participated in the Olympic Torch Relay for the 2002 games in Salt Lake City and appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” in October 2002. More recently, Lisa helped the team win the gold medal at the 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara.
Off the court, Lisa is a programs coordinator at the Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired.
9. Trischa Zorn Hudson
Swimmer Trischa Zorn, blind since birth, is the most decorated and successful Paralympian in the history of the Games. The American competed at seven Paralympic Games between 1980 and 2004 and won an incredible 55 medals (41 gold, nine silver and five bronze). Blind from birth, she competes in Paralympic swimming (S12, SB12 and SM12 disability categories). She was inducted into the Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2012.
An elementary education/special education major at Nebraska, Zorn-Hudson taught for 10 years (from 2001) in the Indianapolis Public Schools, where she developed the Inclusionary Model to help students integrate with regular classroom experience and advance the opportunities and experiences of children with special needs.
Born without irises in her eyes, Zorn Hudson elected to participate in an FDA study and became the first person in the United States with a congenital disability to receive artificial iris implants, significantly improving her sight and accelerating her vision to become a lawyer. She earned her Juris Doctor degree as an honor student from the Indiana University School of Law in 2005.
After her sight was improved, she said:
JUST A FEW YEARS AGO, I’D NEVER EVEN SEEN A STAR. NOW, WHEN I LOOK UP IN THE SKY, I CAN SEE SOME OF THE BIGGER STARS. IT’S AMAZING.
With her experience as a teacher of kids with special needs and a law degree, she opts to generally help people in need.
She has been questioned many times as to why she is into charity after her accolades and success as a former Paralympian, and Lawyer, she said:
PEOPLE ASK ME WHY I WANTED TO GO INTO NON-PROFIT WORK, AND I TELL THEM BECAUSE I WANT TO AFFECT PEOPLE’S LIVES AND HELP THOSE WHO REALLY NEED MY SERVICES. MONEY CAN’T BEGIN TO PAY FOR WHAT I’M ABLE TO HELP PEOPLE ACCOMPLISH. I’M VERY FORTUNATE. I WAS BROUGHT UP IN A SERVICE-ORIENTED FAMILY. GROWING UP, WE WOULD MAKE FOOD AND TAKE IT TO ORPHANAGES IN MEXICO.
I’VE ALWAYS HAD A PASSION TO AFFECT PEOPLE’S LIVES IN A POSITIVE WAY AND TO SHOW THEM THAT ANYTHING’S POSSIBLE. “I’M SO GRATEFUL FOR WHAT I HAVE, AND I NEVER WORRY ABOUT WHAT I DON’T HAVE.
8. Diane Schuur
Schuur (nicknamed Deedles) was blinded at birth due to retinopathy of prematurity, but she was gifted with perfect pitch and initially taught herself piano by ear. She later received formal piano training at The Washington State School for the Blind, which she attended until she was 11 years of age. She was encouraged by both her parents to sing, who are Jazz lovers themselves.
With a distinguished recording career that spans three decades, including two Grammy awards (Timeless and Diane Schuur and The Count Basie Orchestra on GRP Records), as well as three additional GRAMMY® nominations, Schuur’s music has explored almost every corner of the 20th Century musical landscape. She has performed at many of the world’s most prestigious music venues, including Carnegie Hall and The White House.
Her musical collaborations include Count Basie Orchestra, Barry Manilow, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonders and Jose Feliciano, among countless others.
She rightly earned the title “New First Lady of Jazz”. You can hear her amazing voice on her website for free since it autoplays while the website loads.
7. Kristen Eyring Cox
Kristen gradually lost most of her vision starting about age 11 due to a degenerative genetic condition caused by “a rare recessive trait,” (Stargardt’s disease), so she had to use a white cane for walking.
She attended Brigham Young University, where she had to memorize everything because she had not yet learned Braille. Cox received her B.A. in educational psychology with a certificate in special education in 1995.
After graduation, Cox went to work for the Utah chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. In 1998 Cox moved to Baltimore to become Assistant Director of Governmental Affairs for the national organization.
In 2001 she was appointed by President George W. Bush as Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Rehabilitation Services Administration in the United States Department of Education “where she helped developed national initiatives to promote the employment and independence of individuals with disabilities.”
She joined the Ehrlich administration in 2003 as Director of the Office for Individuals with Disabilities. On July 1, 2004 she was confirmed by the Maryland State Senate as Secretary of the nation’s first cabinet-level Department of Disabilities.
