Unseen Advantage

What are the advantages to being a blind scientist?

For many reasons, it is hard to find any one individual with visual impairment in any STEM field. Why is this, when persons with fresh, enthralling ideas are lauded as the vanguard of scientific progression? Why, in a world full of ever-developing technology, are adaptive resources withheld from those whose circumstances give them a leg up in innovation and a well from which to draw new perspectives?

I strongly believe—nay, I know— that the unique perspectives of the visually impaired can lead them to innovate within any scientific field. My perspective has certainly helped me. In my graduate work, I studied the protein Helicobacter pylori urease. While my sighted peers looked at pictures and videos of the molecule in action, I, being blind, didn’t have any option but to get my data another way. So that’s what I did. I tracked the movement of amino acid chains and I used a root-mean-squared fluctuation method. Taking these routes meant I was untethered by visual data. In the end, I discovered something my sighted peers had missed: a horseshoe-shaped distribution of amino acids that could shuttle urea molecules right into the active site of the protein. This is when I demonstrated that I—like those with sight—had a full, albeit different, perception of the facts. Along with research, I now devote my time to outlining my own endeavors, tools, and methods to demonstrate that a blind person can enter into any STEM field and contribute just as much— if not more— as their sighted peers.

I know I have much to learn; my website, with its collection of helpful tools, focuses mainly on auditory and tactile methods. Recently, I started learning braille in the hope that I might expand my own toolkit. Ultimately, I aim to demonstrate, to those who are blind and sighted alike, that the visually impaired have a place in STEM as contributors, researchers, and, ultimately, innovators.