No stereotypes allowed: six remarkable people who happen to be blind

Can people who are blind be U.S. Senators, literary inspirations, horse divers, echolocation experts, professional sports owners or operatic tenors? You bet!

Andrea Bocelli, Mary Ingalls, Gordon Gund, Thomas Gore, Sonora Carver and Daniel Kish

Six remarkable people who were who were undaunted by blindness (clockwise from upper left): Andrea Bocelli, Mary Ingalls, Gordon Gund, Thomas Gore, Sonora Carver and Daniel Kish.

January 30, 2015

Complete this sentence: “People who are blind can’t…” Guess what? They can. As the six stories below prove, a lack of eyesight doesn’t mean a lack of skill, ambition or courage. Meet six unique and fascinating people who were undaunted by blindness.

  1. Sonora Carver. She had perhaps the most unusual and dangerous job a person who is blind ever had. Beginning in the late 1920s, Carver – who was not blind at the time – worked as a horse diver in Doc Carver’s Circus. This daredevil act involved diving from a platform 40 feet above the ground, on horseback, into a small pool of water. But during a jump in 1931, Carver and the horse hit the water badly, resulting in detached retinas and permanent blindness for Carver. Ever the daredevil, Carver was back diving within a year of her accident – doing the risky stunt without the benefit of vision. She performed for 11 more years before retiring. Her story was the inspiration for the 1991 movie “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken.”
  2. Andrea Bocelli. This Italian operatic tenor and popular musician is world-renowned for his beautiful singing voice. He was born with a visual impairment caused by glaucoma. At age 12, he lost his remaining sight in a soccer game when he was hit on the head and suffered a brain hemorrhage. Bocelli was also born with a love of music. He began playing piano at age 6, and won his first singing competition when he was 14. He has been nominated for both a Grammy Award and an Oscar, and won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. But lest you think he’s all talent, People magazine voted Bocelli one of their 50 Most Beautiful People in 1998.
  3. Gordon Gund. The CEO of Gund Investment Corp., Gund began losing his sight to retinitis pigmentosa in his 20s, becoming blind by the age of 30. Gund is a huge sports fan, and owned the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team from 1983 to 2005, and the San Jose Sharks hockey team from the early 1990s to 2002. An avid skier both before and after losing his sight, Gund said he skied better without sight, relying only on his sense of touch and motion. In fact, he has had only three collisions on the slopes, one of which occurred when another skier collided with him as she was trying to read Gund’s “Blind Skier” bib.
  4. Thomas Gore. Great-grandfather to former Vice President Al Gore, Thomas Gore made political history of his own. He was elected U.S. Senator from Oklahoma in 1907 when it was granted statehood, becoming the first person who was blind to serve in that office. He was reelected several more times before leaving politics in 1936 to practice law. But it’s the accidental way Gore lost his vision that makes an interesting side note to an exceptional life. Gore became mostly blind in his left eye at age 8 because of a stick thrown by a playmate, and a toy crossbow took the sight in his right eye at age 11.
  5. Daniel Kish. If you happened to see Kish on the street, he might appear to be a typical sighted person because he doesn’t use a white cane or a guide dog. But Kish has been blind since just after his first birthday, when he lost both eyes to childhood cancer. He navigates by clicking his tongue and listening to the sound bounce off nearby objects. It’s similar to the echolocation used by bats. Kish, who is now in his 40s, hikes, bikes, camps and climbs trees. He runs a non-profit organization called World Access for the Blind which strives to teach others who are blind to navigate as he does.
  6. Mary Ingalls. Generations of children grew up knowing the name of Mary Ingalls. She’s the older sister of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the writer who chronicled her family’s life on the Kansas and Dakota prairies in the famous “Little House” books. Mary and Laura were pioneer girls who lived when the West was still wild. Mary lost her sight to illness at 14, and Laura became her eyes, describing everything to her beloved sister. Mary attended the Iowa College for the Blind from 16 to 24. She died at age 63 having no idea she would become loved by millions thanks to her sister’s book series, written a few years later, and the long-running television series that followed.

This list was compiled from the book “Undaunted by Blindness” by Clifford E. Olstrom, a compendium of 400 famous, unusual and interesting people who are blind.

Read more about: Advocacy, Living With Blindness