Disabilities are seen with very preconceived notions; people tend to have misunderstood ideas about people with disabilities. There is a great need to mainstream them, considering over one billion people in the whole world have a disability, out of which 61 million people are from the United States of America. People need to understand that they are ordinary people with ordinary lives, having the same interests, thoughts, and needs as us.
They are a great asset to the world, they can contribute to our society the same way we can. People need to eliminate their biases and take steps to improve the lack of engagement and inclusion of the people with disabilities in the practical world. Our media tends to portray them as someone that must be pitied, but we need to move away from this sympathy culture and stop devaluing them. We must collectively break these stereotypes, and make the outer world accessible to them so that they can be presented in a more respectful and positive light. They deserve to be treated as normal individuals with normal lives, being given the same opportunities as us and also being provided with accessible transportation, housing, and buildings.
Old attitudes, behaviors, and stereotypes take time to break. However, much is being done to put away these stereotypes for good. There has been lately a much positive coverage about disability by the media, working on altering misunderstood ideas. There is also an entire movement dedicated to this topic, the Disability Rights Movement. The movement works on the rights of the people with disabilities, making sure they are seen and treated as equal citizens and nothing less than that.
This movement tries to tear apart barriers that prevent people with disabilities to live their normal lives. And also has sparked much awareness, and has brought about disability laws to be introduced. These disability laws work on ruling out discrimination and segregation based on disability, as well as making sure every new project being built is accessible.
Even many celebrities have been a part of this movement, and have increasingly brought about more light to this matter through their voices. A few famous disability rights activists are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Helen Keller, and Maria Shriver. Also, some celebrities that have a disability themselves contribute even more by trying to connect with their audience, and by sharing their own experiences. This article draws attention to some of these famous people with disabilities that have been able to overcome their fears and shortcomings, serving as an inspiration to people that are going through something similar.
Nick Vujicic is a world-famous celebrity with one of the rarest disability. He was born with tetra-amelia syndrome, which is characterized by an absence of both arms and legs. When he was born, his mother refused to see him or hold him, but eventually, they were able to accept his condition. He had two small, deformed feet, one of which he called his “chicken drumstick”. And he used the toes of his “chicken drumstick” foot to grab, write and do other stuff.
He got his first special customized wheelchair when he was two and a half years old. Later, when his parents decided to put him in school, he was very much bullied and ridiculed by his peers. This even led to him attempting suicide in his bathtub, at a very young age. However, the thought of his parents stopped him.
Nick Vujicic eventually learned to overcome his fears and hopelessness. This change in him came at the age of thirteen when he came across an article about a disabled man that had achieved a lot in life. And he decided to turn to God, to seek comfort. At first, he always used to question God’s decision. But at the age of thirteen, he understood that he needed to trust God’s plan for him.
He resorted to God and started being grateful for what he has, instead of what he does not. He started living a normal life, graduating from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Commerce and Accountancy degree. He showed people, that despite having no limbs, you can be equally capable as others. He enjoys playing golf and football and even swims and surfs. This shows that Nick’s disability never stopped him from living the life he deserves.
Nick is a founder of “Life without Limbs” – an organization for people with disabilities. He even has written many best-selling novels like “Your Life without Limits”. He has defeated all the odds that pushed him down and has traveled across 24 countries, delivering motivational talks to over 3 million people. He shares his journey with the entire audience to give them hope. He tells them to have faith, and that despite your disabilities; normal, wholesome life is possible.
Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox is an iconic actor, film producer, comedian, and activist. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991 when he was only 29 years old. Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disorder, characterized by onset tremors, muscle stiffness, slowness in movement and at a later stage, even dementia. This disease usually hits people in their forties, but can also hit those that are younger, as was the case with Mr. Fox.
His career was in full success at the time he was diagnosed. He had won 3 Emmy Awards, appeared in the famous television series, Family Ties, and films like Back to the Future, The American President. Mr. Fox had his first most symptoms on the set of the film, Doc Hollywood when he noticed his left little finger “twitch”.
Upon being diagnosed, he could not accept it and went into extreme depression and alcoholism. And he even kept his disease a secret from the public for a long time, as he feared rejection and prejudice from his audience. Also right after his diagnosis, Mr. Fox’s disease started progressing quickly, affecting most of his left side with tremors and rigidity. Due to these worsened symptoms, Mr. Fox had to go through a brain surgery “Thalamotomy” to relieve the tremors.
In 1998, Mr. Fox went public about his condition. And at the same time, he committed himself fully to the research of Parkinson’s disease. He limited his acting to focus on his illness and helping others. Mr. Fox announced his retirement from the “Spin City” series. And shortly after, he launched his company, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. He mentions that his desire to go public about his disease was only to raise public consciousness and research funding for the cure of Parkinson’s. New York Times has called Mr. Fox one of the most credible voices on Parkinson’s research worldwide.
His first book talks about how after seven years of denial, he was able to accept his condition and worked on becoming a strong advocate for this disease. Mr. Fox appeared in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee in 1999, to appeal for adequate funding for this cause. And he even mentioned that he did not take his medication before the appeal, to display the raw and startling effects of this disease. He as of yet has been able to raise over $235 million for Parkinson’s research.
And he is still working on raising more awareness, and communicating what other Parkinson’s patients have to go through. He mentions how managing Parkinson’s is a full-time job, it is a constant balancing act, with too little medicine causing trembles and stiffness, and too much medicine causing uncontrollable movement and slurring. He continues his efforts to channel research funding and attention of everyone to this cause. His endeavor led him to be named one of the 100 people “whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world”.
