10 Successful and Widely Recognized People with Disabilities

Disability is a term that has undergone several changes in how its defined due to the progression of research and further education on disabilities and its implication on the way in which our society treats and understands people with disabilities. Different organizations and professions define the term differently, such as the World Health organization which states, “A disability is any kind of restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being. The institute of medicine’s definition of poverty focuses more on social and environmental factors in addition to individual problems (DiNitto & McNeece, p. 217). There has been a shift in the use of terms used to define people with disabilities, as several movements have urged that the term “mental retardation” be replaced with  “intellectual disabilities” to combat the  stigma against our disabilities (DiNitto & McNeece, p. 220).  Although our society has made progress in how it cares for people with disabilities, such that are now more services that target different kinds of disabilities and there has been a reformation in the terms used to describe people with disabilities, there is still a lack of understanding and belief of misconceptions that shape the way our society views people with disabilities.

This listicle aims to shed these common misconceptions and present some pioneers who challenge these views and have proved that having a disability does not make anyone less capable of making a positive impact and  being successful. 

  1. Nyle Dimarco (Born in 1986)

 An American model, actor and activist, Nyle is the first death contestant to compete in and win Americas Next Top Model Cycle 22! He is also currently competing on Dancing with the Stars. He is an alumni of Gallaudet University, the only Liberal Arts University in the world for the deaf. Nyle’s castings include: The lead in independent film “In the can” an ASL production, and as Garett on ABC Family’s show Switched At Birth. He is an avid spokesperson for Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (LEAD-K) and is the signer and creative collaborator on the ASL app created by Native Deaf signers to teach conversational American Sign Language.  

  1. Helen Keller (Born 1880-1968)
  • An American author, activist and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree! She campaigned for women’s suffrage, worker’s rights, socialism and other progressive movements. She also helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

  1. FDR (Born in 1882-1945)
  • Former president of the United States who helped guide us through WW2. Throughout his time in office, he was wheel-chair user due to his contraction of polio which paralyze him from the waist down. FDR provide that paralysis was not a roadblock to being a great leader.

  1. Stevie Wonder (Born in 1950)
  • One of the most idolized artists today, Stevie Wonder has achieved great success as a musician, singer, and song writer who was born blind. He has recorded more than 30 top ten hits including his singles, “Superstition”, “Sir Duke” and “I Just Called to say I Love you”. 

  1. Ray Charles (1930-2004)
  • A pioneer of soul music, integrating R &B, gospel, pop and country to create hits like “Unchain my Heart” and “Georgia on My Mind”, he was known as blind genius and considered one the greatest artists of all time.  He has won multiple Grammies including one for “Georgia on My Mind” and some of his songs have topped R & B charts.

6. Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)

  • One of the most prominent advocates for black and women suffrage, Tubman helped over 300 slaves escape slavery in the south through the network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Early in her life she suffered a severe head injury when as slave owner hit her with metal weight. As result of this injury she suffered from debilitating epileptic seizures and narcolepsy throughout her life.

  1. Will Smith (1968)

Actor, comedian, producer, rapper and songwriter, has been a prominent figure and icon within the Hollywood scene. Will Smith is dyslexic and has attributed most of his success as an actor to his early struggles with reading allowing for him to approach acting and producing movies from a different angle than others. 


  1. James Earl Jones (1931)
  • Has one of the most recognizable voices in show business and his performance in Dreams, The Lion King, and Star Wars are iconic. As a 4-year old, Jones developed a severe stutter that caused him to shut down and barely speak to anyone for 8 years. Jones overcome his stutter through therapy and practice and although he still stutters, he has learned to how to use it and work around it.

  1. Stephen Hawking (1942)
  • One of the most well-known physicists in the world, who was able to achieve several successes such as his show “Into the Universe” on discovery channel, despite having ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). His disability however, has never been an excuse to give up on his desire to study the universe, specifically the framework of general relativity and quantum mechanics. His best-selling work, A Brief History of Time, stayed on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for an astounding 237 weeks.


  1. Sudha Chandran (1964)
  • Is one of the most well-known dancers and TV actresses in India. Despite losing her legs to an infection she contracted after a car accident in 1981, she was known as a Bharatanatyam dancer and was able to teach herself how to dance using a prosthetic “Japir foot” enabling her to become one of the most highly acclaimed dancers in the world.


Biography.com Editors. (2016). Ray Charles Biography. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/ray-charles-9245001
Biography.com Editors. (2016). Will Smith Biograph. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved from http://http://www.biography.com/people/will-smith-9542165

Dinitto, D. , & McNeece, C. (2008). Social Work Issues and Opportunities: In A Challenging Profession. (3rd Edition).Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books.

Huffington Post. (2013). 10 Majorly Successful People With Disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/22/famous-people-with-disabilities_n_4142930.html

Listversestaff. (2010). Top 10 Extraordinary People With Disabilities. Retrieved http://listverse.com/2010/01/18/top-10-extraordinary-people-with-disabilities/

Slobodeniuk, O. Nyle Dimarco. Retrieved from Nyle Dimarco http://www.nyledimarco.com/about/ 

Slowinski, S. (2014). Recognizing Black Americans Who Live With Disabilities. Retrieved from (http://www.pyd.org/blog/black-history-month-disability/)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s