Notable People with Visual Impairments
By: Carmen Willings
This page details a list of famous persons throughout history, and today, who are, or were, visually impaired or blind. I have assembled this list from online and offline resources. If you know of a discrepancy on this page or if there are other notable persons you feel should be added here, please contact me so I can make changes or add the persons information.
Homer (born somewhere between the 12th and 8th centuries BC) is generally thought to be the author of epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey was believed to have been blind.
Francesco Landini (around 1325 - September 2, 1397) was an Italian composer, organist, singer, poet and instrument maker. He was one of the most famous and revered composers of the second half of the 14th century, and by far the most famous composer in Italy. According to Villani, Landini was given a crown of laurel by the King of Cyprus, who was in Venice for several periods during the 1360s.
Arnolt was a German organist and composer of the Renaissance. He was blind for much of his life. Schlick is best known for his publication of the book Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten in 1511, the first treatise on building and playing organs written in German.
Galileo Galilei (15 February 1564 - 8 January 1642)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 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 eventually leaded to complete blindness.
John Milton (December 9, 1608 - November 8, 1674) was a civil servant, English poet and prose polemicist. Milton was well known through his epic poem Paradise Lost. John Milton became blind at the age of 43 in 1651, and has written books containing quotes of how the experience sometimes made him miserable.
Nicholas Saunderson (1682 - 1739) a noted professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, whose sponsor was Isaac Newton. He lost his sight when to smallpox when he was a little boy.
Leonhard Euler - (born April 15, 1707) Leonhard was a pioneering Swiss mathematician and physicist who made important discoveries in fields as diverse as calculus and graph theory. He also introduced much of the modern mathematical terminology and notation, particularly for mathematical analysis, such as the notion of a mathematical function. He is also renowned for his work in mechanics, optics, and astronomy. Euler's left eye became blind from cataract and suffered from eyestrain caused by a strong fever in 1735.
John Stanley - (January 17, 1712 - May 19, 1786) John Stanley was an English composer and organist. Stanley, who was blind from an early age, studied music with Maurice Greene and held a number of organist appointments in London. He was a friend of George Frideric Handel, and following Handel's death, Stanley joined first with John Christopher Smith and later with Thomas Linley to continue the series of oratorio concerts Handel had established, and succeeded him as a governor of the Foundling Hospital (continuing his tradition of performing "Messiah" for them).
Horatio Nelson - (29 September 1758 - 21 October 1805) Horatio was a British admiral and was one of the first to go against the conventional tactics of his time by cutting through the enemy's lines in the Napoleonic Wars. Horatio became blind in one eye early in his Royal Navy career, he would use his blindness as cockiness during certain fights. In those days a retreat or surrender was shown via a system of signal flags, when friendly or enemy ships would display the flags Horatio would bring his telescope to his blind eye and say carry on with the attack, I see no signals.
William Prescott - (February 20, 1726 - 1795) was an American colonel in the Revolutionary War who commanded the rebel forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Prescott became widely attributed for the famous quote, "Do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes," an important instruction to his soldiers in order to conserve ammunition. Prescott's likeness was made into a statue for a memorial for the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Francois Huber (1750 - 1831), a Swiss naturalist who studied the life of bees. His investigations laid the foundations for scientific understanding of honey bees including life history, construction of comb and respiration of bees.
Maria Theresa Paradis
Maria Theresa Paradis - (also von Paradies) (1759-1824) was an Austrian music performer and composer who lost her sight at an early age, and for whom Mozart may have written his Piano Concerto No. 18 in B flat major.
Joseph Plateau (October 14, 1801 - September 15, 1883) Joseph Plateauwas a Belgian physicist. In 1836, Plateau invented an early stroboscopic device, the "phenakistiscope". It consisted of two disks, one with small equidistant radial windows, through which the viewer could look, and another containing a sequence of images. When the two disks rotated at the correct speed, the synchronization of the windows and the images created an animated effect. The projection of stroboscopic photographs, creating the illusion of motion, eventually led to the development of cinema. Fascinated by the persistence of luminous impressions on the retina, he performed an experiment in which he gazed directly into the sun for 25 seconds. Consequently, he lost his eyesight later in his life.
