According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, nearly 15 percent of the world population lives with some kind of disability. And even though 160 countries have signed the treaty, at least 20 countries including the United States have not ratified the agreement. What it boils down to is that in spite of recognizing the need to build an inclusive society where people with disabilities have equal rights to employment opportunities, many countries are yet to act on it.
However, such hurdles seldom affect the most driven people.
Helen Adams Keller was born in the United States in 1880 as a healthy child. However, an illness rendered her both deaf and blind before attaining the age of two. The services available to people with disabilities are undoubtedly below par today, but the situation back then was even worse. In spite of the challenges, Keller’s mother wanted her daughter to receive the best education and sought out experts who could help her achieve that.
Keller attended Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts and became the first deaf-blind person to graduated in 1904 with a bachelor’s degree in arts. During the time at the university, her correspondence with the Austrian philosopher Wilhelm Jerusalem helped him discover her literary talents and marked the beginning of Keller’s career as a writer and a social activist. She became a champion for the cause of people with disabilities and achieved international acclaim for her writings and speeches on topics as diverse as socialism and birth control.
Born in 1942 in Oxford, England, Stephen William Hawking is one of the most celebrated minds of the 21st century. He is a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author, Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at University of Cambridge, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
In 1963, at the age of 21, Hawking was diagnosed with a rare, slow-progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neurone disease. At the time, his doctors believed he would not live for more than two years. However, Hawking proved them all wrong and continues his work as a scientist and a role model for people with disabilities around the world.
Srikanth was born in 1992 in a farming family in Seetharamapuram of Machilipatnam, a coastal Indian city in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Some neighbors even advised his poor parents to smother him and save themselves from the pain of having to take care of a child born without eyes. When he reached high school, he was denied the right to study science and had to fight a six-month long court battle to do so. Later, he was denied an opportunity to study at the Indian Institute of Technology even though he had scored 98 percent marks.
In spite of the odds, Srikanth Bolla never gave up and went on to become the first international blind student to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earn an engineering degree as he had always dreamed of. After completing his studies, Bolla returned to India and went on to establish a business in his home state. Today his company, Bollant Industries is valued at over INR 500 million and employs hundreds of people with disabilities.
Sai Kaustuv Dasgupta
26-year old Sai Kaustuv Dasgupta was diagnosed with a rare disease, Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as the "Brittle Bone Disease”. Due to this condition, he has suffered more than 50 bone fractures so far, and is completely dependant on a motorized wheelchair to move around. His family moved from their home town, Siliguri in West Bengal to Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh when he was only two years old. Sai was completely bedridden between 2009-2015 after his health deteriorated.
However, none of it has deterred him from becoming a highly successful graphics designer, a singer and music composer, an author and a motivational speaker. Sai has already won many awards and earned recognition for his work around the globe. His book has been translated in six different languages. Sai has traveled to many countries around the world, and although, he has never been able to visit his hometown due to lack of accessibility in travel options available, a visit to Siliguri is high on his priority list.
History is rife with many examples of people with physical disabilities taking challenges head-on and achieving success much greater than anyone could anticipate. These four icons, however, have much more than just their stories of success to tell. They offer an unmatched inspiration for everyone that we can all challenge our limitations and win, no matter what the odds are.