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10 Mega Successful People With Disabilities

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Everyone has hardships they encounter in their lives, but when someone with a disability is able to overcome all of the additional c#$!% a disability brings to not only survive, but to find mega success, that is an amazing thing to behold.

It takes a lot of strength and a complete no-fear attitude to go as far as these highly successful people with disabilities have. From inventors and CEOs to performers and artists, here are of some of the biggest overcoming-disability-to-succeed success stories.

1) Stephen Hawking

Much more than the namesake of Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking (which is an awesome show on the Discovery channel by the way), Stephen Hawking is one of the most well-known physicists in the world, and he was able to achieve that in spite of being diagnosed with ALS when he was 21.

He can now only speak with the assistance of a computer and has been a fulltime powerchair-user since the 1980s. His disability however has never been an excuse to give up on his desire to study the universe, specifically the framework of general relativity and quantum mechanics. His best-selling work, A Brief History of Time, stayed on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for an astounding 237 weeks.

2) FDR

A beloved U.S. president who helped guide the nation successfully through World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is considered a great president and the entire time he was in office, FDR was also a wheelchair-user. Upon starting his political career in gusto, he contracted polio while drinking water at a campground and became paralyzed from the waist down.

Even though it wasn’t made public until years later that he couldn’t walk for fear of the public doubting his competency, FDR proved paralysis wasn’t a roadblock to being a great leader.

3) Ralph Braun

The late founder of the Braun Corporation, one of the leading manufacturers of wheelchair accessible vehicles, and named “a champion of change” by President Barack Obama, Ralph Braun was a man who thrived on bringing the freedom of mobility to people with disabilities.

Born with muscular dystrophy, Ralph started his career in 1966 when he created the first wheelchair accessible van with hand controls and in 1991 Ralph’s company, BraunAbility, created the first accessible minivan.  His vision has brought mobility via four wheels to millions of people around the world, and despite passing away earlier this year, his legacy will never be forgotten.

4) John Hockenberry

An American journalist and author, four-time time Emmy Award winner and three-time Peabody Award winner, John Hockenberry is one of the most successful journalists with a spinal cord injury. He worked for Dateline in the late 1990s, becoming one of the first visible journalists to use a wheelchair on an American network.  He’s also the author of the book. Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs and Declarations of Independence, and has been a radio host of The Takeaway, a live national news program on Public Radio since 2008.

5) Marlee Matlin

An Academy Award winning actress for her leading role in Children of a Lesser God (1986), Marlee Matlin is one of the most successful actresses who’s deaf.  She has been deaf since she was 18 months old due to a genetically malformed cochlea. She also received a Golden Globe Award for her role in Children of a Lesser. Since receiving her Oscar, Marlee has been a character on many TV shows including The L Word and Law & Order: SVU, and has appeared on reality shows such as The Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars.

6) Stevie Wonder

One of the most beloved singers alive today, Stevie Wonder is a musician, singer and songwriter who was born blind. He was born six weeks early. The blood vessels at the back of his eyes had not yet reached the front and aborted their growth, hence his blindness.

Considered a child prodigy, Stevie signed with his first record label at age 11, Motown’s Tamla label,and he’s been performing since. Over his wildly successful music career, Stevie has recorded more than 30 U.S. top ten hits, including his singles “Superstition,” “Sir Duke” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”

See Also: The Best Advice for Living with a Disability

7) Frida Kahlo

Injured in a trolley accident when she was a teenager and forced into bed rest for several months to heal a broken back and a back that that would never fully heal 100 percent, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is one of the most well-known artists with disabilities of the 20th century. She also contracted polio when she was six and had a misshapen leg.

Frida is most known for her self-portraits, many which portrayed her in her wheelchair.  While her tumultuous relationship with other famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera is another aspect of her life Frida is known for, Frida will always be known for her fierce spirit of survival through artistic expression.

8) Helen Keller

An American author, political activist and lecturer who is on the Alabama state quarter, Helen Keller was the first deaf and blind person to earn a college degree. Her story was famously portrayed in the play and film, The Miracle Worker, which documented how her teacher Anne Sullivan was finally able to develop a language that Helen could understand.

