Anything You Can Do, They Can Do, Too

This is the 66th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

While you flex your muscles in front of your morning mirror and congratulate yourself on your nimble brain, consider this:
The light over your mirror was perfected by a deaf man.
While your morning radio plays, remember the hunchback who helped invent it.
If you listen to contemporary music, you may hear an artist who is blind.
If you prefer classical, you may enjoy a symphony written by a composer who couldn’t hear.
The President who set an unbeatable American political record could hardly walk.
A woman born unable to see, speak, or hear stands as a great achiever in American history.
The handicapped can enrich our lives.
Let’s enrich theirs.

There’s a lot of facts in this ad I was not aware of, so I decided to do some digging.

  • Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, had an early bout with scarlet fever as well as ear infections which left him with hearing difficulties in both ears, a malady that would eventually leave him nearly deaf as an adult.
  • Charles Proteus Steinmetz arrived in the US in 1889 as a political refugee from Germany. Physically deformed (a diminutive hunchback), he was nearly denied admission to this country. His work at GE on hysteresis loss, ac circuit theory, and high power discharges provided the basis for the progress in ac circuits at the turn of the century.
  • Stevie Wonder, blind since shortly after birth, is an American musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist. He is one of the most critically and commercially successful musical performers of the late 20th century.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven was a deaf German composer and the predominant musical figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the age of 39, Roosevelt fell ill and was diagnosed with polio, leaving him with permanent paralysis from the waist down. He went on to serve as President from 1933-1945, our only three-term President, and was considered by many to be one of the best ever.
  • At 19 months old, Helen Keller contracted an illness described by doctors as “an acute congestion of the stomach and that left her both deaf and blind. She went on to become a prolific author, political activist, and lecturer. She was also the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree.

An impressive group of individuals to be sure. None of them let their disability determine their fate, and perhaps even used it as motivation to achieve their goals.

I think we’ve come a long way in our understanding of what people with a disability are capable of, but there’s still a long way to go, particularly in regards to people with cognitive disabilities.

But I am optimistic that progress will continue to be made, and I am grateful for all the parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, researchers, and medical personnel who are committed to helping everyone achieve their potential.

It truly takes a village.