When I was first licensed in the 1960s in Nebraska, two groups of hams were commonly heard on the air before those with jobs got off work - other teens like me and the disabled hams. Some of my earliest Novice ham buddies were blind students at the Nebraska School for the Blind in Nebraska City, and there were many other visually-impaired hams, all of whom were exceptional operators, especially on CW where their fine-tuned hearing was an asset.
But another group of physically handicapped hams were often on 75 meters during the day, even forming their own 3PM net they called "The Dead End Net". Two of the most memorable were twins Bob KØVTD and Rich KØULQ Santin of Fullerton, Nebraska who were afflicted with muscular dystrophy and confined to wheelchairs. Their Swan 400 was often run in VOX mode where if you struck up a conversation with one, you would likely hear the other twin offering his comments as they were inseparable. Both had severe physical limitations - only Bob had limited use of his arms, but they possessed keen minds that were kept sharp by devouring all the books they could obtain. Rich had an almost photographic memory and would be heard telling hams where to measure and what to look for troubleshooting their rigs from memory after having studied the schematics. Their knowledge of electronics resulted in local citizens bringing them items to repair and this led to their ambition to go into business for themselves.
Despite all the barriers they faced, the brothers started Santin Two-Way Communications and with the help of one young assistant and a specially-equipped van, they successfully competed for business throughout the state. They were awarded a franchise by EF Johnson for their land-mobile radios - a connection no doubt that was fostered by the twin's ham radio background. Their success brought national attention, and in 1971 Robert and Richard Santin were awarded the honor of "Handicapped Americans of the Year". They travelled to Washington DC for the ceremony and even met President Richard M. Nixon. Governor James Exon awarded them the Nebraska Handicapped Employment award that year as well. Their sister Marilyn also obtained a ham license and travelled all over the world as a teacher before passing away in 2003.
Their story of courage and determination needed to be told, and there probably aren't too many of us left who knew them as young men who despite being confined to wheelchairs, could run mental circles around many and towered over most hams technically. The books that chronicled their lives that were published in the 70s have now been digitized so I can share their stories, and I encourage everyone to read the pages below - click any image to expand it to full size in your browser for easier reading. Then pause and reflect for a minute about how fortunate most of us are.
The terrible disease of Muscular Dystrophy is still with us, and Bob became the first to succumb in Nov. 1974. His brother Rich lasted two more years, becoming a silent key in July of 1976. I can still hear the voice of "K Zero Victor Tango Delta" as if he were sitting here, and Rich's technical guidance to some ham trying to fix a Galaxy or Swan just as clearly. To say they made an impression on this young ham would be an understatement. RIP Bob and Rich, and I hope others are inspired by your story.