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Rehab Medical Honors Black Inventors for Black History Month

In honor of black history month, we’d like to shed some light on many black inventors, entrepreneurs, and pioneers, most notably focusing on those lesser-known black contributors, who helped those with disabilities lead a better and more accessible life.


Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan and the Invention of the Three Light Traffic Signal

When you think of the modern-day traffic signal, you may think of red, yellow, and green lights but did you know when the traffic signal was first created it had only two lights? … red and green.

It wasn’t until Garrett Morgan, Cleveland Ohio’s first black citizen to own a vehicle, witnessed an accident at an intersection, inspiring him to create an improve traffic signal. In the early 1920s, he created the yellow light to give warning to motorists that traffic is preparing to stop.


Alexander Miles

Alexander Miles Saves Lives with Automatic Elevator Doors

The use of automatic elevator doors just seems intuitive right? In modern-day times, yes, but back when elevators were first invented in the late 1800s, the doors weren’t always automatic. Alexander Miles, an African American who transcended racial barriers in the late 19th century, invented the automatic elevator doors after his daughter had a near fatal fall down an elevator shaft.

In the early years of the elevator, both the shaft and the elevator door had to be manually opened or closed by either the elevator operator or the passengers, which created many hazards.

By attaching a flexible belt to the elevator cage, that when in contact with the drums along the elevator shaft, would allow the doors to automatically open at the appropriate times.


Rufus J. Weaver

Rufus J. Weaver Advocates for Mobility Freedom with Stair Climbing Wheelchair

After serving as the first black submariner in the U.S. Navy for nearly 20 years, Rufus J. Weaver retired and went on to work for Pfizer. During his time at Pfizer, Weaver invented the stair climbing wheelchair to help those with disabilities not feel hindered from going places due to stairs.

Stair climbing wheelchairs are generally meant to provide a safe and efficient way to transport mobility users up and down stairs.


Mary Beatrice Kenner

Mary Beatrice Kenner Promotes Independence with Tray Pocket for Mobility Devices

As the daughter and granddaughter of two other famed black inventors, Kenner was determined to continue the family tradition and went on to invent various life changing products. Her most notable invention was the sanitary belt. Initially inventing the belt in the 1920s, Kenner was unable to go to market since she could not afford a patent.

Fast forward 30 years later, Kenner’s invention became more popular, and the Sonn-Nap-Pack company was interested in helping her go to market. However, when they discovered she was black, they declined to assist her. By the 1970s, sanitary belts were no longer a popular method of preventing menstrual leakage.

After the sanitary belt invention failed, she did not stop there. Kenner went on to invent other notable things that made a difference in the mobility industry. In 1976, she invented a surface tray and a soft pocket that could easily attach to a wheelchair or walker, making it easy for mobility users to carry and store necessary items to promote independence.


Johnnie Lacy

Johnnie Lacy Advocates for Disability Rights Among African Americans

Between the 1960s and 1980s, Johnnie Lacy became one of the most renowned black disability rights activists, who brought to light the intersectionality of race and disability. At age 19, Lacy was diagnosed with polio, leading her to become briefly paralyzed and in need of a mobility solution. Despite being limited by her mobility, Lacy decided to pursue a higher education but was soon met with opposition.

During a time when whites and blacks were still segregated, Lacy not only struggled with being admitted into schools but also struggled with having her disability needs met. Facing these discriminatory remarks, Lacy became determined to fight for disability rights among the black community. As a result of her determination, in the early 1980s, Lacy helped to form the Berkeley Center Independent Living and served on the board of California’s Attorney General Commission on Disability. She ultimately became a trailblazer for disability rights and gave voice to black people living with a disability.



These are just a few black inventors that helped to reshape the healthcare industry and provide equality for those with disabilities. Other notable black inventors that contributed are Bessie Blount, the inventor of the feeding tube and kidney tray, Charles Drew who revolutionized blood banks, and Patricia Bath, a doctor who changed the way cataract surgery was performed. Learn more about these great inventors below!




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