According to the World Health Organization, there were 39 million blind people worldwide in 2013. They live daily without the help of their eyes and use their other senses to integrate into society. Everyone with this disability sometimes has a great story to tell, but some blind people have achieved incredible things or experienced extraordinary situations. A number of these unique, almost unlikely stories have reached the national and international press.
- 1 The blind film critic: Tommy Edison
- 2 The soldier who can see with his tongue: Craig Lundberg
- 3 The adventurer who went to the South Pole: Alan Lock
- 4 The woman who can see movement: Milena Channing
- 5 The painter who cannot see his own art: Esref Armagan
- 6 The man who could hack into the telephone system: Joe Engressia
- 7 The inventor of Cruise Control: Ralph Teetor
- 8 The most famous blind girl in the world: Laura Bridgman
- 9 The first blind doctor in the world: Jacob Bolotin
- 10 The blind Schindler: Otto Weidt
The blind film critic: Tommy Edison
Who would have thought that this form of art would also be interesting for the blind and visually impaired? A film is primarily a visual medium. Tommy Edison, born blind, started in 2011 with placing film reviews on a YouTube channel. These videos invariably achieved thousands or even millions of views. Edison gives his opinion on various films, from The Hunger Games to Revoir Dogs and he always does this with a humorous joke. He approaches films differently than most film lovers. He judges the films on the story and the acting talent and therefore does not yield to the resounding success of many blockbusters. He is a big fan of “Die Hard”. Edison opts to understand the plot of the film as well as possible himself;
Edison has a second YouTube channel which offers an answer to many (pressing) questions of seeing fellow human beings. For example, in his videos Edison explains how the blind can understand colors, how a blind person learns to laugh, how Edison thinks about being able to see, etc. These blogs are simple but often provide a deep and personal insight into the life of blind people.
The soldier who can see with his tongue: Craig Lundberg
Craig Lundberg was a 24-year-old corporal who worked in Basra, Iraq, when his life was shaken forever in 2007. The young soldier sustained serious injuries to his head, face and arms after a rocket attack. He also became completely blind because of this.
Lundberg was allowed to test a crazy piece of technology by the Ministry of Defense: the BrainPort®. The BrainPort consists of sunglasses with a video camera attached to it. The camera images are converted into electrical impulses and sent to a “lollipop”. This lollipop is then again on the tongue of someone who is blind. Scientists are not yet sure where exactly these electrical signals will end up. This can be in the visual cortex or the somatosensory cortex (the part that processes contact). Anyway, Lundberg could now see two-dimensional images with this device. Specifically, he can identify simple forms, tackle objects and even read. Although this device is still under development and gives Lundberg a completely new life, it will never replace its faithful guide dog.
The adventurer who went to the South Pole: Alan Lock
Erik Weihenmayer is a blind adventurer who has climbed Mount Everest. However, he is not the only visually impaired person with these superhuman talents. Alan Lock dreamed of becoming a submarine officer, but during training he lost his eyesight in six weeks due to macular degeneration. He sees the world as “frosted glass with blind spots.” Lock has used his blindness positively and still wanted to conquer the world in his own way.
Between 2003 and 2012, he participated in 18 marathons, climbed Mount Elbrus, and was the first blind person to ever row across the Atlantic. Lock, who was not yet satisfied with his performance, decided to try something more challenging. With the help of two visually impaired friends and a guide, the 31-year-old left the Antarctic coast for a ski trip to the South Pole. He took a 60-kilogram sledge that was tied around his waist, had to fight against freezing winds and traveled 960 kilometers with his companions in 39 days. He survived on lumps of butter and dried food. With his journey, Lock has also supported various charities for the blind and visually impaired.
The woman who can see movement: Milena Channing
In 2000, 29-year-old Milena Channing was hit by a stroke that affected her primary visual cortex. She should be completely blind because of this, but Channing claimed that she saw rain falling down. She saw cars driving past her window and even saw her daughter running and playing. When doctors analyzed Channing’s brain, they thought she was mistaken. It was neurologically impossible for her to see anything other than a large, empty space. Doctors thought they might be suffering from Charles Bonnet Syndrome, a bizarre disorder that causes blind people to experience hallucinations.
Channing, who was convinced that she could really see, had a meeting with Gordon Dutton, the only doctor who believed her story. This Glasgow eye doctor suspected that Channing was suffering from the Riddoch’s phenomenon. This is a strange syndrome that allows people to only see shapes moving. To test his theory, Dr. Channing left him in a rocking chair. She had to move back and forth, and noticed that she suddenly saw the world move past her.
