For many facing a disability, it’s easy to focus on what you’re no longer able to do. But it doesn’t have to be that way. For these famous people, disability didn’t stop them from making their mark on the world.
Stricken by a severe illness when she was a child, Keller grew up unable to hear or see to become a celebrated author, speaker and activist for the deaf and blind. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1904, campaigned for women’s suffrage and founded Helen Keller International, a nonprofit dedicated to saving the sight and lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in Africa and Asia.
Renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, a form of motor neurone disease, shortly after he turned 21. Although only given two years to live, Hawking went on to become a celebrated physicist, author, lecturer and professor. His life was the subject of the film The Theory of Everything in 2014.
Known for his iconic roles in television’s “Family Ties” and “Spin City,” Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease in 1991. He announced his condition seven years later and, upon his retirement from acting full-time, founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation to advocate for research in finding a cure for Parkinson’s. Fox continues to perform, occasionally guest-starring in TV roles and giving voice to animated characters for film.
Surfing sensation Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm to a shark attack when she was only 13, but was back in the water only one month later. She won her first national title when she was 15 and today is a professional surfer and motivational speaker. The shark attack and her recovery were chronicled in the 2014 film “Body and Soul” released in 2014.
Film and television actress and children’s author Marlee Matlin lost her hearing when she was a child and went on to become the only deaf recipient of the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, an award she won at the age of 21. She has starred in numerous film and television productions, including “Children of a Lesser God” and “The West Wing.” She has written three children’s books.
An aspiring composer, Beethoven began to lose his hearing in his 20s and overcame deep bouts of depression to continue writing music. Many of his celebrated works were written after he was almost completely deaf .Today he is regarded as one of the most famous and influential of all composers.
When he was nearly 40, Franklin D. Roosevelt was stricken with polio, a disease that dramatically limited his ability to use his legs. Already an accomplished politician and government servant, FDR went on to become governor of New York and, in November 1932, was elected President of the United States. He remained in office until his death in 1945, becoming the longest-serving president in U.S. history.
Known to a generation of movie fans as Superman, Christopher Reeve became a quadriplegic during a horse riding accident. Confined to a wheelchair and requiring a ventilator, Reeve nevertheless advocated for research to help those suffering from spinal-cord injuries and founded what is today known as the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Reeve continued to act and direct until his death in 2004.