In a small attempt at balancing out this month’s coverage of able-bodied women, today I want to recognize two women who have overcome some significant challenges to achieve their success: Dr. Temple Grandin and Tammy Duckworth.
I first became familiar with Temple Grandin through the eponymous movie starring
Claire Danes, which won several Emmys. Grandin was born with autism in the 1940s, well before awareness campaigns and research made it a household word. Even today, autism spectrum conditions are not well understood by the general public, so that was Grandin’s main problem, I think. There was never anything really wrong with her — she earned her doctorate in animal science, she’s a professor at Colorado State University, she’s an expert on autism and as a pioneer in animal behavior, she consults for the livestock industry — she is just different. Clearly she is brilliant, but as she says, she thinks in pictures, not verbal language, and her challenges have come from learning to navigate a world that doesn’t understand her. Read more on Grandin and watch a talk she gave at a TED conference last year at Temple Grandin: The World Needs All Kinds of Minds.
Duckworth works as an assistant secretary in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
She herself is in the military. As a result of her service in the Iraq war, after an attack when she was co-piloting a Black Hawk helicopter, she lost both of her legs and partial use of an arm. She was awarded a Purple Heart, the Air Medal, and the Combat Action Badge. Just two years after that, she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois’ 6th Congressional District. She narrowly lost but has continued to be active in public life. She has refused medical retirement so she can continue serving in the Illinois National Guard; she speaks fluent Thai and Indonesian; and she completed the Chicago Marathon in 2008 and 2009. She’s inspirational, to say the least.