5 Influential People Who Live With a Physical Disability

1. Stephen Hawking

This is a name I’m sure many people have heard of. This renowned doctor of general relativity and quantum gravity has been in the spotlight for around 50 years, and has made enormous leaps in math, science, and physics. He has studied and taught in many of the world’s most prestigious universities, including Cambridge and Oxford. He has worked with some of the most renowned scientists that we have in the world today, and has made immense contributions to math and science institutions, as well as educational organizations around the world.

Stephen Hawking was born in Oxford England in 1942, and excelled in nearly all subjects during his early childhood. He was granted acceptance to Oxford and Cambridge, both of which he attended respectively. It wasn’t until his senior year of college when he and his family began noticing that he was developing physical/muscular problems. It was eventually discovered that Stephen had Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a rare nerve disorder that affects muscular strength, movement, and overall body function. The symptoms typically include paralysis, weakness, and the inability to speak or eat. Hawking has been confined to a special power chair for most of his life, and is equipped with an intricate computer system through which he communicates with people.

Despite the various challenges that Stephen Hawking has faced throughout his life, he has still been able to influence the world through his work. He took a disease as life-changing as ALS, and turned it around to become a part of who he was. The voice that emits from his computer will forever be immortalized as a voice of wisdom, a beacon for enlightenment, and the banner of scientific progress. He has become a figure who has seamlessly transcended humanity, despite his physical limitations.

stephen hawking

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2. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Another household name, Franklin D. Roosevelt is credited with carrying the United States and her allies through majority of World War 2. As the 32nd President of the United States of America, he rallied the American citizens and soldiers around the tenants of freedom, liberty, and the destruction of fascism in Eastern Europe. He was such a popular president, he was elected for 4 terms, and served from 1933-1945. He was particularly famous for his “fireside chats”, in which he addressed the American people over the radio, reassuring them of the events of the war, and rallying them around a banner of family and hard-work. These radio broadcasts are largely credited with keeping the economy from tanking any further, and keeping the American’s spirits high.

Before President Roosevelt won the Presidential ticket, he was struck with the Polio Virus, a disease that has nearly been eradicated in modern society due to vaccinations. The virus left him paralyzed from the waist down, and nearly crippled his spirits. In the years leading up to his elections to public office, he would avoid the public eye, for fear that his disease would make him appear weak in the eyes of the American people. Despite his inability to walk, President Roosevelt would force himself to stand when delivering speeches, addressing the public, and appearing on camera. He even taught himself how to move his legs using a metal brace, a cane, and very strenuous hip motion.

Despite this debilitating sickness, Franklin D. Roosevelt became one of the most influential world leaders in history and helped bring an end to the brutal conflict that was World War 2. He may not have embraced his illness or been happy with what life had thrown at him, but he didn’t let anything stop him from serving his country with an iron will, and he gave his all to the American people. He will be viewed as anything but weak in the annals of history.

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(Image from: www.history.com)

3. Helen Keller

Another famous name in American History; Helen Keller was an avid political activist, author, and lecturer. Her work garnered the attention from notable writers such as Mark Twain; the literary mastermind behind The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. She was a strong advocate for women’s rights and was well versed in poetry, literature, and grammar. She became a teacher for the blind and deaf, using her own experience to guide her students to success. She was also a strong proponent of the working-class citizens of America, and advocated for social justice for all.

At only 19 months old, she was diagnosed with meningitis and after a long,difficult battle with the disease, she was no longer able to hear or see. For most, the loss of these two senses would be a massive blow to one’s ability to enjoy life, but not Helen Keller. She continued as a mentor to those who shared her affliction, and did not let anyone or anything slow her down. She wrote books, spoke publicly and became an activist for women and minorities. She proved that it’s a person’s spirit is what matters, not their physical ability.

There have been numerous monuments and educational institutions named in honor of Helen Keller, and they serve as a testament to her unbending will and determination to prove the naysayers wrong. She went through life without any perceptual senses other than smell and touch, but she persevered through sheer will alone. Her spirit was unbreakable, and she tried to pass that quality along to others so that they too could achieve the unthinkable. She dedicated many schools to the blind and deaf, to create a lasting legacy of triumph and dedication over life’s obstacles.

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(Image from: www.biography.com)

4. Ludwig Van Beethoven

Ludwig Van Beethoven is a commonly known name, and is used to describe one of the most influential composers in the history of music. This classical/baroque master knew how to intricately weave notes, scales, rests, and percussion together to make some of the most iconic pieces of music ever heard by man. Being German by birth, Beethoven often traveled between the Austrian Empire and Prussia to have his songs played in front of large audiences, often with royalty among the patrons.

After writing so much amazing music, it would often come to a surprise to anyone that Beethoven was indeed deaf. He suffered from hearing loss and tinnitus for most of his adult life, but was still able to compose beautiful pieces of music. He understood music theory and structure so well that he didn’t need to hear the music to understand what it would sound like. Through his extensive knowledge of note structure and symphony composition, Beethoven created hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of music, wooing the minds of the nobility and the common folk alike. It was said that Beethoven had suffered this loss of hearing during a fit of rage upon hearing a piece of music he had written played wrong. Upon receiving this self-induced rage, he fell of the stage and stood up claiming that he couldn’t hear as well. Over time, his hearing deteriorated, coupled with tinnitus until he was at least 80% deaf.

It would seem appropriate that a musician should be able to hear what he or she produces, but that just wasn’t the case with Ludwig Van Beethoven. He knew what he was capable of, and didn’t let any sort of physical ailment hinder him. He produced some of the most innovative and emotional pieces of music ever written, and left his mark I the history books as one of the best composers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and possibly the entire world.

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5. Stevie Wonder

Another household name, Stevie Wonder is no doubt one of the more famous people on this list. He revolutionized the genres of funk, jazz, and pop, and some may even say he created his own genres. He was a genius with the piano and vocals, and sang songs that shook the world in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. He associated with top performing artists such as Michael Jackson and the band Chicago, earning himself spots on Billboard’s top musicians and various Grammy’s.

It would come as a surprise to learn that such a skilled pianist and musician was blind. Wonder was born with a rare condition that caused the development of his eyes to be aborted in the final stages, leaving him without working pupils and irises. He didn’t let this stop him however, and went on to produce hundreds of songs and various albums. His emotional style blended perfectly with the blues and jazz that had all but faded out at the time. He managed to revitalize the genres of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, while keeping the sound modern and youthful.

Despite his seeing disability, he was able to write and play music that people around the world could enjoy. He didn’t let his impairment get in the way of doing what he loved, and he made music that connected millions and brought about a sense of connectivity. He continues to thrive in the music scene even to this day, and has become a staple name in his genres, proving that his love for music trumped his disability.

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