Louis 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 designed braille writing.
Harriet Tubman - (c. 1820 - 10 March 1913) Harriet Tubman was a slave throughout her youth, until she eventually escaped captivity. When she had reached Canada she returned to the lands and brought hundreds of black slaves back to safety, saving them from slavery by escaping from what they then called The Underground Railroad. After a severe wound to the head, which was inflicted by a slave owner before her escape, she became visually impaired and had seizures. This did not keep her from fighting for the freedom of her people.
Thomas Rhodes Armitage
Thomas Rhodes Armitage - (1824-1890) Armitage was a British physician, founder of the Royal National Institute of the Blind. He became a physician, practising at the Marylebone Dispensary, in the Crimean War, and as a private consultant in London. He was forced to abandon his medical career because of declining vision, eventually becoming blind. Armitage decided to help solve the problem of making literature available to the blind through embossed type: in Britain this had become complicated by the proliferation of different standards. He formed the "British and Foreign Society for Improving the Embossed Literature of the Blind", later the "British and Foreign Blind Association for Promoting the Education and Employment of the Blind" and (after his death) the "National Institute for the Blind".
Claude Monet - also known as Oscar-Claude Monet or Claude Oscar Monet (November 14, 1840 - December 5, 1926) was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement's philosophy of expressing one's perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. The term Impressionism is derived from the title of his painting Impression, Sunrise. His popularity and fame grew. By 1907 he had painted many well-known paintings, but by then he started to go blind. He still painted, though his eyes got worse. He wouldn't stop painting until he was nearly blind. In the last decade of his life Monet, nearly blind, painted a group of large water lily murals (Nympheas) for the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris.
Joseph Pulitzer - (April 10, 1847 - October 29, 1911) Joseph was a Hungarian-American publisher best known for posthumously establishing the Pulitzer Prizes (along with William Randolph Hearst) and for originating yellow journalism. At the age of 42 Joseph became blind due to retinal detachment and subsequently retired.
Frederick Delius - (January 29, 1862 - June 10, 1934) was an English composer born in Bradfordin the West Riding of Yorkshire in the north of England. His music has been described as 'extremely redolent of the soil of this country (Britain) and characteristic of the finer elements of the national spirit'.
Johanna "Anne" Mansfield Sullivan Macy
Johanna "Anne" Mansfield Sullivan Macy (April 14, 1866 - October 20, 1936), also known as Annie Sullivan, was an American teacher best known as the instructor and companion of Helen Keller. In 1880 Anne was sent to the Perkins School for the Blind.
Thomas Gore - (born Governor Thomas Pryor Gore on 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.
Tilly Aston - (December 11, 1873 - 1 November 1947) Tilly Aston was a blind Australian writer and teacher, who founded the Victorian Association of Braille Writers, and later went on to establish the Association for the Advancement of the Blind, with herself as secretary. She is remembered for her achievements in promoting the rights of people with visual impairments. Aston was also a prolific writer, particularly of poetry and prose sketches, though her writing was often interrupted by her teaching and other activities.
Helen Keller - (1880 - 1968) - Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 - June 1, 1968) was an American author, activist and lecturer. She was the first person who was deaf/blind to graduate from college. She was not born blind or 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.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt - (January 30, 1882 - April 12, 1945) Franklin was the 32nd President of the United States of Americaand played a big role during World War II. He was also the only President to ever get elected 4 years in a row mostly because of his help for the recovery of the economy. It has been said that Roosevelt had several disabilities including a visual impairment.
