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The Amazing Accomplishments of Famous People with Visual Impairments

I’m sure most of you have heard of Helen Keller, Louis Braille, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles. They’re some of the most famous blind people in history. Their various accomplishments over the years have helped shape our culture in a multitude of ways. Many of which are taken for granted by modern society but what else is new?

Don’t ever let someone try to make you think you can’t do something just because you’re blind or have a visual impairment; the people featured on this page are proof that’s nothing but a big fat lie. Don’t buy into it!

We all start out with the potential to do amazing things in this life; whether we are sighted or not. Let us never make the mistake of thinking otherwise. Making a real difference in this world has nothing to do with physical sight or the lack thereof; it’s all about our individual level of confidence and determination.

Hopefully we can all learn a lesson from the fearless men & women listed below. They didn’t let their so-called “disability” get in the way of their personal goals & success. Some were blind and some experienced slight-to-severe visual impairments but I can guarantee you none gave up on themselves and neither should we.

I’ve compiled a few of the more historically famous people for this blog post and if you like, you can follow the link at the end to read about many more individuals and their major accomplishments.

Louis BrailleLouis Braille (January 4, 1809 – January 6, 1852): Louis Braille became blind after he accidentally stabbed himself in the eye with his father’s awl. He later became an inventor and the designer of Braille writing, which enables people who are blind to read by feeling a series of organized bumps representing letters. This concept was beneficial to all blind people from around the world and is still commonly used today. If it were not for Louis Braille’s blindness he may not have invented this method of reading and no other blind person could have enjoyed a story or been able to comprehend important written materials.

Helen KellerHelen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968): Helen Adams Keller was an American author, activist and lecturer. She was the first deaf/blind person to graduate from college. She was not born blind and deaf; it was not until nineteen months of age that she came down with an illness described by doctors as “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain”, which could have possibly been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind. Keller went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities amid numerous other causes.

Galileo GalileiGalileo Galilei (February 15, 1564 – January 8, 1642): Galileo Galilei was a Tuscan (Italian) astronomer, mathematician, physicist, and philosopher being greatly responsible for the scientific revolution. Some of his accomplishments include improvements to the telescope, accelerated motion and astronomical observations. Galileo was the first to discover the four largest satellites (moons) of Jupiter which were named the Galilean moons in his honor. Galileo had also improved compass design and eventually opposed the geocentric view. His sight started to deteriorate at the age of 68 years old and it eventually led to complete blindness.

Ray CharlesRay Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004): Known by his stage name Ray Charles, he was an American pianist and musician who shaped the sound of rhythm and blues. He brought a soulful sound to country music, pop standards, and a rendition of “America the Beautiful” that Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes called the “definitive version of the song, an American anthem.” In 1965, Charles was arrested for possession of heroin, a drug to which he had been addicted for nearly 20 years. It was his third arrest for the offence, but he avoided jail time after kicking the habit in a clinic in Los Angeles. He spent a year on parole in 1966. Ray also appeared in the 1980 hit movie, The Blues Brothers and Frank Sinatra called him “the only true genius in the business.” In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Charles number ten on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and also voted him number two on their list of The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

Franklin Delano RooseveltFranklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945): Franklin, sometimes better known as FDR; was the 32nd President of the United States of America and played a big role during World War II. Roosevelt eventually aided the poor and un-employed of America and restored order at various times during his presidency. Elected to four terms in office, he served from 1933 to 1945 and is the only U.S. president to have served more than two terms mostly because of his help in the recovery of the economy. It has been said that Roosevelt had several disabilities including vision impairment.

Harriet TubmanHarriet Tubman (c. “in approximately” 1820 – March 10, 1913): Harriet Tubman was a slave throughout her youth, being treated as an animal until she eventually escaped captivity. She was an abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. When she had reached Canada she did not stay to enjoy her freedom. She returned to the lands and brought hundreds of black slaves back to safety, saving them from slavery by escaping in what was then called The Underground Railroad. After a severe wound to the head, which was inflicted by a slave owner before her escape, she became victim to vision impairment and seizures. That did not keep her from tossing her fears aside and to keep fighting for the freedom of her people.