Five years after the stroke, a group of researchers confirmed that the part of Channing’s brain that processes motion is still intact. The signals were not sent to her visual cortex, but her eyes received information from the brain that is responsible for interpreting movement. Fortunately, with the help of Dr. Channing, Dutton objects are slowly becoming clearer. She still can’t see people’s faces near her because the part of her brain dedicated to that process no longer functions. But the fact that she can still see movement is simply amazing.
The painter who cannot see his own art: Esref Armagan
Esref Armagan, born in Istanbul in 1953, was blindly born into a poor family. Armagan was a curious child: He wanted to explore everything and touch what he could get in his hands. He even started to draw at the age of six. He can draw everything: from portraits to butterflies and that with colored pencils to oil paint. Armagan always works in complete silence, then visualizes an image and then makes a sketch with a Braille pen. He then sketches the etching with a pencil and checks his work with his sensitive left hand. Then he dips his fingers in the paint so that he can draw a windmill, a villa, or even a Volvo.
In 2009, the Swedish car company hired Volvo Armagan to paint their new S60. Armagan scanned the car model with his fingers and was immediately able to make a painting in an impressive way while he could not even see the subject. Armagan shows his paintings all over the world: the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, the United States, China, … He has also been a guest in a television episode of Discovery’s The Real Superhumans.
Very unusual with Armagan are his very unusual brains. Researchers from Harvard University asked the Turk to make some sketches while he was in an MRI scanner. While Esref was drawing, the scientists were shocked by what they saw. Usually the visual cortex in scans of a blind person looks like a black spot. They also saw this at Armagan when he was not yet drawing. However, when neurologists gave him pen and paper, his visual cortex lit up like a Christmas tree. It was as if he could see with his eyes. Scientists are still studying the mysterious brain of Armagan. Nevertheless, he makes unseen miracles on his canvases.
The man who could hack into the telephone system: Joe Engressia
Joe Engressia, who was born blind in 1949, was a precocious boy who spent his days playing with a telephone. He then called random numbers, and listened to calls for fun. It was the only way a visually impaired person could enjoy themselves in the 1950s. one of his hobbies was also “whistling”. The combination of his hobbies led to the secret world of the telephone exchange.
Engressia discovered at the age of eight that he had a special gift. He could make a call and whistle at 2,600 Hz so that the call suddenly aborted. He could make the telephone system think that he was an operator. He was therefore able to place long-distance calls for free or talk to several people at the same time. Eventually he was able to divert a call all around the world and send it back to himself through a separate receiver.
This was of course illegal and Engressia was arrested twice. He was technically very gifted but not so happy. He had a high IQ of 172 but his life at home was not easy. He was also sexually abused by a teacher. During his later life, Engressia changed his name to “Joybubbles” and pretended to be five years old. Joybubbles collected toys, talked to imaginary friends, and lived on social benefits. Engressia died in 2007 and left behind an impressive but depressing legacy.
The inventor of Cruise Control: Ralph Teetor
Anyone who has ever driven a car owes this to Ralph Teetor. During the 1940s he invented one of the most useful features in the car: cruise control. This is very impressive considering that Teetor became blind at the age of five. He lost sight in a shopping accident, but that didn’t stop him from tinkering and building things.
His blindness even gave him additional benefits. He was better able to concentrate on his duties. In addition, he was not limited by what his eyes told about what might be standard or acceptable. He could freely create what he saw in his mind, and as a result he made a lot of fun things. In 1902, twelve-year-old Teetor built a car from spare parts. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1912, and then started a new locking and balancing mechanism for steam turbine rotors in destroyers.
He eventually opened his own company that specialized in piston rings. However, his greatest achievement came during the Second World War when he rode in a car with his lawyer. The story goes that the lawyer could not talk and drive at the same time. When he started talking, he released the brakes. When he stopped talking, he gave gas. This irregular way of driving made his blind passenger nauseous. Being frustrated with his friend’s driving behavior, Teetor came up with the concept of cruise control. Ten years later he applied for a patent, and shortly thereafter it was built into Chrysler cars. Today, almost every car on the road has cruise control, all thanks to a blind inventor and a worthless driver.
