by Emily Young
Why Role Models?
Examples of other people who have overcome disability and been successful can be inspiring to students with disability. Below are two spotlighted role models with visual impairment as well as a list of other famous people who have lived with a visual disability.
Helen Keller was born blind and deaf in 1880 and lived to be 88 years old by the time she died in 1968. She began her education with Ms. Sullivan, who taught her to read and write. Helen Keller wrote, "The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me." Once educated and given a way to communicate past her disabilities, she played a significant role in political, social, and cultural movements of the 20th century and inspired all with her grace and eloquence. Throughout her lifetime, she worked unceasingly to improve the lives of people who were blind and deaf. At 21 years of age, she wrote her personal narrative called, The Story of My Life. Her own approach to life can be summed up by her advice to a five-year-old blind child in 1932: "Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the face." Helen Keller is most known as a prominent American author and philanthropist who overcame the amazing feats that her disabilities posed to her.
Ray Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia in 1930. He died in 2004 at the age of 74 years old. He was a vocalist, piano, reeds player, and songwriter. He was also blind since the age of 7 years old.
Ray Charles began to lose his sight at the age of 6 and was totally blind by the time he reached 7 years old, being sent to a special school in Florida for education. Although it is presumed that untreated glaucoma was the cause, no official diagnosis was ever made. His mother recognized the gradual loss of sight and began to work with him on how to continue his independence as visually impaired, finding and doing things for himself. Self-pity was not an option. This man moved away from Florida at the age of 15 by himself to pursue a life of music, which he had fell in love with at his school in Florida.
Ray Charles’ accolades include winning several Grammy Awards, having his song, “Georgia on my Mind” declared as Georgia’s state song, given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, being one of the first inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and winning the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987. He was labeled “The Genius” within the jazz community and crossed racial barriers by recording country music.
Other famous people or characters in history that have known visual impairments:
* Louis Braille - inventor of braille
* Cupid/Eros - Greek/Roman god of love
* Eduard Degas - French painter
* Henry Fawcett - UK Postmaster General, 19th Century
* Homer - Greek poet
* Horus - Egyptian god
* Denise Leigh - opera singer and winner of Channel 4's “Operatunity”
* John Milton - English poet
* Claude Monet - French painter
* Dr William Moon - inventor of the Moon System of Reading
* Horatio Nelson - British admiral
* Odin - Norse god
* Oedipus - mythological Greek King
* Samson - Biblical hero
* St. Paul - Apostle
* Tiresias - mythological, Greek seer
* Stevie Wonder - American singer and composer
CD Swing (2007). Legends of American Music History: Ray Charles. Retrieved on July 29, 2007 at http://www.swingmusic.net/Ray_Charles_Biography.html
Chadwick, Patricia (2003). Disability Social History Project. Rerieved on July 29, 2007 from http://www.disabilityhistory.org/people.html
National Institute of Blind People (2006). Famous people with sight problems. Retrieved on July 29, 2007 from