Her husband Randy Cox credits her for changing his perception about blindness, in a 1998 National Federation of the Blind article:
BEFORE LONG, I REALIZED KRISTEN HAS PROBABLY BEEN AN EXAMPLE TO HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT SYNONYMOUS WITH HELPLESSNESS, THAT THE LOSS OF SIGHT DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO LOSE SIGHT OF YOUR GOALS, THAT BLINDNESS IS NO REASON TO SLOW DOWN. THE IMPACT KRISTEN HAS HAD IS REPEATED ACROSS THE COUNTRY EVERY DAY BY OTHER FEDERATIONISTS. IN MOMENTS OF DISCOURAGEMENT, IT IS WELL FOR US TO REMEMBER THAT INDIVIDUAL PERCEPTIONS ABOUT BLINDNESS ARE BEING TRANSFORMED EVERY TIME A COMPETENT BLIND PERSON CROSSES A STREET OR CHAIRS A MEETING OR INSISTS ON DOING HIS OR HER FAIR SHARE OF ANY TASK IN THE COMMUNITY.
YOU MAY HAVE WONDERED WHY I REMEMBER THAT I MET KRISTEN ON OCTOBER 16. THAT DATE IS VERY IMPORTANT TO ME BECAUSE A SHORT TIME AFTER THAT, KRISTEN EYRING BECAME KRISTEN COX, MY WIFE.
6. Shelley Davis
Shelley was an American attorney and activist best known for her advocacy of rights and better working conditions for farm workers, particularly child, migrant and seasonal laborers.
She was perhaps best known to her colleagues as an indefatigable and tenacious fighter for justice whose irrepressible optimism inspired others to join in her cause. Davis consistently fought to defend farmworkers, whether the matter was wage theft, pesticides, or HIV/AIDS. She was an authority not only on the law but also on public health issues. Davis was a bilingual (English and Spanish) activist personally involved with workers’ lives and concerns.
Davis carried out all of her work—coalition building, policy work, litigation, writing and speaking, visits to the farmworkers in the field—while suffering from a progressive eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, that led to the gradual deterioration of her vision until she was legally blind. She took such joy in living and never let her visual impairment limit her sensitivity to her surroundings.
Later she contracted breast cancer, the disease that took her life on December 12, 2008, at the young age of 56.
Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, wrote of her,
SHE IS DRIVEN BY AN INTENSE DESIRE TO ENSURE THAT THE PEOPLE WHO HARVEST THE FOOD WE EAT NOT BE FORCED TO SACRIFICE THEIR HEALTH IN THE PROCESS.
Mily Treviño Sauceda, executive director of Líderes Campesinas, a farmworker women’s group, recalls that,
HER WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT, SUPPORT AND GUIDANCE, PERSONALLY GAVE ME STRENGTH, HOPE, AND FOCUS. SHE WAS A GOOD MENTOR IN SO MANY WAYS. SHE WILL ALWAYS BE IN OUR HEARTS AND OUR MEMORIES. I KNOW THAT HER SPIRIT WILL ALWAYS BE CARING FOR US.
5. Marla Runyan
An American track and field athlete, road runner and marathon runner who at the age of nine developed Stargardt’s Disease, which is a form of macular degeneration that left her legally blind. Despite the effect Stargardt’s had on Runyan’s vision, she did retain her peripheral vision.
Upon graduating from Camarillo High School in 1987, she went on to study at San Diego State University, where she began competing in several sporting events: the heptathlon, 200-meter dash, high jump, shot put, 100-meter hurdles, long jump, javelin throw and the 800-meter run. In 1994 she received her master’s degree. Runyan began to make her mark as a world-class runner in 1999 at the Pan American Games. The following year Runyan became the first legally blind person and Paralympian to compete in the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia which she placed eighth in the 1,500-meter in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the highest finish by an American woman in that event. In 2002 she finished as the top American at the 2002 New York City Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 27 minutes and 10 seconds to post the second-fastest debut time ever by an American woman. She is a three-time national champion in the women’s 5000 metres.
Since 2001, Runyan has served as the first Ambassador for the Perkins School for the Blind, which is the first school for the blind in the United States. Later that year, she co-wrote and published her autobiography, No Finish Line: My Life As I See It
She now uses her past experience to help and inspire others through her work at Perkins and Northeastern.
The life lessons she shares with her students are;
THERE ARE TWO MAIN THINGS THAT REALLY ARE IMPORTANT TO ME. THE FIRST BEING SELF-DETERMINATION – EMPOWERING STUDENTS TO MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT THEIR OWN LIVES. THE SECOND PART IS TECHNOLOGY, BECAUSE I CAN SAY AS A PERSON WITH A VISION IMPAIRMENT THAT I WOULDN’T HAVE TWO MASTER’S DEGREES IF IT WASN’T FOR TECHNOLOGY. IT’S SUCH A GATEWAY TO COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATION AND INDEPENDENCE.