Thomas GoreThomas Gore (December 10, 1870 – March 16, 1949): Thomas was a Democratic politician. He became blind as a child through two separate accidents but did not give up his dream of becoming a senator. In 1907, he was elected to the Senate as one of the first two senators from the new state of Oklahoma. He was re-elected in 1908 and 1914 but defeated in 1920. He was known as a member of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, who worked with Republicans such as Robert La Follette. He was to a large extent no different from any other politician because of his blindness, but there were problems, as La Follette recounts an example in his memoirs when, during a filibuster, Gore did not realize that the senator who was to take over speaking for him had left the room, and the filibuster failed because he did not continue to speak.

Stevie WonderStevie Wonder (May 13, 1950 – Present): Born Steveland Hardaway Judkins, he later changed his name to Steveland Hardaway Morris. Wonder is an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer. Blind from infancy, Wonder signed with Motown Records as a pre-adolescent at the age of twelve, and continues to perform and record for the label to this day. It is thought that he received excessive oxygen in his incubator which led to retinopathy of prematurity, a destructive ocular disorder affecting the retina. It is characterized by abnormal growth of blood vessels, scarring, and sometimes retinal detachment. A prominent figure in popular music during the latter half of the 20th century, Wonder has recorded more than thirty U.S. top ten hits and won twenty-two Grammy Awards (the most ever won by a solo artist) as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also won an Academy Award for Best Song, and been inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters halls of fame. He has also been awarded the Polar Music Prize. American music magazine Rolling Stone named the ninth greatest singer of all time.

Judith E. HeumannJudith E. Heumann (1947 – Present): Judy Heumann is an American disability rights activist. An internationally recognized leader in the disability community, Heumann is a lifelong civil rights advocate for disadvantaged people. Her work with governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has produced significant contributions since the 1970s to the development of human rights legislation and policies benefiting children and adults with disabilities, and to the international development of the independent living movement.

Erik WeihenmayerErik Weihenmayer (September 23, 1968 – Present): Weihenmayer is the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, on May 25, 2001. He also completed the Seven Summits in September 2002. His story was covered in a Time article in June 2001 titled “Blind to Failure”. He is author of Touch the Top of the World: A Blind Man’s Journey to Climb Farther Than the Eye can See, his autobiography. Erik is an acrobatic skydiver, long distance biker, marathon runner, skier, mountaineer, ice climber, and rock climber. He is a friend of Sabriye Tenberken and Paul Kronenberg, the co-founders of Braille Without Borders, whom he visited in Tibet to climb with them and teenagers from the school for the blind. In addition, Erik is an active speaker on the lecture circuit.

Ronnie MilsapRonnie Lee Milsap (January 16, 1945 -Present): born in Robbinsville, North Carolina, Milsap is an American country music singer and musician. Ronnie Milsap was born with a congenital defect, leaving him almost completely blind. He was one of country’s most popular and influential artists in the 1970s and 1980s. Ronnie became country music’s first blind superstar. He was also one of the most successful country crossover singers of his time, appealing to both country and pop markets. Milsap’s biggest crossover hits include “It Was Almost Like a Song”, “Smoky Mountain Rain”, “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me”, “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World”, “Any Day Now”, and “Stranger in My House”, among others. He is credited with forty #1 hits in country music, third to George Strait and Conway Twitty.

Visit BrailleWorks.com to read about more historically famous people with visual impairments. Remember to keep Braille Works in mind for all of your Braille, large print and audio transcription needs. We serve businesses in every industry and we’d be honored to help you meet the needs of your blind and visually impaired customers by providing you with ADA Compliant alternative format materials.

This list was assembled from online and offline resources. If you know of a discrepancy on this page please leave me a comment below so I can amend the entry. Thank You!

3 comments to The Amazing Accomplishments of Famous People with Visual Impairments

  • I really admire Kent Cullers, American astronomer, totally blind from birth. He was the first totally blind physicist in USA and believed to be the first blind from birth astronomer. He worke with the SETI Project until he retired in 2005

  • Leslie

    I found your blog while doing a little research on Ray Charles with my daughter. We both enjoyed it. I have a suggestion. It looks like you’ve named several famous blind people that have been very successful, despite their disability. We’ve recently learned that a Christian singer we love is blind. She is not found on your blog and I just thought I’d mention her…. Ginny Owens. I have listened to her for years… and had no idea she had a disability. She swayed me to listen to more Christian music…. she’s so good. I typically listen to R&B artists, like Ray Charles.
    Thanks again.

  • Thank you Tammy & Leslie for pointing out these two that we obviously missed. They definitely sound worthy of adding to this list! We appreciate your input and wish you both a wonderful weekend.