Dr. Jacob Bolotin
Dr. Jacob Bolotin - (1888-1924) - The first congenitally blind man to receive a medical license. Dr. Bolotin was known for his expertise on diseases of the heart and lungs. He used his many public speaking engagements to advocate for the full inclusion of the blind in education, employment, and all other aspects of society. Awards named for him are presented each year by the National Federation of the Blind to individuals and organizations who have made substantial contributions toward achieving the goal of the full integration of the blind into society on the basis of equality. The first Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards were presented at the 2008 convention of the National Federation of the Blind.
James Thurber - (December 8, 1894-November 2, 1961) James Thurber was a comedian and cartoonist most known for his contributions to New Yorker Magazine. While playing with his brothers William and Robert, William shot him in the eye with and arrow while playing a game of William Tell making him almost completely blind after the loss of an eye. At school James could not play sports with his friends due to this accident so he decided to work on his creative mind, putting his skills in writing.
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges - (24 August 1899 - 14 June 1986) Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentine writer. His output includes short stories, essays, poetry, literary criticism, and translations.
Alec Templeton - (July 4, 1909, March 28, 1963) was a satirist and pianist who had moved from Wales to the United States where he played with several orchestras, eventually making it to his first radio performances on the Rudy Vallee Show, The Chase and Sanbourn Hour,The Magic Key and KraftMusic Hall. The way he would memorize his scripts before the show was by asking someone to read them 20 times in a row while he would listen. He was blind from birth but it did not stop him to doing what he wanted to do in the end.
Sidney Bradford - (May 30, 1906 - August 2, 1960) went blind at 10 months of age but regained sight on both eyes after a cornea transplant at the age of 52. He was the subject of many scientific studies of perception by neuropsychologist Richard Gregory. His operation was able to reveal idiosyncrasies of the human visual system. For example, not having grown up with vision, Bradford did not perceive the ambiguity of the Necker cube. Nor was he able to interpret the perspective of two-dimensional art. Nevertheless, he could accurately judge the distance that objects in the same room, having been familiar with these distances before regaining sight by virtue of having walked them. In a similar analogy between vision and sightless (touch-only) experience, Bradford was able to visually read the time on the ward clock just after his operation. Before surgery Bradford was a skilled machinist, but upon gaining vision, he became confused and unable to work. He committed suicide two years after his operation.
Doc Watson - (born March 3, 1923) Doc Watson is an American guitar player, songwriter and singer of bluegrass, folk, country, blues and gospel music. An eye infection caused Doc Watson to lose his vision before his first birthday. He attended North Carolina's school for the visually impaired, The Governor Morehead School, in Raleigh NC. By the time he reached his adult years Doc had become a prolific acoustic and electric guitar player.
Jacques Lusseyran - (1924-1971) was a blind French author and political activist. He became totally blind in a school accident at the age of 8. In the spring of 1941, at the age of 17, Lusseyran formed a Resistance group called the Volunteers of Liberty with 52 other boys. He was put in charge of recruitment. The group later merged with another Resistance group called Defense de la France.
Ray Charles - (September 23, 1930 - June 10, 2004) Ray Charles 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.
Bernard Morin - (born 1931) Bernard Morin is a French mathematician, especially a topologist, born in 1931. He has been blind since age 6, but his blindness did not prevent him from having a successful career in mathematics. Morin was a member of the group that first exhibited an eversion of the sphere, i.e. a homotopy (topological metamorphosis) which starts with a sphere and ends with the same sphere but turned inside-out. He also discovered the Morin surface, which is a half-way model for the sphere eversion, and used it to prove a lower bound on the number of steps needed to turn a sphere inside out.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Rahsaan Roland Kirk - (August 7, 1936 -December 5, 1977) Rahsaan was an American jazz multi-instrumentalist, playing tenor saxophone, flute and other reed instruments. He was perhaps best known for his vitality on stage, where virtuoso improvisation was accompanied by comic banter, political ranting and his famous ability to play a number of instruments simultaneously. Kirk was also very political, using the stage to talk on black history, civil rights and other issues, which he was always capable of tipping over into high comedy. He went blind at an early age due to poor medical treatment.
