Did You Know some of the Greatest Scientists of all Time were Persons with Disabilities?
Disability, as many have said, is not inability. But is it? Seeing how some opportunities are denied from or are inaccessible to people with various forms of disabilities, especially in developing countries, begs the question whether the statement “Disability is not Inability” is really convincing or not.
Persons with disabilities have always taken a step back when it comes to taking up science-related courses or careers. We cannot blame them as it is ‘US’ the larger societies who have made them feel incapable of thriving in such fields.
Why Persons with Disabilities Hesitate Taking up the Sciences
Considering the ratio of the number of people who work/study in science-related fields to that of those who do not, it is clear that science is not many people’s first favorite. But why is that so? The notion most people have about science subjects from the lower levels of study is that it is tough. Learners develop the mentality that science is hard and they grow convinced that only the top students ought to pursue science-related courses in higher learning.
Learners and especially persons with disabilities give up on science and thus, with time the society adopts the idea that science is only for the ‘geniuses’. This leaves out students with disabilities with the potential to be good in the said field, but who might require extra assistance with learning because they fear venturing and failing in the field. Thus explaining why most PWDs run away from the field of science.
Looking at our local institutions of higher learning, it is very improbable to find a reasonable number of persons with disability in the biological or physical sciences departments. Mostly, they will pursue social sciences which are considered less technical and hence easier for the special needs learners to grasp. The general assumption is that this category of leaners cannot manage the ‘tough’ sciences, which is the greatest stereotype of our time. It is true that there are some disciplines in science, especially in the health sciences, which would be out of reach for learners with some disabilities such as visual impairment, but there are other fields that they can favorably pursue and better yet flourish in.
Scientists with Disabilities
To add flesh to the phrase, “Disability is not Inability” let us take a look at a few famous persons in the scientific world. Spoiler alert! Disability stands out and it did not stop them from being successful and role models to generations after generations even after they passed on to the afterlife.
Take for instance in the field of physics and mathematics. No one can possibly argue that Albert Einstein is not one of the greatest men of the 20th century if not the greatest. Despite suffering from a learning disability and being confronted by his teacher for his inability to grasp concepts as fast as other students, the intellect behind the very famous E=mc2 mass-energy equivalence formula ended up being a great scientist. Einstein is a clear proof that even those with learning disabilities can do extremely well in education and science.
In the field of physics/ astrophysics, Stephen Hawkings is one of the most accomplished. The author of the epic book, Wrinkles in Time, not only broke the limits of our knowledge of the cosmos and the universe in general but overcame his physical limitations having suffered from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ASL) which confined him to a wheelchair. Despite that, he became one of the greatest in science, proving to the world that having physical disabilities cannot hinder one’s success.
Thomas Edison, having been left almost entirely deaf in both ears by a bout of scarlet fever in his youth, took advantage of his mostly silent existence and became deeply absorbed in his work becoming one of our great fathers of electricity and the owner of over 1000 patents. So the who said hearing-impaired persons are unable to do great things?
Gustav Kirchhoff, a physicist with a great understanding of the sun’s spectrum, contributed a lot in Astronomy and had many works in the field of electricity. He was not limited by his unknown disability that restricted his movement to a wheelchair or crutches most of his life.
Afflicted with kyphosis, a congenital curvature of the spine, Charles Steinmetz went ahead and made pioneering contributions to electrical engineering and so was Leonardo Da Vinci who was dyslexic but is famous for his great works from art to mathematics, astronomy and many more.
The list of great scientists goes on and on and so does the list of the great scientists who had one form of disability or another. This, if nothing else, is enough proof that disability is not inability and furthermore that science is a field for anyone and everyone. This is a call to all persons with disabilities to work towards achieving anything they wish and dream of, disability should not limit anyone from doing what he/she plans to do.
By: Carol Gitonga. The writer is a student at the University of Nairobi, Department of Physics, pursuing an undergraduate degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics and also a Sign Language Interpreter.