4. Harriet Tubman
Harriet, born Araminta Ross was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and during the American Civil War, a Union spy.
Tubman was born a slave in Maryland’s Dorchester County around 1820. At age five or six, she began to work as a house servant. Seven years later she was sent to work in the fields. While she was still in her early teens, she suffered an injury that would follow her for the rest of her life. Always ready to stand up for someone else, Tubman blocked a doorway to protect another field hand from an angry overseer. The overseer picked up and threw a two-pound weight at the field hand. It fell short, striking Tubman on the head. She never fully recovered from the blow, which subjected her to vision impairment and spells in which she would fall into a deep sleep (seizures).
Few years later, she ran away to the North with the help of a kind white woman, got a job and saved enough to help her return and rescue other slaves. While her exact route is unknown, Tubman made use of the network known as the Underground Railroad. This informal, but well-organized, system was composed of free and enslaved blacks, white abolitionists, and other activists. Tubman had to travel by night, guided by the North Star, and trying to avoid slave catchers, eager to collect rewards for fugitive slaves. The “conductors” in the Underground Railroad used deceptions for protection. Most prominent among the latter in Maryland at the time were members of the Religious Society of Friends, often called Quakers. During a ten-year span she made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom. Harriet earned the nickname “Moses” after the prophet Moses in the Bible who led his people to freedom. And, as she once proudly pointed out to Frederick Douglass, in all of her journeys she “never lost a single passenger.”
After the Civil war, she established the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, which institutionalized a pattern of her life — caring for African Americans in need.
Just before Harriet’s death in 1913 she told friends and family, “I go to prepare a place for you.” She was buried with military honors in Fort Hill Cemetery in New York. Booker T. Washington delivered the eulogy
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument was established on March 25, 2013 in her honour.
3. Anne Sullivan
Johanna “Anne” Mansfield Sullivan Macy, better known as Anne Sullivan (the Miracle worker), was an American teacher, best known for being the instructor and lifelong companion of Helen Keller. She contracted trachoma, a highly infectious eye infection, when she was eight years old which left her blind and without reading or writing skills. She received her education as a student of the Perkins School for the Blind where upon graduation she became a teacher to Helen. She graduated at age 20 and was the valedictorian of her class, she stated:
FELLOW-GRADUATES: DUTY BIDS US GO FORTH INTO ACTIVE LIFE. LET US GO CHEERFULLY, HOPEFULLY, AND EARNESTLY, AND SET OURSELVES TO FIND OUR ESPECIAL PART. WHEN WE HAVE FOUND IT, WILLINGLY AND FAITHFULLY PERFORM IT.
When Arthur Keller was in search of a Teacher for his deaf and blind daughter, the Director of Perkins School for the blind recommended Anne. It was the beginning of a 49-year relationship: Anne evolved from teacher to governess and finally to companion and friend.
In 1932 Helen and Anne were each awarded honorary fellowships from the Educational Institute of Scotland. They also were awarded honorary degrees from Temple University. In 1955 Anne was awarded an honorary degree from Harvard University., and in 1956 the director’s cottage at the Perkins School was named the Keller-Macy Cottage.
THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY I REMEMBER IN ALL MY LIFE IS THE ONE ON WHICH MY TEACHER, ANNE MANSFIELD SULLIVAN, CAME TO ME. I AM FILLED WITH WONDER WHEN I CONSIDER THE IMMEASURABLE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE TWO LIVES WHICH IT CONNECTS. – HELEN KELLER
Anne Sullivan has served as an inspiration for the teachers who help these students achieve their potential.
Though visually impaired all her life, she became completely blind a year before her death. She died with Helen holding her hands.
Sullivan was cremated and her ashes were interred in a memorial at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. She was the first woman to be recognized for her achievements in this way. When Helen died in 1968, her ashes were placed in theWashington National Cathedral next to those of Anne.
2. Fanny Crosby
Frances Jane Crosby wasn’t born blind, at six weeks old, Crosby caught a cold and developed inflammation of the eyes. Mustard poultices were applied to treat the discharges. According to Crosby, this procedure damaged her optic nerves and blinded her.
Her father died, and her mother and maternal grandmother raised and grounded her in Protestant Christian principles, helping her, for example, memorize long passages from the Bible. In fact, by the time she was 12 years old she had memorized all of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
In 1835, just before her 15th birthday, Crosby enrolled at the New York Institution for the Blind (NYIB), a state-financed school. She remained there for eight years as a student, and another two years as a graduate pupil, during which she learned to play the piano, organ, harp, and guitar, and became a good soprano singer.
After graduation from the NYIB in 1843, Crosby joined a group of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. arguing for support of education for the blind. Crosby was the first woman to speak in the United States Senate when she read a poem there.