Sue Townsend - (born April 2, 1946) is a British novelist, best known as the author of the Adrian Mole series of books. Her writing tends to combine comedy with social commentary, though she has written purely dramatic works as well. She had diabetes for many years, as a result of which she was registered blind in 2001, and has woven this theme into her work.
Peter White MBE - (1947) is a British broadcast journalist and DJ. He was a regular presenter on BBC Radio Solent from the station's launch in 1971 until November 2006. Blind since birth (as was his older brother), he is closely associated with disability issues. He currently presents You and Yours and In Touch on Radio 4, and regularly contributes to other science, news or educational programs to talk about disabilities. He was made the BBC's Disability Affairs Correspondent in 1995, and wrote a column for the Guardian 'G2' magazine which appeared on 8 September 2006 and provoked many positive responses.
Judy Heumann - (born 1947) is an American disability rights activist. Heumann's commitment to disability rights stems from her personal experiences, she had polio at the age of 18 months, and has spent most of her life in a wheelchair. Heumann graduated from Long Island University in 1969 and gained a Master of Science degree in public health at the University of California,Berkeley in 1975. She has been awarded honorary doctorates by Long Island University in Brooklyn, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Stevie Wonder - (born Steveland Hardaway Judkins on May 13, 1950, name later changed to Steveland Hardaway Morris), is an American singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, and record producer. Blind from infancy, Wonder signed with Motown Records as a pre-adolescent at age 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.
Esref Armagan - (born 1953) Esref is a blind painter of Turkish origin. Mr. Armagan is an important figure in the history of picture-making, and in the history of knowledge. He has demonstrated for the first time that a person who is blind can develop on his or her own pictorial skills that are equal to that of the sighted. He was born blind to a poor family in Turkey, and has been drawing or painting since childhood. He has had exhibitions in Turkey and in Holland and the Czech Republic. In 2004, he was the subject of a study of human perception, conducted by the psychologist John Kennedy of University of Toronto.
Tony Max - Canadian visual artist, 1957 - He was born legally blind, with ten percent vision, because of congenital cataracts. His vision was improved by cataract surgery as a teenager, but the surgery eventually led to glaucoma and three retinal detachments. He went on to become one of Canada's most famous fine artists.
David Alexander Paterson
David Alexander Paterson - (born May 20, 1954) is an American politician and Governor of New York. He was the first African American governor of New York and also the second legally blind governor of any U.S. state after Bob C. Riley, who was Governor of Arkansas for eleven days in January 1975. At the age of three months, Paterson contracted an ear infection which spread to his optic nerve, leaving him with no sight in his left eye and severely limited vision in his right eye.
Andrea Bocelli - (born 22 September 1958) Andrea Bocelli had become blind at the age of 12 years old following a football accident in which he was hit in the head. At 6 years old Bocelli was taking piano lessons before also learning the saxophone and the flute. His family would always ask him to sing, Bocelli once said "I don't think a singer decides to sing, it is the others who choose that you sing by their reactions". Bocelli has also sung with other great singers such as Pavarotti
Jens Naumann - (born 1963) Jens Naumann lost the vision in one eye following an accident while working on a railroad. He became blind at the age of 20 following a second accident that caused him to loose the vision in his remaining eye. In 2002 he met up with Dr. William H. Dobelle. He became the first to have an experimental implant to provide artificial vision through the use of a computer and video camera connected to electrodes implanted into his brain. The experiment was a success but it ended in 2004 following the death of Dr. Dobelle. His impressive list of accomplishments include running his farm, serving in Mozambique as a Teacher-Training college instructor, and operates his own solar energy systems installation company. He is also an avid pianist!
