Famous People with Disabilities
Famous people with disabilities are often an inspiration to those
who are fully able. Fame, (as opposed to notoriety) is usually
granted to those who have achieved something outstanding in life
and there are no special concessions for those with a disability.
Despite impairment to one or more of their physical or mental
abilities, they have to make their own way in life and, in fact,
often face barriers in addition to their disability. This is nothing
new. Down the ages, people with disabilities have achieved fame
through art, science and the humanities, overcoming great odds
to do so.
Beethoven is frequently mentioned as an example of a hearing-impaired
musical genius. Although his hearing was quite normal until around
his twenty-fifth year, over time, it became gradually worse and
he was eventually unable to hear, communicating through writing
in "conversation books." From the time his deafness
became troublesome, around 1803 (he was born in December 1770),
to the time he was unable to hear, in 1814, he produced six great
symphonies, numbers 3 to 8.
Degrees of Separation ...
In the U. S. Helen
Keller with the aid of Anne Sullivan gave millions of blind
(and deaf) people worldwide hope. Helen Keller was the first blind
deaf person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, graduating from
Stevie Wonder (pictured above), who first came to prominence
as Little Stevie Wonder at the age of twelve, was blind shortly
after birth, believed to have been caused by too much oxygen.
With his fame pre-dating The Beatles, Stevie Wonder is still at
the top of his trade, still producing great songs. Not only is
he a superstar vocalist, he is also much in demand as a harmonica
player, with his unmistakable sound being heard on tracks from
other recording stars.
Leader of the Band ...
Famous people with disabilities are often noted for being leaders
in their particular field, perhaps none more so than Professor
Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist and cosmologist from
England. Hawking didn't develop his disability, amyotrophic lateral
sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) until after he'd received his
B.A. degree at Oxford University in 1962.
It was when he subsequently began researching his PhD. at Cambridge,
that he noticed the symptoms. Eventually, he lost virtually all
muscular control and communicates through a device that allows
him to make small movements which are converted to audible speech.
He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States'
highest civilian award in 2009.
Christopher Reeve (pictured above) is best known as an actor,
for his portrayal of Superman, but he was also a film director,
screenwriter, producer and author. At the height of his career,
he was injured in a horse riding accident and became quadriplegic,
necessitating breathing equipment and a wheelchair for the remainder
of his life. He maintained his sense of humor, once he was rehabilitated,
and he went on to champion the causes of stem cell research and
people suffering from spinal cord injuries.
Of all the famous people with disabilities, one of the funniest
in the last fifty years, Richard Pryor, had an appeal that stretched
across all ages, all social groups and all colors. He could use
offensive language and ideas in a completely inoffensive way,
because at the bottom of everything he did was humor. He simply
made people laugh. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in
1986, but that didn't stop him continuing his life as a great
comedian, until his death in 2005. Like all the disabled people
mentioned here, Pryor is a true inspiration to those whose lives
are free from disability.