Work & Education

10 disabled scientists you should explore and discover

The representation of disabled people across various fields is on the increase except for one – science. The physical layout of a lab, or field site, and the design of its instruments can render science literally inaccessible to some disabled scientists.

While the representation of disabled scientists has increased, many still choose not to disclose a disability due to exclusionary practices and entrenched ableism at institutions. Nonetheless, there are many disabled scientists whose impact is of huge importance to our daily life.

Thomas Edison

A black and white close up image of Thomas Edison in a black suit with black bowtie and short white hair

Born in 1847, Thomas Edison lost much of his hearing by his early 20s. He worked in the field of telegraphy — transmitting information via communication systems — where he thrived as an innovator and inventor.

In Thomas’ New Jersey lab, he developed audio devices, invented the incandescent lightbulb, and helped give birth to the motion picture industry.

Ralph Braun

Ralph Braun in a wheelchair wearing a black jumper with short brown hair in front of a car

After Ralph Braun’s muscular dystrophy diagnosis, he developed groundbreaking mobility devices. Ralph’s experiences informed inventions, such as motorised scooters, wheelchair accessible vehicles, and wheelchair lifts.

He advocated for the education and employment of individuals with disabilities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Ralph, who died in 2013, is known as the “Father of the Mobility Movement.”

Sang-Mook Lee

A close up of Lee Sang Mook in a wheelchair with short grey hair wearing a black suit, white shirt and blue tie and glasses in front of shelves of books

Born in Korea and trained as an oceanographer, Sang-Mook Lee was teaching in the United States when a car accident in 2006 paralysed him from the shoulders down.

The experience gave Lee a “bigger purpose” as a scientist and as an educator. Lee advocates for the development of assistive technology for science and engineering education while continuing his own research.

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking in his wheelchair with short brown hair wearing a grey suit jacket and glasses in front of a blackboard with equations on it in chalk

After a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – a form of motor neuron disease – at the age of 21, Stephen Hawking spent decades working as a mathematician and physicist.

Stephen used a wheelchair, voice synthesisers, and other technologies to research, write, and communicate. He contributed groundbreaking theories about the origins of the universe, black holes, radiation, and more.

Stephen also published, taught, and won numerous awards for his scientific contributions before his death in 2018.

Geerat Vermeij

A close up of Geerat Vermeij wearing a light blue shirt with short grey hair and beard standing in front of a concrete wall

Geerat Vermeij is an evolutionary biologist who has been blind since childhood. He uses touch in his work with molluscs as he investigates extinct species and their predators.

Geerat attributes his interests in nature and natural history to his parents and supportive teachers throughout his life. He has been published over 200 times.

Geerat states being visually impaired has helped him as a scientist because “being aware” has made him “a better observer.”

Farida Bedwei

A close up of Farida Bedwei with black hair and small hoop earrings wearing a white jacket and a black top stood outside in front of a tree

Software engineer Farida Bedwei has cerebral palsy. She developed cloud software now used by over 100 finance companies in her home country Ghana and has published a children’s book to “educate people about disability from the perspective of someone living with it.”

One of the most successful entrepreneurs on the African continent, she’s won awards for her leadership in finance.

Richard Mankin

A close up of Richard Mankin with short grey hair and a short grey beard wearing a white shirt stood in front of a blue background

Research entomologist Richard Mankin serves as the president of the Foundation for Science and Disability and says he was “born to be a scientist.”

Richard wears braces on his legs and uses crutches to walk while conducting field research as part of his work on how insects use smell and sound.

Hamied Haroon

A close up of Hamied Haroon with short grey hair and facial stubble wearing glasses and a pale blue shirt holding a book and sat in a lecture theatre

Career advisers discouraged Hamied Haroon from becoming a doctor, but he was determined to pursue a medical career. He has the hereditary condition Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which causes neurological deterioration.

Using calipers and a wheelchair, Hamied continues to adapt to changes in his body. He studies dementia in the hopes of developing more effective treatments for the disease by using MRI technology.

Albert Einstein

A black and white image of Albert Einstein with frizzy white hair and a moustache wearing a thick wool jacket

Albert Einstein’s achievements in the fields of mathematics and physics didn’t come without challenges. Having a learning disability, it’s reputed that he did not learn to talk until age four and was often confronted by teachers for his inability to grasp concepts as fast as other students. It’s possible he was experiencing symptoms of dyslexia.

Edwin Krebs

Edwin Krebs wearing large glasses, a black jacket and patterned blue and red tie standing in front of a patterned wallpaper

Nobel prize-winning biochemist Edwin Krebs made a sensational discovery in the 1950s about cellular activity in the human body that led to greater understanding about hormones, cell life spans, and even how the body can reject transplanted organs. He is hearing-impaired.

He was one of the last people to discover he would be getting the Nobel in 1992 because he couldn’t hear the phone ring.

Do you know any other disabled scientists or are you a disabled person who works in the field? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter @DHorizons.

By Raya Al-Jadir

More on Disability Horizons… 

Raya Al-Jadir

A fellow at the Carter Centre for Mental Health Journalism, Raya writes about culture, literature and health for Disability Horizons. As a freelance writer, she has worked with a range of publications, such as The Independent, Huffington Post, and the UAE The National newspaper. She also runs her own blog, Careless.
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