The following Blindhope8 video is a short version of the vision project that also depicts Jens at work. The video is not in its entirety and does not show how the project came to a halt in 2004. Although Jens no longer seeks to be implanted again, he hopes to find a host country where the project can be restarted. Jens is passionate about the project as he was directly involved as a patient as well as an assistant to the engineers in the hardware and software. He has dedicated his life toward making such accommodations come true in his home country. His objective is to give people a choice in what they prefer upon having to deal with blindness.
Jeff Healey - Canadian folk singer (born Norman Jeffrey Healey, March 25, 1966 - March 2, 2008) was a blind jazz, and blues-rock vocalist and guitarist who attained musical and personal popularity, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. Who didn't love his song "Angel Eyes"?
Erik Weihenmayer - born September 23, 1968 - is the first person who is blind to reach the summit of Mount Everest, on May 25, 2001. Erik was born with retinoschisis and became totally blind by the age of 13. He has also completed the Seven Summits in September 2002. Erik is also an acrobatic skydiver, long distance biker, marathon runner, skier, mountaineer, ice climber, and rock climber. In 2004, he led an expedition in Tibet called Climbing Blind project, including blind teens from the Braille Without Borders school for blind at Lhasa, Tibet.
Marla Runyan - (born January 4, 1969) Marla Runyan is a marathon runner who is legally blind. She is a three-time national champion in the women's 5.000 metres. Runyan's career as a world-class runner began in 1999 at the Pan American Games, where she won the 1,500-meter race. The next year, she placed eighth in the 1,500-meter in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, making Runyan the first legally blind athlete to compete in the Games and 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.
Sabriye Tenberken - (born 1970) is a German socialworker and co-founder of the organization Braille Without Borders. Sabriye became gradually visually impaired and completely blind by the age of thirteen due to retinal disease. She studied Central Asian Studies at Bonn University. In addition to Mongolian and modern Chinese, she studied modern and classical Tibetan in combination with Sociology and Philosophy. As no blind student had ever before ventured to enroll in this kind of studies, she could not fall back on the experience of previous students, so she developed her own methods of studying her course of study. It was thus that a Tibetan Braille script for the blind was developed in 1992, which became the official script for the blind in Tibet. In 1997, Sabriye travelled to Tibet alone in order to assess the situation of the blind there. Returning in 1998, she founded the Centre for the Blind in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to educate people who are blind. Before this, those who were blind had not been able to attend school.
Brian McKeever - (born June 18, 1979 in Calgary, Alberta) is a Canadian cross-country skier and biathlete. In 2010, he became the first Canadian athlete to be named to both Paralympic and Olympic teams. He began skiing at the age of three and started competing at thirteen. At 19 he began losing his vision due to Stargardt's disease. At the 2002 and 2006 Winter Paralympics he competed in both cross-country skiing and biathlon. He won two gold medals and a silver in cross-country the first year and bronze medal for biathlon plus two gold medals and a silver for cross-country skiing in the later year. His older brother, Robin McKeever, competes as his guide when Brian skis in the Paralympics.
Kelvin Tan Weilian
Kelvin Tan Weilian - born 5 October 1981) Kelvin Tan Weilian is a visually impaired professional singer in Singapore. On 1 September 2005 he shot to prominence when he won Project SuperStar, a Mandarin singing competition hosted by Singapore's MediaCorp TV Channel U, after garnering 64% of the 533,000 telephone votes. Kelvin is proficient in both piano and the guitar, and sings in a variety of languages and dialects. In his debut concert on 22 April 2006 at the Max Pavilion in Singapore, he sang in Mandarin, English, Thai, Cantonese and Hokkien.
Elexis "Lex" Gillette is a paralympic athlete who became blind at the age of eight. He won a silver medal in the Men's Long Jump in both the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Summer Paralympics. Learn more about Lex at www.lexgillette.com
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Blindness is but a temporary experience of confusion immediately following loss of eyesight; as time heals the wounds through positive teachings, blindness inevitably disappears to be replaced with a new type of vision - one which is at least as deep and meaningful as that once lost..."