Helen wrote a total of 12 published books, including her spiritual autobiography, My Religion, and was also a member of the Socialist Party in America, and campaigned heavily for women’s rights and other labor rights.

9) Lenin Moreno

One of the most powerful people with a disability to hold public office since FDR, Lenin Moreno was the Vice President of Ecuador from 2007 to 2013, making history and bringing attention to the needs of the disabled people in his country in the process. He was injured in a shooting before getting involved in politics. Thanks to his work for providing for the needs of people disabilities in his country when he was Vice President, Lenin was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.

10) Sudha Chandran

While her name might not be as well known in the United States, Sudha Chandran is one of the most well-known dancers and TV actresses in India despite losing one of her legs to infection in 1981 after a car accident. She’s what is known as a Bharatanatyam dancer, and was able to teach herself how to dance using a prosthetic “Japir foot,” enabling her to become one of the most highly acclaimed dancers in the world. A Bollywood film, Mayuri, was also made about her life.

It takes a very special soul to harness the strength to climb to the heights these people have. Achieving greatness is never easy, especially in the face of disability, and they not only make it look easy, they’re now forever disability superstars.

Which mega successful people with disabilities have inspired you?

More From This Author: Former Model With Traumatic Brain Injury, Who Can’t Speak, Has a Powerful Message for All (Video)

See Also: How Does Society Perceive People In Wheelchairs?

Read More: 11 Things That Make A Wheelchair User Go Ugh

4 Comments


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About Tiffiny Carlson

Tiffiny Carlson is a writer and quadriplegic from Minneapolis. She has a C6 spinal cord injury from a diving accident when she was 14 years old. Writing and breaking stereotypes is her passion. She's been the SCI Life columnist for New Mobility magazine since 2003 and is the founder of the longtime disability site, BeautyAbility.com. Her work has also been featured in Penthouse, Playgirl and Nerve.com. And when she's not writing, Tiffiny loves to cook and practice adaptive yoga.


4 Responses

  1. [...] By Tiffiny Carlson, the Mobility Resource [...]

  2. I’m confused. How is a bad back an obstacle to success as a painter?

    And as for Marlee Matlin and Mr. Roosevelt, what obstacles do their disabilities represent? The only thing I can see that they would have to “overcome” is the attitudes of the public.

    If you want to sing and have a good voice, what on earth does being blind have to do with whether you can or not? Wonder didn’t develop his voice “in spite of” his blindness, did he? And he succeeded because he could sing, requiring no more stubbornness or ambition than for any other singer that I can see. I could go on, but I think you get my point.

    I am a psychologist, hope I’m pretty good at it, and can’t see for the life of me what my having had polio has to do with it — except maybe give me an edge in working with people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

    I’m very disappointed to see an article with these themes on this site, especially as written by a person with a disability.

    We’re either good at what we do, or we’re not. And we either get out and do it, or we don’t. And often, if we meet obstacles, they’re not things we have control over — other people’s attitudes, architectural barriers, hideous healthcare expenses, etc.

    I find these memes so annoying partly because they are dismissive of our talents. Wonder would be an awesome singer whether he was blind or not, black or not, or whatever. Ditto Hawking. I think most of us (certainly true for me) would prefer to be judged on our own merits, not in some particular category for the handicapped.

    • avatar Cassie C says:

      I’m also a bit disappointed by this article, since this sort of thing shames those with disabilities who can’t work.

      However, Frida didn’t “simply” have a bad back. During the accident, she was impaled by a metal pole that ruined several of her organs and nicked her spine. It’s a miracle she survived. She had rather extreme health problems and lived every day in excruciating pain. It’s a wonder she could get out of bed. Painting is quite physical- I’m a designer and have studied some fine arts. The bending, holding in one position for a length of time while you capture something in a rush before the light changes, cleaning up when you’re done- it’s all enough to cause pain in someone with no back issues. I was healthy when I did most of my fine art and by the end of a session my back would spasm, I’d hurt, and I’d have to go stretch and work it out. For someone like Frida? It would have been like someone was actively beating the shit out of you and had lit you on fire simultaneously while working. I’m amazed she ever managed to paint anything.

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