Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking: besides being among the greatest scientific minds in history, these men had something else in common – they were all disabled.
Einstein, the mastermind behind the Theory of Relativity, had a learning disability.
If it weren’t for Edison, who was partially deaf, we wouldn’t have electric light or the foundations of the modern music industry.
If not for Hawking, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), we may not understand the universe at the level we do today.
In fact, much of the technology we use every day, including one of the first typewriters, audiobooks, vibrating phones, speech-to-text technology and predictive texting, was originally designed to help differently-abled people overcome physical and communication barriers.
August de los Reyes, former head of design at Xbox, feels people with disabilities have always sought to bring normalcy to their lives. Having become disabled at the age of 42 himself, he believes they are the original hackers, creating solutions that help people with disabilities live their lives as close to the majority as possible.
A product of our environment?
According to the World Health Organisation, over a billion people – or 15 percent of the world’s population – have some form of disability.
After becoming disabled, de los Reyes realised that there was no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it came to disability solutions. “The biggest challenge is reframing disability as a mismatch between one’s abilities and the environment. In other words, disability is designed.”
Does this suggest that disability can be un-designed?
Nicky Abdinor, a clinical psychologist and motivational speaker, who was born without arms and shortened legs, thinks so.
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