Temple Grandin was born in 1947 in Boston, Massachusetts. She is an American scientist and industrial designer with autism, notable for her work in creating mechanisms to counter stress in certain human and animal populations. Even at three, she was unable to talk and exhibited many behavioral abnormalities. With her parents rejecting a doctor’s advice to enroll her in a mental institution, she instead attended private schools. Eventually, she earned a Doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and taught animal science at Colorado State University in the 1990s.
While she faced many difficulties such as short-term memory deficits and hypersensitivity to sound and touch, Grandin devoted her life to coming up with systems to alleviate anxiety in organisms. In addition to her scientific work, she is also a speaker and author about animal behavior and autism. Not only has her talks improved the way abled people understand autism spectrum disorder, but she has also become the source of inspiration and comfort to many adults and children coping with anxiety and autism. Grandin is the author of Emergence: Labeled Autistic (1986), Thinking in Pictures, and Other Reports from My Life with Autism (1995), and The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum (2013).
Farida Bedwei, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Logiciel, a microfinance software company in Ghana, was born in April 1979. At the age of one, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and used a typewriter because she was unable to write by hand. Ultimately, this led to her interest in computers, eventually becoming a software engineer while also advocating for inclusivity toward people in Ghana, people with disabilities, and women in STEM.
Bedwei was homeschooled till twelve and eventually skipped high school to study computer science at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom and the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration. In her career at Rancard Solutions and G-Life Microfinance, Bedwei developed mobility platforms and designed new products respectively. In April 2011, she founded Logiciel, successfully implementing gKudi (a cloud banking software suite) in the microfinance industry. She has since won two Special Awards issued by Ghanian presidents El SISI and John Mahama.
Bedwei authored a mini-autobiography, Definition of a Miracle, an account of her hardships as a child with cerebral palsy and who had to move from the U.S. to Ghana. She serves as an inspiration by demonstrating how disability should not obstruct one’s career aspirations, but rather that it can help cultivate creativity and skill. Although cerebral palsy has confined her movement and speech, she stands at the forefront of achieving what was deemed impossible as a woman in STEM.
Wanda Díaz-Merced was born in 1982 in Puerto Rico. She is an astrophysicist who is notable for using sonification to turn large data sets into audible sounds. When she was a college student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in math and physics, she first started to see blind spots caused by diabetic retinopathy, eventually leading to her blindness by the age of thirty.
Losing her sight caused Díaz-Merced to lose motivation to continue with her education. She could not see, and therefore, understand anything in the classroom—which was mostly inaccessible—and took her six years to finish a four-year degree. Yet, she chose to persevere, and she is now a prominent astronomer and has traveled the world to study and promote equality of access to astronomy. Particularly, she discovered a new way to access and interpret space data—translating numbers into sound. While other people perceive data through vision, she did so through sound.
Fast forward, Díaz-Merced continued with her astrophysical research at NASA Spaceflight Center and completed a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Glasgow. She has also become a fellow at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the South African Astronomical Observatory. Furthermore, she is a public speaker and advocate for equity, astronomy, and disability, having co-chaired the 2019 conference Astronomy for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. She inspires young people to seek greatness through perseverance, even when faced with obstacles.
Helen Brooke Taussig
Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig was born in 1898 and is noted as a physician who is the founder of pediatric cardiology, developing the first successful treatment of “blue baby” syndrome. As a child, she was dyslexic and suffered hearing loss caused by whooping cough. However, she did not let these obstacles hinder her, becoming proficient in reading and eventually graduating from the University of California, Berkeley. She pursued her education and medical career at a time when women were not deemed appropriate to be a doctor, yet she persisted.
As an intern at Johns Hopkins and then the director of Hopkins’ Harriet Lane Clinic, a health care center for children, Taussig became one of the first women in the U.S. to hold a position that was mostly dominated by men. Because of her deteriorating deafness, she developed an innovative method to measure heartbeats, and noticed common beat patterns in the hearts of “blue babies.” Following this, she was able to successfully treat the otherwise fatal conditions of these infants. She also advocated against the approval of thalidomide in the United States, preventing a potential epidemic of birth defects.
Taussig was the author of several medical papers such as Congenital Malformations of the Heart and was the recipient of the Medal of Freedom given by President Johnson. She became the first woman president of the American Heart Association in 1965. Her innovation and determination have a lasting influence on cardiology, and as a disabled woman who pioneered inclusivity and equity, she serves as a role model for many.
Annie Jump Cannon
Born in 1863, Annie Jump Cannon grew up with an interest in astronomy. Together with her mother, she observed constellations from a young age, eventually leading her to pursue an education in physics at Wellesley College. She had contracted scarlet fever and lost most of her hearing in college, but this did not deter her from pursuing her education and career with passion and perseverance.
Following her graduation, Cannon returned to Wellesley and took graduate courses while simultaneously working for Edward Charles Pickering at Harvard Observatory. Her goal was to map and define constellations in the sky in the Catalog using methods of classification, which she did at an outstandingly quick pace. This became a long project to obtain the optical spectra of many stars to index and classify them by spectra.
Cannon classified more than 350,000 stars—a world record. The International Astronomical Union formally adopted her accurate and precise classification system in 1922. She became the first woman to receive a doctorate of science from Oxford University and thereafter created the Annie J. Cannon Prize for women with distinguished contributions to astronomy. She is an inspiring figure, who, despite facing the hardships of hearing loss, became the pioneer of astronomical classification.