Famous People with Disabilities
By: Janet Ambrose
Some of the greatest stories in history are about people overcoming obstacles and achieving things that were never believed possible. Some of these stories are true. Here is a list of five famous people with disabilities that have made extraordinary contributions to society in a variety of fields including arts, science, music, drama, and sports.
Professor Stephen Hawking is a noted physicist and cosmologist. He has lent his expertise to Universities such as Cambridge University, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and the California Institute of Technology. He has won the Copley Medal, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Prince of Asturias Award, and the Wolf Prize. He is also disabled due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Stephen Hawking not only defied odds by showing that a brilliant mind is separate from a challenged body, but is one of the most severe cases of ALS ever documented. He has lived longer than most who have the disease and continues to astound with his intellectual capabilities. As of 2009, Stephen Hawking was nearly 100% paralyzed, yet he continues to overcome physical challenges and reveals the brilliance of his mind.
A child prodigy, Stevie Wonder lost his sight shortly after birth and is blind. He also signed with Motown at the tender age of 11 and has received 22 Grammys. He is known for his stance on peace and is revered as one of R&B’s most prolific singers, songwriters, and musicians. Motown introduced Stevie Wonder as “Little Stevie Wonder” and by the age of 13 had his first hit. Some of Stevie Wonder’s biggest hits include “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and “Superstition.”
Helen Keller may be one of the greatest examples of the power to overcome disability known to humanity and is one of the most well-known of the group of famous people with disabilities being discussed in this article. Helen Keller was a typical child and had just begun to learn to speak, saying the words “wa-wa” for water, when at 19-months-old she was stricken with Scarlet Fever or Meningitis. Young Helen survived the illness but not without cost. She lost her sight and hearing, and the ability to speak. When she was 7-years-old, a live in tutor named Anne Sullivan, was hired to work with Helen. Like her young student, Anne Sullivan also suffered a disability, as her vision was impaired. By working with her tutor, Helen Keller learned sign language and discovered how to communicate. She later learned to speak, read, became a prolific writer, and received much formal education. Helen Keller attended the Perkins Institute for the Blind, the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf, and the Horace Mann School for the Deaf, and the Cambridge School for Young Ladies. This education prepared Helen for enrollment at Radcliffe College where she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts. Helen Keller is a notable and prolific writer and speaker. She was also a champion for the rights of disabled people.
Marlee Matlin was not born deaf, but lost her hearing at the age of 18-months-old. The exact reason why her deafness occurred is unclear, but is believed to have been attributed to a misshapen or underdeveloped cochlea. She is 100% deaf in her right ear and 80% deaf in her left. Marlee Matlin is the only deaf actress to have won an Academy Award for Best Actress. Matlin gave an extraordinary performance in the film “Children of a Lesser God.” She is a champion of rights for the deaf community and is widely known for her charitable and humanitarian work.
What may be one of the most amazing stories about famous people with disabilities overcoming adversity is the account of retired Major League Baseball Player Jim Abbott. Now working as a motivational speaker, Jim Abbott was born with one hand yet pitched a no-hitter in 1993, and has received several awards. Jim Abbott is the recipient of the Golden Spikes Award, the Hutch Award, and the Tony Conglaro Award. He retired with a win to loss record of 87-108.