I really enjoyed the Deaflympics this year and was dismayed that it was not given a higher priority in the media – especially after the feel good factor of the Olympics and Paralympics last year. It made me think about other areas where the achievements of deaf people are not recognised. As I am a deaf scientist myself, I naturally wondered if any famous scientists were deaf. So equipped with Google, I started to have a look around.
To my surprise, perhaps one of the most famous scientists in history turned out to be deaf. Thomas Edison, the scientist who invented the light bulb and the telegraph, was deaf. Edison even attributed his success as a scientist to be being deaf as all communications has to be written so there were no misunderstandings. It amused me to discover that he claimed to be deaf because someone picked him up by is ears!!
There are some lesser known (at least in the general public), but by no means less successful deaf scientists; for example, Sir John Cornforth, a Nobel Prize winning chemist who worked in synthesis and catalysis, was deaf.
The Norwegian Astronomer, Olaf Hassel, who discovered Hassel’s comet and a nova was also deaf.
The French scientist, Charles Henri Nicolle, who discovered the mechanism of transmission of Typhus through body lice, was deaf. This discovery led to a major breakthrough in medicine and he went on to win the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology
Many of us look to the stars with aspirations of landing on other planets and meeting extraterrestrial life – but how many of us knew that the father of Astronautics, Konstantin Eduardovic Tsiolkovsky was also deaf. I didn’t.
One particular scientist, Nansie Sharpless, overcame many educational barriers and paved the way for educational reform in the US for deaf students. She was a biochemist who investigated the long term effect of Levodopa as a treatment pathway for Parkinson’s disease. One particular aspect of scientific life that was a boon for Dr Sharpless was the introduction of poster sessions at scientific conferences. Traditionally scientific findings are presented orally at a conference where they may be challenged. This format is particularly onerous for deaf scientists, not only because we have to talk in a clear and concise manner, we are also asked questions from a wide audience. The incorporation of poster sessions (where scientists create posters explaining their work) transformed this, and thus allowed deaf scientist to routinely and easily present posters. Questions were much more manageable as they would be asked face to face.
It is important and right that these scientists are recognised for their achievements and not for their deafness; but it is also important that we recognise their achievements as deaf scientists. The educational system is much more supportive of deaf students nowadays, but back in the days when the above scientists were students, the struggle would have been incredible. That these scientist has reached such lofty heights of achievements (with Nobel Prizes no less) despite their deafness is awe-inspiring! Whenever the difficulties of academic life gets me down, I just think of these individuals.
More deaf scientists can be found at the following link – http://www.twu.edu/dsc/
Dr Graham Williams is a Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science at the University of Huddersfield. He has also been profoundly deaf since birth and communicates primarily through lip-reading. He was educated at a combination of schools for the deaf and mainstream schools (with deaf support units) until studying for a BSc in Physiology at the University of Leeds and an MSc in Neurosciences at King’s College London. He then worked at the University of Oxford and became a forensic scientist for the London lab of the Forensic Science Service. He has worked at the University of Huddersfield since 2007 and has just recently completed a staff PhD in Forensic Genetics.
The Limping Chicken is supported by a range of charities and organisations linked to deafness, all of whom offer services that enhance deaf lives. Click on the images on the right-hand side of this site or go to our Supporters page to find out all about them!
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
The site exists thanks to our supporters. Check them out below:
- Signature: Leading awarding body for BSL qualifications
- Ai-Media: Remote captioning. Find out the benefits of live captioning at university!
- Bellman & Symfon: home alerting solutions
- Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support
- BSL Zone: TV programmes in BSL for the Deaf community
- Stellar Communications: Speech-to-Text services
- Appa: Communication services for Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people
- SignLive: Online video interpreting for Deaf people
- SignVideo: Instant BSL video interpreting online
- 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services
- Eyewitness Media: TV and film from a Deaf perspective
- The National Theatre: Captioned and BSL accessible theatre in London
- Doncaster School for the Deaf: education for Deaf children
- Signworld: Learn BSL online!
- Helen Foulkes Translations: BSL translations
- RAD Tax Advice: Tax and Tax Credit info for Deaf people
- Performance Interpreting: BSL interpreting at concerts
- National Deaf Children's Society: The leading charity for deaf children
- Signed Culture: Advocating for BSL access to arts and culture
- SignHealth: healthcare charity for Deaf people
- CJ Interpreting: communication support in BSL
- British Society for Mental Health and Deafness: Promoting positive mental health for deaf people
- Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting
- BSLcourses.co.uk: Provider of online BSL courses
- Association of Notetaking Professionals: The professional body representing Electronic and Manual Notetakers
- Sign Solutions: communication support, training and translation
- InterpretersLive: On demand BSL video interpretation
- Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children
- Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support
- Hearing Choices: Australian hearing aid specialists
- Elmfield School, Bristol: Inclusive education for Deaf pupils
- deafPLUS: BSL advice helpline
- Exeter Deaf Academy: education for Deaf children
- Royal Shakespeare Company: Captioned and BSL interpreted performances (see dates here)
- Royal School for the Deaf, Derby: Residential education for deaf children