We often hear about successful disabled people – often they all seem to be men! Steven Hawking, Stevie Wonder, Benjamin Zephaniah and more. But today, on International Women’s day we want to celebrate just a few of the most influential women with disabilities.
1. Helen Keller
After contracting an illness called “brain fever” at just 19 months old, Helen lost both her sight and hearing. Today Keller is remembered as an American author, a political activist and an educator who accomplished extraordinary things in education for a person with such disabilities. Helen is a powerful example of how hard work and determination can overcome difficult conditions. The video below shows a clip of Helen.
2. Tanni Grey-Thompson
Tanni is one of the most successful disabled athletes in the UK. Born with spina bifida, being confined to a wheelchair did not stop her from becoming a champion in athletics. Grey-Thomson won a total of 16 medals in her Paralympic career and also 13 World Championship medals. Although she is now retired, she still continues to inspire many disabled people to take part in sport and follow their dreams.
3. Sudha Chandran
The famous Indian actress and Bharatanatyam dancer lost a leg to gangrene following a road accident at the age of 16. Her life has been an inspiration and a perfect example as to why you should never give up as she never let the loss of her leg stand in the way of her passion for dancing. Chandran sees her accident as “a blessing in disguise”. Despite the crushing disability, Chandran emerged as one of the most acclaimed and influential classical dancers in India.
4. Frida Kahlo
A world-famous Mexican artist, best known for her surrealist art. Frida was born with spina bifida, developed childhood polio at age six and was left with serious injuries after a bus accident at the age of eighteen. During the recovery period Frida took on painting, focusing on self-portraits reflecting her experience of being disabled. She is an icon of female creativity.
Cher is one of the most famous entertainers alive today. Known for her music, appearances on television and film, this multi-talented Diva has won an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy and Golden Globe. Cher struggled with reading all through school, and at age 16, she dropped out. Though she only found out at 30 that she had dyslexia, her success speaks for itself.
6. Marla Runyan
Blind but a three-time national athletics champion. Marla was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease as a child – however she refuses to consider her blindness as a handicap. “It is not a factor or an excuse for a bad race”, she says. Runyan is an American track and field athlete, road runner and marathon runner who has won a number of Gold Medals in spite of her inability to see. Though she is not running competitively any more Marla uses her past experience to help and inspire others.
7. Marlee Matlin
Marlee lost her hearing at a young age but nonetheless pursued an acting career, became highly successful and won an Academy Award in 1987. Her fascinating life is an inspiration for everyone. She continues to advocate for deaf culture and entertain people all over the world. She is a living example of what people can do when they apply themselves and do not let what others perceive as a barrier get in their way.
8. Francesca Martinez
Francesca Martinez is an English comedian, author and actress who has performed sell-out shows in many countries and has found international success. At two years old she was diagnosed with athetoid cerebral palsy however she prefers to describe herself as “wobbly”. In 2000, Martinez became the first female comic to win the prestigious Daily Telegraph Open Mic Award at the Edinburgh Festival. Francesca hasn’t let her disability hold her back and continues to call on others to stop trying to fit in and accept their disabilities; “I’ve accepted my cerebral palsy – now I’m calling on others to join the revolution”.
9. Baroness Jane Campbell
Baroness Jane Campbell has spent 50 years battling a degenerative illness, spinal muscular atrophy, yet she says “I absolutely love my life”. She is an active Independent Cross bench Peer, and Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Disability Group. Jane has a long history of parliamentary lobbying for disabled people’s civil and human rights. She received the Liberty Human Rights Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2013. In the same year she was named President of the National Disability Archive (Shape, London). She is also Patron of NDACA and Just Fair UK.
10. Katie Piper
International author, inspirational speaker, TV presenter and charity campaigner, Katie Piper is an inspiration to the British public after rebuilding her life following a brutal attack. She was raped, had acid thrown in her face and then spent two months in hospital in an induced coma. The acid attack also left her blind in one eye. Just over a year after the attack, Katie made the decision to share her story in a remarkable film for the Cutting Edge strand on Channel 4 called Katie: My Beautiful Face, which was nominated for Best Single Documentary at the BAFTA Television Awards in 2010. Katie’s life and career has gone from strength to strength, making a number of TV shows in the UK and internationally as well as writing three best-selling books. She was voted Woman of the Year 2011, and in 2012 received a special recognition award at the Pride of Britain Awards.