The author is interested in inventors and entrepreneurship and spends time researching interesting historical personalities.
“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” – Helen Keller
Blindness is often thought of as a debilitating handicap. However, there are a few reasons why this condition is not necessarily such a bad thing. For starters, people with blindness can sometimes withhold judgment based on first appearances. That is, they don't as frequently "judge a book by its cover." Further, people with blindness often have great memories due to the fact that they must remember more things.
Another interesting upshot of blindness is that it actually enhances other kinds of sensory perception, including hearing, smell, and taste. The brain actually rewires itself due to the absence of sight, and these other senses gain in strength. It's also been noted that those with blindness have increased language abilities.
Did you know that there are a number of famous blind inventors? Despite being unable to see, these seven inspiring inventors did not let their disability stop them from making a difference in various fields. What they lacked in sight, they surely made up for in their ability to "look" ahead and find solutions to many common problems in technology and education.
Next time, when you feel down and uninspired, think of these seven people who did not let their personal struggles get in their way of succeeding and making a change. This article covers the following important inventors who happened to be blind and their life-changing inventions:
7 Blind Inventors and Their Incredible Inventions
- Dr. James Gale
- William Moon
- Louis Braille
- Ralph Teetor
- Mohannad Jibreel Abudayyah
- James The and Michael Curran
- Sam Genensky
1. Dr. James Gale
Invention: Dr. Gale invented a unique way of mixing and storing gunpowder, which would have increased its effectiveness in warfare. His system also lessened the dangers of transporting and storing gunpowder.
Although Dr. James Gale's inventions benefited the arms trade, his efforts to revolutionize how gunpowder manufacturing and storage would have helped in the success of many gunfights and wars fought by his home country. Dr. James Gale lived in Devon, England, during the reign of Queen Victoria, a time when small battles over colonial lands were occurring semi-frequently, and functional weaponry was important and much sought after.
According to historians, Dr. James Gale proposed a very intelligent and theoretically effective manner of storing gunpowder to heads of state in numerous countries, including England and the United States. Unfortunately, his proposals were never adopted. Even so, Dr. James Gale reached celebrity status for his distinct idea and the fact that he, a blind man, had devised them.
2. William Moon
Invention: William Moon invented a unique reading system for the blind based on Roman capitals. The invention, named after him, the Moon System of Embossed Reading, is still widely used today.
The Moon System is considered one of the most accessible and most popular reading systems for the blind, its popularity only being eclipsed by the widespread use of the Braille System. The Moon System is still widely used today; however, it is commonly taught to visually-impaired learners who find it difficult to understand the Braille System.
The Moon-type reading system was developed by Dr. William Moon, who lost his own eyesight at 21 due to scarlet fever. Before developing the Moon-type reading system, Dr. Moon worked as a reading teacher for blind children but noticed that those unfamiliar with the alphabet could not easily understand how to read embossed alphabet letters. As a result of his experiences, he designed a new embossed reading system based on shapes and lines.
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Today, Moon type is used to teach blind learners who lost their eyesight at a later age since it is much easier to understand and memorize and blind students with learning difficulties.
3. Louis Braille
Invention: Louis Braille invented the popular reading system for the blind known as the Braille System.
You've probably heard of the Braille System before, but not so much about its blind inventor, Frenchman Louis Braille. Like Dr. William Moon, Louis Braille was not born blind and only lost his eyesight after an accident with a stitching awl as a child. Still, the accident that changed Braille's life did not stop him from learning and helping others with the same plight live better lives.
In 1824, the 15-year-old Braille devised a more simplified manner of embossed reading and writing. Instead of shapes and curves, Braille's reading system utilized dots or cells, which turned out to be more efficient and easier to 'read' with the touch of a finger.
Ironically, Louis Braille made his first Braille patterns poking holes in paper with a stitching awl, the same tool that blinded him as a child!
4. Ralph Teetor
Invention: Ralph Teetor invented a common automotive feature known as cruise control.
If you drive a modern vehicle with an automatic steering option, chances are you've also used speed control or the cruise control feature of your vehicle once in a while. Most vehicles today are configured to automatically maintain an average speed to save fuel and make driving a more convenient and safer experience.
