Amid week-long activities to mark the United Nations’ International Day of People with Disabilities, with this year’s theme being “Sustainable development: The promise of technology,” it would be wiser to focus on solutions rather than problems and the positives instead of the negatives.
For instance, Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the greatest composers and musicians of all time, composed some of his best works after 1796 when he began to go almost totally deaf. Beethoven, born in 1770, was a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art and music. His best-known compositions include nine symphonies, five concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas and 16 string quartets. He also composed other chamber music, choral works including the celebrated Missa Solemnis and songs. Most of these including the immortal Unfinished 9th Symphony and the Ode to Joy were composed while he was almost deaf.
Another example comes from Albert Einstein admired as one of the greatest scientists of all time. Einstein (1879--1955) had a learning disability and did not speak until he reached the age of 3. He had a difficult time doing mathematics in school. He also found it hard to express himself through writing. Eventually he found the way to split the atom -- the smallest unit that defines the chemical elements and their isotopes. Through this Einstein changed the world for better or for worse.
For the visually handicapped people, we have the enlightening experience of Hellen Keller. She was the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree and went on to become an author, political activist and lecturer in the United States. The story of how Helen Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film, The Miracle Worker.
Then we have the inspiring and extraordinary life of Nicholas James Nick Vujicic. He is an Australian motivational speaker. He was born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterised by the absence of all four limbs. As a child, he struggled mentally, emotionally and physically, but eventually came to terms with his disability. At the age of seventeen he started his own non-profit organisation, Life Without Limbs. Nick Vujicic presents motivational speeches worldwide, focusing on life with a disability, hope and finding meaning in life.
In Sri Lanka we have the inspiring example of the Shivan Foundation which has set up several schools in Sri Lanka for children with special needs, especially those suffering from autism and cerebral palsy. It was founded by Ganesh Velautham, a London-based entrepreneur. Through his and his wife’s experience in raising their son Shivan, he understands the financial and everyday life challenges of raising a disabled child. As a result he is now dedicating his time to help disabled children and provide the necessary support for parents through the creation of dedicated child-support facilities in Sri Lanka for the benefit of local children and families from Britain. His son Shivan was born prematurely after just 24 weeks in his mother’s womb. Weighing only about 665 grams, Shivan developed cerebral palsy due to a lack of oxygen during birth. He has autism and is blind as a result of a detached retina. Later Shivan attended Lindon Lodge School in Wimbledon where he studied Math, English literature and Art.
With all these and more inspiring examples of disabled or differently-abled people achieving greater heights than people who have no physical or mental handicaps we hope this week dedicated to the disabled people will inspire them to realize that the very source of their weakness could turn out to be their source of greatest strength. If they have faith and hope nothing is impossible.