Not just that, despite people telling him to quit acting, he did not cease to be an actor and continued appearing in TV series and films. He has been a great influencer, revolutionizing the medical field for a cure to Parkinson’s disease. And he continues to maintain his spirit of improvement and enthusiasm, despite being at an advanced stage of his disease.
Aaron Fotheringham is one of the most inspirational wheelchair athletes. He has worked on successfully changing the world’s perception of the people in wheelchairs. He was diagnosed with spina bifida at birth, a condition in which spinal cord and neural tube are not fully developed. Because of this, he lost the ability to use his legs.
He is an adopted child, and despite his diagnosis, his adoptive parents gave him comfort and protection, as well as opportunities to develop and grow. At first, he used crutches to move. But as he grew up, his limbs could not support his weight, so at the age of eight, he became a full-time wheelchair user.
Fotheringham always had a passion for skateboarding and bicycle motocross. He used to watch his older brother ride BMX bicycles and one-day on encouragement from his brother he decided to roll down a shallow ramp. Even though he crashed at first, but eventually he got hooked to this sport. He started to continue practicing and breaking the boundaries that people might think come with being in a wheelchair. He used his own customized WCMX wheelchair designed by Box Wheelchairs, which was lightweight and had four-wheel suspension, which used to cushion his landing.
He endured his fair share of injuries, but despite these setbacks, he was always determined. He received immense support from his parents, who had full faith in him and his abilities. Fotheringham’s continuous practice and will, led to him landing his first back-flip in 2006, first double back-flip in 2010, and a front-flip in 2011. He also started traveling internationally with the Nitro Circus Tour show, performing stunts and tricks in front of crowds. This tour gave him the chance to show people that anything is possible, and one should not let a disability to restrain them from their capacities and abilities.
Also in 2012, Fotheringham jumped a 50-foot gap and landed safely on the opposite side of the ramp, which he considers one of his greatest achievements. He loves showing people that a wheelchair is not just a medical device; it is a tool that can help you achieve and succeed in life, the same way it helped him. He has been able to set three extreme wheelchairs Guinness World Records, which is beyond phenomenal, considering that his doctor had told him that he would never even be able to sit independently.
He also works with the company “Box Wheelchairs” in the hope to refine wheelchair designs that would result in a chair that can withstand falls and lands, and is pretty much “indestructible”. He also travels all around the world, visiting summer camps for children with disabilities, as a mentor inspiring them. Fotheringham fondly remembers the time when a young boy came and told him that your abilities have made me realize that “my life is not over yet”. Fotheringham keeps on changing people’s lives, eradicating prejudices in the society, and helping those with disabilities to never confine themselves because they are as able as others.
Frida Kahlo is a phenomenal Mexican artist. She was born with spina bifida, characterized by incomplete spinal development. She also developed polio at the age of 6, which led to one of her legs being thinner than the other one.
However, these did not curb her enthusiastic spirit. Upon her father’s encouragement, she took part in many sports, like wrestling and boxing, to develop her strength. Kahlo’s performance was remarkable in all these sports. However, around her 18th birthday, when Kahlo was all set to begin a medical career at a very high-ranking college, she got struck by a very tragic trolley car accident.
Although she survived the accident, it left her with a broken spine and punctured abdomen, injuries that were going to take forever to heal. She was on a hospital bed, in a full-body cast, for a year. And also with severe, chronic pain that she had to endure for her entire life. These injuries and pain had left her disability more worsened than ever.
It was at this time when she discovered her artistic abilities, her passion. Since she was confined to her bed and wheelchair all day, she was gifted a customized adapted easel by her parents. And she sought art and paint as a source of comfort. She used it as an outlet, to relieve herself from her thoughts and pain.
Being alone at the time, she found time to discover herself and paint her reality. She revealed the workings of her inner mind through the paintings. Kahlo’s work was very vivid and striking; there were paintings portraying femininity, violence, beauty, love, and pain. And most of them were also self-portraits, as she used to say she is a subject she knows best. There were images of Kahlo’s suffering, her in a wheelchair, or medical corset.
Kahlo’s work has gained much fame after her death, and she continues to live through her artwork. Her paintings carried messages for feminists and disability activist groups. She intended on sharing her everyday life, post-accident. This was done to empower people, that they can achieve greatness and live productive lives no matter what.
Also, Kahlo’s pain and suffering reflected through her paintings show that she had come to terms with her disability; she had accepted the reality. And despite Kahlo being confined to her bed for a greater part of her life, she still found an outlet, a passion to divert her energy and thoughts too. This means despite being faced with extreme physical barriers, spiritual and mental breakthrough is still possible, that could set you free. Kahlo inspires others as well to accept their disability, do not ignore what’s there, and find ways to recognize their potential.
All these famous people, whether athletes, artists, actors have managed to embrace their disability. All of them have not let their disabilities limit their capabilities, and also encourage others to do the same. These celebrities are continuously setting examples by sharing their stories of self-improvement. They act as disability rights activists, making everyone aware of the potential of an individual with a disability. They inspire the families to give their family member that has a disability, opportunities to try new things and grow. They inspire – in the outer, practical world – the citizens to see and treat their fellow citizens with a disability as equals without preconceived notions. And most of all, they help and inspire people with disabilities to overcome their fears, and believe that anything is possible, only if they put their mind to it.