Famous People with Disabilities

We all recognize these celebrities with disabilities, but do we know what they've overcome?

bruce willis representing famous people with disabilities

There are famous people with disabilities in nearly every sector of sports, entertainment, politics and academia.

Just because a student is diagnosed with a learning disability or other special need doesn't mean he or she can't go on to succeed in the real world.

Some of the most brilliant thinkers and artists of our time suffered from disabilities, and they've gone on to do great things in spite of the odds against them.

Read on for stories from inspiring celebrities with learning disabilities who won the respect and admiration of millions of people.

Bruce Willis

Our first famous person with a disability is Bruce Willis, star of the "Die Hard" series and "The Sixth Sense." He enrolled in a high school drama class as a way to overcome a debilitating stutter.

To his surprise, he found the speech impediment disappeared when he performed. Needless to say, he used that coping tool to his advantage and now rakes in up to $25 million for his roles in action films.

Marlee Matlin

Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning actress, Marlee Matlin, was first discovered for her role as Sarah Norman, a deaf teacher, in "Children of a Lesser God."

Deaf from infancy, she went on to become a well-known film and TV actress, most recently starring in the TV-series, "The L Word," and competing in season 6 of the popular reality TV series, "Dancing with the Stars," where her vivacious personality and uncanny sense of rhythm wowed audiences in the U.S.—and around the world.

She is also an author, comedian and activist who currently serves as the national spokesperson for The American Red Cross. Her amazing talent and determination have given her international acclaim, and a platform she uses to support the deaf and hard of hearing community. This is one of the famous people with disabilities who didn't let anything get in her way.

Chris Burke

Chris Burke, better known as the Down syndrome son, "Corky" Thatcher, in "Life Goes On" and the angel of faith in "Touched by an Angel," has been an actor and performer since the mid 1980s.

Raised as a normal child by his parents in New York City, Chris learned to trust his talents and pursue his passions whole-heartedly—a habit he continues to use as a singer, inspirational speaker, writer and editor for the National Down Syndrome Society magazine, and dedicated ambassador for Down syndrome issues around the country.

Tom Cruise

More famous for his acting roles, highly-debated religious beliefs and marriage to actress Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise isn't as well-known for his struggle with his disability: dyslexia.

But the long-time actor grew up with the common reading disability (where written words are omitted, distorted or modified while reading) and admits to suffering abuse from his father because of his resulting struggles in the classroom.

In spite of his disability, Tom Cruise excelled in high school theater productions and went on to enjoy a celebrated acting career, receiving three Golden Globes and nominations for three Academy Awards.

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder stands out as one of the most famous people with disabilities, celebrated as one of the top American musicians of all time. His 26 Grammys and an Academy Award have earned him a well-deserved place in the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame.

Wonder was born prematurely and was never able to see as a result, but he threw himself into music from a young age. By age 12, he was signed to his first record label and had his first major hit by the time he was 13. He tells the story of his musical dreams well: "People at school told me I couldn't make it… But after I thought I was going to be a musician, I became very determined simply to prove those people wrong."* And he did he ever!

He went on to record over 30 Billboard top 10 singles in the 60s, 70s and 80s. He continues to record and perform, and a recent album, "A Time to Love," reached #2 in the U.S. in 2005.

When you think of famous people, disabilities might not immediately come to mind as an issue many of them face.

But, knowing that these celebrities overcame learning disabilities, physical impairment and special needs to gain international success will hopefully inspire you to believe in your special needs students, foster their growth, and encourage them to pursue their dreams despite struggles or opposition.

* Source: Stevie Wonder Official Website