Inspiring Disabled People That Changed The World

What is it about people that inspire us?

Is it the people who talk about how much wealth they have or show off their cars and watches?

For me what actually makes someone inspirational is that they have overcome great obstacles and succeeded in the face of doubt and difficulty. A person who has made it despite all the odds are the kind of stories really worth hearing. Whether it’s in sport, the arts, music, politics or business, this article is a tribute to those well known disabled people who never let their circumstances hold them back.

Stephen Hawking

One of the most well-known physicists of the modern age, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS when he was 21. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a group of rare neurological diseases that affect the neurons responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. Voluntary muscles are responsible for movements like chewing, walking and talking. The disease is progressive, meaning the symptoms get worse over time.

Hawking’s symptoms gradually depreciated over the decades, when he lost the ability to speak he was able to communicate through a speech-generating device connected to a single cheek muscle.

As well as pioneering a number of theories and explanations about black holes, Stephen Hawking has had more than 15 books published and lectured at many of the world’s top universities. Also a prominent figure in pop culture, Stephen Hawking has appeared on popular TV shows such as The Simpsons and Star Trek: The Next Generation. His best-selling work, A Brief History of Time, stayed on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for 237 weeks.

Stevie Wonder

Being born six weeks prematurely meant the blood vessels in the back of Stevie Wonder’s eyes were not able to develop properly (retinopathy of prematurity) resulting in him being blind since birth but this didn’t stop Stevie singing and he signed with Motown’s Tamla label at the age of 11. In 1963, he released the number-one hit “Fingertips” when he was just 13, making him the youngest artist to ever top the charts. Stevie has survived a near-fatal car crash, and has a career of amazing longevity, recording over 30 American top 10 hits, including “Superstition” “Sir Duke” and “I Just Called To Say I Love You”

Frida Kahlo

One of the most famous figures of the twentieth century, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo lived with disability from polio as a child and had to be bedridden for nine months, this left her with a slight limp. This condition was further exasperated by a bus collision which happened on the way home from school, a bus driver tried to pass in front of an oncoming electric streetcar, which crashed into the side of the bus, killing a number of passengers and seriously injuring Kahlo. It was a miracle the artist survived, as the accident sent a handrail through her back and out of her pelvis, resulting in injuries that pained her throughout her life, and left her unable to have children.

During her recovery, she became interested in sketching, painting and photography, thanks to her father. She used it as a way to escape and question the feelings she was confronted with.

Themes surrounding her body, injuries, infertility and relationships were prevalent in her paintings. She had a tumultuous relationship with famed Mexican artist, Diego Rivera which featured heavily in her work, but was arguably most famous for paintings depicting gender, class race and post-colonialism at the time.

Helen Keller

Born as a healthy child in Tuscumbia, Alabama on June 27 1880, Helen Keller became deaf and blind at just 19 months old due to the result of an unknown illness, which is now thought to be potentially rubella, scarlet fever or meningitis. Keller’s childhood teacher, Anne Sullivan, helped her make tremendous progress with her ability to communicate, teaching her to spell out words, famously teaching Helen the word ‘water’. Keller was a fast learner, learning 30 words within the first day, and eventually going on to graduate from college in 1904. This achievement made Helen Keller the first deaf and blind person to graduate from college. Her first book was published even before she graduated, and she wrote many more in her lifetime. Receiving many achievements in her lifetime, she became the co-founder of the America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and travelled to over 35 countries.

Sudha Chandran

Born in Mumbai in India, Sudha Chandran was a famous Bollywood dancer and television actress. Her father saw how much she loved dance and performance from a young age and enrolled her in a dance institute. She was performing on stage by the age of 8 and was already a rising star in the dance world at 15, with more than 75 stage performances under her belt. Just four months before her 16 birthday, she was travelling on a bus from Trichy which was involved in a major road accident. The event fractured her right leg and left cuts below the knee. Because of the sudden rush of critical patients at that time, she was treated by a team of medical interns. They failed to see the cuts on her lower leg and simply wrapped her leg with plaster rather than treating the wounds. By the time it was discovered, the leg had become gangrenous and had to be amputated a few inches below the knee to stop the infection from spreading. She was fitted with an artificial leg known as the Jaipur Foot but was determined to walk again, painstakingly learning both to walk and dance with the prosthetic leg over the next few months. She returned to the stage and continued to dance, eventually receiving greater appreciation from Indian and international media than prior to her injury. She continues to dance and runs dance schools under her name in Mumbai and Pune, with her husband as the official director.

Nick Vujicic

Born without limbs, he wasn’t expected to survive past infancy, as is unfortunately common for people with tetra-amelia syndrome. A rare disorder characterised by the absence of all four limbs, it can often result in malformations of other bodyparts such as the organs and skeleton. Nick survived past infancy and he was determined not to allow his disability to hold him back. Despite having no arms or legs, he does have two tiny feet, one with fused toes which he learned to use as fingers to perform everyday tasks. With the help of his family, he managed to graduate from Griffith University and founded Life Without Limbs, an international ministry serving those who are missing one or more limbs. As well as being an author, musician, actor and enjoying fishing, he also travels around the world as an evangelist, motivational speaker and is happily married with four children.

Esther Vergeer

Now retired, the famous Dutch wheelchair tennis player was the reigning champion for more than thirteen years. She became paralysed from the waist down following a nine-hour operation on a Vascular Myelopathy around her spinal cord. Following the operation, Esther Vergeer learned to play basketball, volleyball and tennis in a wheelchair. She became number 1 in the world for wheelchair tennis from 1999 until her retirement in February 2013, a phenomenal 14 years on the top spot.

Often a disability has not been something that holds people back, but is one of the driving reasons behind a persons success. Staying positive and looking for creative solutions to benefit the world helped these inspirational people overcome their circumstances and achieve greatness.

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