I've always been amazed by the achievements of Helen Keller, who lost her hearing and sight at 19 months and didn't start to learn to communicate properly until she was about 7 or 8. Her name has come up several times recently in things I've been reading and so I looked up more about her. You can read her life story and letters from her equally amazing teacher Anne Sullivan here. There's a lot of reading on that webpage but it is totally inspiring!
Not only is Helen Keller's story amazing in itself but her account and those of Anne Sullivan say so much about language acquisition, the importance of reading, natural approaches to education and joy for living - Keller seemed to always be enthralled by the world around her.
Helen Keller was entirely deaf and blind yet could speak English, French and German. She could communicate using a touch based sign language; by morse code or by touching people's lips as they spoke. She could read English, French and German in Braille and in text with embossed letters. Her writing was elegant and well constructed (which really gives the lie to those who say that deaf people can't learn to write properly, though of course some can't). She had a voice that some people found difficult to understand, but was well respected as a speechmaker and campaigner.
She became a renowned campaigner for disabled people's rights and for human rights in general. A totally inspirational woman!