Overcoming adversity is a cornerstone of the human experience. For many people, they are able to rise above a challenge and move on from it. However, those with disabilities may face challenges daily. So when a disabled person is able to not just overcome adversity but achieve unparalleled levels of success, it is truly inspiring! From art to politics to business, here’s part one of our list of Super Successful People with Disabilities.
One of the greatest singing talents in the world today—and often considered the greatest tenor of all time—Bocelli was born in Italy in 1958. He was diagnosed with glaucoma as a child, and became completely blind when he was just 12-years old. With his eyesight gone, Bocelli engaged his voice, and just two years later at age 14 he won his first singing competition. While he did attend the University of Pisa to study law, music was clearly his passion as he continued singing in bars and cafes. Eventually, a demo tape landed in the hands of none other than Luciano Pavarotti, and the rest is history. Today, he’s sung for the Pope, developed his own brand of wine, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (If you have never heard Bocelli sing “Con Te Partirò,” take a listen to gain a true understanding of his talents!)
Known as the “Father of the Mobility Industry,” Braun was born in Indiana in 1940. At just six-years old, Braun was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, and by fourteen, he was confined to a wheelchair. But nothing was going to slow Braun down. Over the next few years, Braun would build a motorized wagon and a battery-powered scooter out of spare parts on his cousin’s farm, and would eventually outfit an old mail carrier with a hydraulic lift and hand controls in order to drive to his job at a manufacturing facility unassisted. But what began as a personal quest for independence turned into a drive to help anyone who was immobile, and soon he assembled a team to build wheelchair lifts from his parents’ garage to fill orders from Dodge. Responsible for the first motorized scooters and the first wheelchair-accessible vehicles and vans, Braun founded The Braun Corporation in 1972 which evolved into BraunAbility personal-use products.
Kahlo, born on the outskirts of Mexico City in 1907, suffered a number of setbacks throughout her life. She contracted polio at six-years old, making her right leg shorter and thinner than her left, and she was “relentlessly bullied” by her peers. Determined to become a doctor, Kahlo studied hard and was accepted to the elite National Preparatory School. However, on her way home from school one day, Kahlo’s bus collided with a streetcar. She suffered near fatal injuries, including a broken back that would never fully heal, leaving her wheelchair-bound and in constant pain. With her dreams of becoming a doctor erased, Kahlo turned her fierce spirit of survival into artistic expression. She created hundreds of pieces of artwork (many of them self-portraits in which she appears in her wheelchair) and is now one of the most well-known artists of the 20th century.
An Academy Award-winning actress for her leading role in 1986’s Children of a Lesser God, Marlee Matlin lost her hearing as a baby due to a genetically malformed cochlea. Despite never knowing sound, Matlin fell in love with performance, and joined a children’s theater company at age seven and continued performing all through college. She caught the eye of talent scouts while doing a theater production in Chicago, who cast her in Lesser God. Following her Oscar-winning turn, Matlin has graced TV screens, appearing on Picket Fences, The L Word, Law & Order: SVU, and Quantico, among others. Matlin is actively involved in charitable causes, and helped pass a law requiring TV sets to include built-in chips to provide closed captioning on their screens.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The 32nd President of the United States and the only president to ever be elected to four terms, FDR was a central figure throughout major 20th century world events, including the Great Depression, the New Deal, and of course World War II. Though he was already involved in politics in 1921 when he contracted polio, leaving him permanently paralyzed from the waist down, his greatest achievements were yet to come. Due to the stigma of disability at the time, Roosevelt taught himself to walk short distances by swiveling his torso while wearing iron braces on his hips and legs in order to convince people he was improving; he felt this was necessary in order to run successfully for public office. However, his disability was well-known before he ultimately ran for the presidency and it eventually became part of his public image. Today, most historians consider him among the top three presidents in U.S. history.
There you have it. We hope you find their stories as inspiring as we do at Disability Experts of Florida. Be sure to subscribe to our blog for weekly stories (and to catch part two of our list). Have an inspiring person with a disability in your life? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.