The most famous blind girl in the world: Laura Bridgman
Have you ever heard of Laura Bridgman? There was a time when she was one of the most famous people on earth. Bridgman, born in 1829, lost four of her five senses at the age of two after an attack of scarlet fever. Only her sense of touch was left to her. The young girl ended up at the Peterson Institute in Boston, a foundation run by Samuel Gridley Howe. Although he was unpleasant to deal with, Howe was fascinated by Bridgman. By her seventh birthday he had taught Laura how to communicate with the outside world.
Forty years before Helen Keller was born, Bridgman learned to shape letters with her fingers and make shapes in the palm of a recipient. In this way she slowly learned the spelling of words and sentences. She also learned to read by putting her hands on relief letters. Thanks to her hard work and detailed reports from Howe, Bridgman became an international celebrity. She attracted thousands of fans who wanted her signature and hair strands. People came from all over the world to see how they could read and write. Little girls plucked the glass eyes from their dolls and gave the doll the name “Laura”. She even met Charles Dickens who wrote about her in one of his books, making her even more famous.
Of course life was still difficult for the young teenager. As she grew older, she suffered from anorexia because she couldn’t taste or smell food. She was also in the middle of a strange experiment. Howe was curious about what would happen if she didn’t get any religious influences from anyone, so he forbade everyone to talk about spiritual matters with Laure. However, when a group of evangelical Christians convinced her to become a Christian, Howe became furious and gave up his pupil. He even went so far as to claim that the blind were mentally inferior to the rest of the world. Bridgman, who was rejected by her teacher, spent the rest of her life at the Perkins Institute, where she became a forgotten figure left by the world.
The first blind doctor in the world: Jacob Bolotin
Jacob Bolotin has a special place in medical history. This good doctor who was born in 1888 in Chicago is the son of impoverished Polish immigrants. Unfortunately, congenital blindness was known in this family, causing three out of seven Bolotin children to be born blind, including Jacob. Because of his handicap, he soon developed his other senses. It wasn’t long before he could recognize people by their scents and read Braille through multiple layers of clothing.
After graduating from a school for the blind, Bolotin first worked as a salesman and sold brushes and typewriters on trams in Chicago. However, he did not want to give up his big dream of becoming a doctor. However, most universities were not prepared to admit a blind student. He eventually went to the Chicago College of Medicine. When he graduated at the age of 24, he became the first blind-born person to become a qualified doctor.
Bolotin specialized in heart and lung diseases. He obviously could not see his patients, but used his fingers and ears to diagnose a patient’s illness. During his internship at the Frances Willard Hospital, he made a remarkable diagnosis. He diagnosed a leaking heart valve in a young woman by feeling her skin and heartbeat. In addition to his medical work, he traveled across the Midwest where he gave lectures on blindness and started the first scouts group for the blind. Unfortunately Bolotin died at the age of 36. His funeral attracted no fewer than 5,000 people whose lives were affected by the blind doctor.
The blind Schindler: Otto Weidt
Otto Weidt hated the Nazis. As an anarchist and downright good man, he knew that Hitler was a real tyrant who seized power. When Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies on the streets of Berlin became clear, Weidt did not want this to happen just like that. Similar to the more famous Oskar Schindler, Weidt ran a shop that mainly employed Jews. However, the Weidt employees were all handicapped. He regularly hired deaf, stupid and blind workers from the Jewish home for the Blind and paid them to make horsehair brushes and brooms. Weidt knew what it was like to go through life without eyesight and wanted to help others with the same problem.
Weidt had to defend his workers against the Gestapo when Hitler was in power. He first tried to convince officials that his employees were essential to the war effort. When that didn’t work, he resorted to bribery and gave away rare items such as champagne, cigars, and perfume. It became more difficult when the Nazis decided to wipe out the Jewish population of Berlin. As soon as the crackdown began, Weidt tried to hide his employees, but when a few were caught and taken to a charging station, Weidt asked officials to let them go just before the train left.
Another time, Alice Licht, employee, was arrested and thrown in a cattle truck on the way to Auschwitz. Fortunately, she was able to push a postcard through the floor so that the note ended up at Weidt again. Despite his blindness, he hurried to Poland and rented a safe house filled with cash and clothing for the young woman. Weidt fell madly in love with Light. However, she left for America after the Empire fell and never saw her blind benefactor again. Although there is no consolation for a broken heart, Weidt was posthumously recognized by Yad Veshem as “Righteous among the Peoples.” He was a non-Jew who risked everything to save his fellow man.