Cruise control, as this feature is commonly known, was invented as a solution to a widespread inconvenience that Ralph Teetor hated: irregular speeds. His own lawyer was guilty of slowing down and speeding up as he talked; this annoyed Teetor but later gave him the idea of designing an automative function that would maintain speeds in cars. The result is the automatic speed control feature found in most cars today.
Cruise control was first installed in 1958 on several Chrysler models, but by 1960, it was a common feature in all Cadillacs.
5. Mohannad Jibreel Abudayyah
Invention: He has more than 20 patents and inventions to his name, but his most famous creation is a submarine that can go 6,525 meters below sea level.
Mohannad Jibreel Abudayyah is one of Saudi Arabia's most prolific engineers and has at least 22 registered creations to date, but one of Mohannad's greatest inventions yet has to be a submarine that can dive to 6,525 meters below sea level. Mohannad dubbed this deep sea-diving vehicle the 'Arabian Falcon' and dedicated it as a gift to King Abdullah.
Today, Mohannad Jibreel Abudayyah delivers lectures to young aspiring inventors like himself. Through his work, he has continued to inspire other young men and women in Saudi Arabia to further their studies and pursue science.
6. James The and Michael Curran
Invention: The and Curran invented a useful voice-to-speech system known as NVDA or NonVisual Desktop Access, which "reads" text on a computer screen dependent on mouse movement.
Both James The and Michael Curran are visually impaired to different degrees, but you would be surprised to know that these two gentlemen still managed to create a voice-to-speech program to assist blind computer users with their day-to-day computer usage. NVDA, or the NonVisual Desktop Access program, has been considered a technological breakthrough for the blind by many outlets, and the best part about this program is that it's free!
Basically, NVDA "reads" whatever your mouse touches on your computer screen. If you hover your mouse over the start menu, the program will tell you that you are now touching the 'Start' button.
The audio instructions of the NVDA have helped blind computer users use computers independently and to their full extent. In fact, around 1.5 million computer power-users, or computer users who are online for more than 8 hours per day, today are actually visually impaired.
Want to give NVDA a test drive? You can download a full version of this program on SourceForge, the world's largest freeware sharing website.
Unlike other speech readers requiring customized computer gears to function properly, NVDA is an independent program that does not require any specific hardware to function. That means you can use NVDA with a regular QWERTY keyboard and even an ergonomic keyboard, and it should work just as fine.
7. Sam Genensky
Invention: Sam Genensky created a device that magnifies and projects texts on video screens.
Sam Genensky was not born blind; however, an accident at the hospital where he was born left him blind in one eye and with very weak vision in another. Still, his visual impairment did not stop him from designing a camera to magnify figures or texts onto a screen.
Growing up, Sam Genensky had to use his father's WWI binoculars to see texts on the board and read his textbooks, but his father's old binoculars were not enough to help him in his work. With a bit of assistance from various companies and his own workplace, Sam Genensky and a co-worker, Paul Baran, designed a camera that projects and magnifies anything it focuses on to help blind users.
This contraption, which was famously dubbed by the media as "Sam Genensky's Marvelous Seeing Machine," has helped nearly-blind individuals see figures and texts much better and have assisted nearly-blind scientists and engineers, like Dr. Genensky, with their work.
The Story of Louis Braille
References and Further Reading
- 10 Advantages of Being Visually Impaired | The Unseen Way
Complete or partial sight loss may seem like the end of the world. I'm not saying that coping with it is easy. But why not look at it from the other side? Everything negative has its positives.
- Brain 'rewires' itself to enhance other senses in blind people | ScienceDaily
The brains of those who are born blind make new connections in the absence of visual information, resulting in enhanced, compensatory abilities such as a heightened sense of hearing, smell and touch, as well as cognitive functions.
- Blind Inventor: Dr James Gale, MA, FGS, FCS (1868) | GENUKI
- Life Story of Dr. William Moon | Queensland Blind Association
- NBP – About Braille | Who is Louis Braille?
- The Sightless Visionary Who Invented Cruise Control | Smithsonian Magazine
- Muhannad Jibril Abu Dayah (The Story of a Saudi Inventor)
- Michael Curran and James Teh | Digitally Connected
- Visionary Thinker | Brown Alumni Magazine
Sam Genensky ’49, ’58 PhD has spent his life advocating for those with partial sight.