Around 16% of the world’s population is living with some form of disability, many of which are the actors, sports stars, and musicians that you know and love.
So often we forget that disabilities know no race, social status, or gender – anyone can be affected at any time.
Today, we celebrate 15 of the most successful persons with disabilities in the hopes that it will spark inspiration and drive others to not give up.
Born with muscular dystrophy, Ralph Braun began his career in 1966 when he created the first wheelchair-accessible van with hand controls. In 1991, his company, BraunAbility, went on to produce the first accessible minivan. He later went on to create the Braun Corporation, which is now one of the leading manufacturers of wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Ralph had a passion for bringing freedom to people living with disabilities and was even named a ‘champion of change’ by Barack Obama.
Even though she became deaf and blind at the age of 19 months due to an unknown illness, this didn’t stop Helen Keller from becoming one of the most famous personalities with disabilities. After she was taught to express herself by a teacher, Anne Sullivan, she went on to become the first graduate with deaf-blindness in the world. Thereafter, she spent her time traveling the globe and campaigning for labor and women’s rights, socialism and more. Her autobiography, The Story of My Life, is still a classic, even today.
One of the most successful American journalists to date, John Hockenberry, lost his ability to walk following a spinal cord injury. He went on to win an Emmy four times and the Peabody Award three times. John also wrote the book, Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs and Declarations of Independence and has been the host of The Takeaway live national news program since 2008.
Founder of Life Without Limbs, Nick Vujicic, was born without limbs in 1982, which led to a difficult childhood filled with discrimination. So much so that he tried to take his own life. Today, Nick is a world-renowned motivational speaker who has written several books and is a regular guest on both TV and radio. He even starred in the short film, The Butterfly Circus.
Anyone who appreciates art knows Frida Kahlo. Known for her amazing self-portraits, Frida became disabled following a bout of polio when she was six as well as a trolley accident in her teenage years. Even today, she is still renowned for how her art questions ideas of identity, gender, class, post-colonialism, and race.
Since the 90s, Elton John has left a lasting mark on the music world, achieving seven consecutive #1 albums. Not only has he been knighted but the movie, Rocket Man, was based on his life, a true testament to the legend that he is. What many might not know is that Elton struggled with epilepsy for many years, which drove him to turn his life around.
Despite his disability, Italian musician, writer, and musical producer, Andrea Bocelli has sold millions of records globally and received numerous awards. Andrea was born partially blind due to congenital glaucoma, but this didn’t stop him from taking piano lessons from the young age of six. It was after suffering an injury in a football game that he became completely blind, but this didn’t quell his love and passion for music – he even studied law – leading him to become one of the most successful persons with disabilities
After competing in Formula 1 for several years, an accident led to Alex having both his legs amputated in 2001. However, three years later, he was back behind the wheel, driving for BMW, all thanks to some prosthesis. Following four World Touring Car Championship wins, Alex shifted his focus to cycling, which resulted in three Paralympic gold medals.
World-famous mathematician and Nobel Prize winner, John Nash, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1959. Despite this, John went on to conquer the world of mathematics and teach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University. In 1998, Russel Crowe portrayed John in the Oscar-winning masterpiece, A Beautiful Mind.
Following a shooting accident, Lenin Moreno went on to become the first disabled politician to hold public office since Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was the Vice President of Ecuador from 2007 to 2013 and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. He made history in his efforts to bring more attention to the lives and needs of Ecuadorian citizens living with disabilities.
As a child, Aaron underwent several failed hip operations, which left him wheelchair-bound. However, this hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the world’s most famous skaters. In 2005 and 2006, Aaron managed to land a jump with a 180º turn and he managed the first somersault in wheelchair history. Today, he is an inspiration to thousands.
Anyone who loves comedy and film knows Michael J. Fox, with Back to the Future being one of his most famous movies. At the age of 29, Michael was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which inspired him to launch the Michael J. Fox Foundation, an organization that is dedicated to finding a cure for the disease. To date, the foundation has invested over $650 million in Parkinson’s-related research.
TV star and Bollywood dancer, Sudha Chandran, unfortunately lost her leg to an infection in 1981 following a car crash. With the help of a prosthetic foot, Sudha managed to teach herself to dance and became one of the most renowned dancers in the world. Mayuri, a popular Bollywood film, was made about her life.
During the 20th century, boxer Muhammad Ali became one of the most celebrated sporting stars of all time and one of the most famous personalities with disabilities. Even though some of his motivational quotes are still used today, Muhammad was barely able to read due to dyslexia, a condition that he was fighting long before his days in the ring.
Even though Marlee lost her hearing at the age of 18 months due to a genetically malformed cochlea, she went on to become an Academy Award-winning actress, with her role in Children of Lesser God being one of her most notable. After winning a Golden Globe Award for this role, she went on to star in shows such as The L Word, Law and Order, and Dancing with the Stars.
These are just a handful of people who are a testament to the fact that even though a disability can be life-altering, it doesn’t need to stop life in its tracks.