She was one of the most prolific hymnists in history, writing over 8,000 hymns and gospel songs, with over 100 million copies printed, despite being blind from shortly after birth. She is also known for her teaching, and her rescue mission work. By the end of the 19th century, she was “a household name”.
Known as the “Queen of Gospel Song Writers”, and as the “Mother of modern congregational singing in America”, with most American hymnals containing her work, as “with the possible exception of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, Crosby has generally been represented by the largest number of hymns of any writer of the twentieth century in nonliturgical hymnals”. Her gospel songs were “paradigmatic of all revival music”, and Ira Sankey attributed the success of the Moody and Sankey evangelical campaigns largely to Crosby’s hymns. Some of Crosby’s best-known songs include “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour”, “Blessed Assurance”, “Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home”, “Praise Him, Praise Him”, “Rescue the Perishing”, and “To God Be the Glory”. Because some publishers were hesitant to have so many hymns by one person in their hymnals, Crosby used nearly 200 different pseudonyms during her career.
Crosby wrote over 1,000 secular poems, and had four books of poetry published, as well as two best-selling autobiographies. Additionally, she co-wrote popular secular songs, as well as political and patriotic songs, and at least five cantatas on biblical and patriotic themes, including The Flower Queen, the first secular cantata by an American composer. Crosby was committed to Christian rescue missions, and was known for her public speaking.
she once remarked,
IT SEEMED INTENDED BY THE BLESSED PROVIDENCE OF GOD THAT I SHOULD BE BLIND ALL MY LIFE, AND I THANK HIM FOR THE DISPENSATION. IF PERFECT EARTHLY SIGHT WERE OFFERED ME TOMORROW I WOULD NOT ACCEPT IT. I MIGHT NOT HAVE SUNG HYMNS TO THE PRAISE OF GOD IF I HAD BEEN DISTRACTED BY THE BEAUTIFUL AND INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT ME.
She also once said;
WHEN I GET TO HEAVEN, THE FIRST FACE THAT SHALL EVER GLADDEN MY SIGHT WILL BE THAT OF MY SAVIOR!
She died a month before her 95th birthday. Her tombstone carried the words;
“AUNT FANNY” AND “BLESSED ASSURANCE, JESUS IS MINE. OH, WHAT A FORETASTE OF GLORY DIVINE.”
1. Helen Keller
Helen Keller was born with the ability to see and hear. At 19 months old, she contracted an illness described by doctors as “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain”, which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness left her both deaf and blind. Keller was extremely intelligent and tried to understand her surroundings through touch, smell and taste.
Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan seated on a living room couch. circa 1920
Helen calls the day she met Anne Sullivan the birthday of her soul, as this woman with patience and kindness taught her, when previous governesses considered her hopeless.
In 1902, she was also the first person who was deafblind to write a book. Her autobiography, The Story of My Life, was the first of 14 books she wrote in her lifetime. In 1904, she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe and became the first person with deafblindness to earn a bachelor of arts degree.
During her lifetime, she had many famous friends and has met the Queen of England, and 12 U.S. presidents, from Grover Cleveland to John F. Kennedy.
Keller with Anne Sullivan and Alexander Graham Bell in a garden. circa 1894
Helen Keller was a founding member of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, the nation’s first agency to provide services to adults who are blind.
In 1918, United States teachers adopted braille as the official writing system for people who are blind, thanks in great part to Helen Keller. She was a very eloquent and influential proponent for this elegant writing system.
In 1924, Helen Keller began her lifelong association with American Foundation for the Blind. She worked tirelessly for the rights of people who are blind to have full access to education, employment, and the responsibilities of citizenship.
She extended her advocacy to the Lions Club, urging them to become “knights for the blind.” Intensely proud of their association with Keller, Lions International has ever since been devoted to preventing visual impairment and assisting people who are blind all over the world.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Helen Keller visited 39 countries to persuade their governments to establish schools for people who were blind and deaf. Many countries did just that, and Keller is revered around the world to this day. She also won an Oscar award for the documentary, “Helen Keller In Her Story”, circa 1954.
In October 2009, the state of Alabama installed a statue of Helen Keller in the National Statuary Hall in Congress. She is the first person with disabilities to be so honored.
M. C. Migel, Helen Keller, and John Finley at the cornerstone-laying for American Foundation for the Blind building on 16th Street in Manhattan, NYC, 1934 Throughout her life, Keller devoted her energies to humanitarian pursuits, advocating for economic justice and the rights of women and of people with disabilities.
She asserted her right “to feel at home in the great world” and through her eloquence and tireless activism, she fought for the same right on behalf of all people.
(sources: Perkins, American Foundation for the Blind) (Images of Helen Keller are courtesy of American Foundation for the Blind).