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Actor RJ Mitte presenting with a microphone

Celebrating achievements of people with disabilities

October 28, 2015

Let’s celebrate some of the many achievements of people with disabilities

It really doesn’t matter who you are – everyone has the ability to do something amazing, change the world, or reach a goal that they’ve set for themselves.

You don’t have to invent the fastest car or build the biggest building – great achievements come in many forms. Let’s take a look at a few inspiring stories of great human achievement by people with disabilities to spark your imagination.

Jean Dominique-Bauby

Jean Dominique Bauby writing his book in hospital

In December 1995, successful French actor and editor of fashion magazine Elle, Jean Dominique-Bauby, had a stroke at the age of 43. When he came out of his coma 20 days later, not only could Jean not speak, but he could not move, except for his left eyelid. Known as ‘locked-in syndrome’ Jean’s intellectual abilities remained completely unharmed.

Jean then decided to write a book about his experiences. How? Well, by a system known as partner-assisted scanning. By enlisting the help of Claude Mendibil, Jean would listen to Claude speak the alphabet and blink each time the correct letter was read out. The book took him around 200,000 blinks to write, with just a single word taking two minutes, making the feat all the more incredible.

The book details life with locked-in syndrome and the way things were before the stroke. Beautifully titled ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’, the book was made into a feature film in 2007.

“I need to feel strongly, to love and admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe.” – Jean Dominique-Bauby

Read more about Jean Dominique-Bauby and the story behind The Diving Bell and The Butterfly.

Lionel Watts

Portrait of Lionel Watts as a young man

Born in 1928, Lionel Watts was an ambitious man, living in Sydney. In 1956 Lionel contracted polio, and though he survived the illness, he was left with quadriplegia.

As the values of hard work were ingrained into Lionel, he immediately tried to throw himself back into employment but was knocked back time and again. Undeterred, Lionel founded House with No Steps and established workshops to provide jobs for people with a disability, a wheelchair factory, and accommodation.

Throughout Lionel’s life, he advocated passionately about the rights of people with a disability, including meeting President Richard Nixon in 1968.

He was also instrumental in establishing parking permits for people with a physical disability, mandatory wheelchair access to all public buildings, and the inclusion of ‘laybacks’ in footpaths and kerb crossings.

In recognition of his achievements, Lionel was awarded an M.B.E. in 1969, and 13 years later, he was appointed a Companion of St Michael and St George in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

“House with No Steps is based on the belief that people with disabilities ‘could do it’ and on the philosophical premise that each was his or her own expert.” – Lionel Watts

Read more about the incredible life of Lionel Watts.

Arunima Sinha

Arunima Sinha climbing Mount Everest

Summiting Mount Everest is a monstrous undertaking for anyone. So when Arunima Sinha reached the top of Mount Everest in 2013, it was all the more incredible as she became the first female amputee to do so, as well as the first Indian amputee.

A top-level volleyball player with aspirations of a long career in the game, Arunima was pushed from a train in 2011 by muggers whom she was trying to fight off. As she fell, a train on the other track crushed one of her legs below the knee. With amputation necessary to save her life, Arunina set herself on the long road to recovery.

Under the tutelage of Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to ascend Everest, Arunima began her training. After 18 months, Arunima started her ascent, and a gruelling 52 days later, reached the summit. Upon her return, Arunima was given the Padma Shri, a high civilian award of India.

“At that time everyone was worried for me. I then realised I had to do something in my life so that people stop looking at me with pity.” – Arunima Sinha

RJ Mitte

Actor RJ Mitte presenting with a microphone

RJ Mitte was born with cerebral palsy after his mother had a difficult labour lasting four days.

As a star of one of the most popular television shows of recent times, Mitte’s stellar performances as Walter White Jr in ‘Breaking Bad’ has not only highlighted cerebral palsy to a whole new audience, but also pushed down walls surrounding the stigma of disability.

Winning the revered Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, Breaking Bad ended in September 2013, but the series gave Mitte a sizeable platform from which to advocate about the many misconceptions surrounding disability.

He even gave a talk at the distinguished Oxford Union when he was just 22 – one of the youngest people ever to do so.

“I do see people with disabilities and diversities, and I think that’s what we need to show as beautiful and true, even with what people consider imperfections.” – RJ Mitte

Helen Keller

Helen Keller sitting reading a book in braille

Born in 1880, Helen Keller fell ill with what was now believed to be scarlet fever or meningitis at just 19 months. The illness caused her to become blind, deaf and mute. Helen could only understand through touch, but Helen’s parents hired teacher Anne Sullivan to teach her to read and write in Braille, as well as use hand signals to communicate.

This extraordinary educator helped Helen enormously with her communication skills, and the highly intelligent girl, graduated from university in 1904.

Keller soon became a world famous author, public speaker, and activist for a wide range of social and political issues including women’s suffrage, pacifism, birth control, and the welfare of people with a disability. In 1920, Helen helped found the American Civil Liberties Union, and four years later, joined the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) as both an advisor and a fundraiser.

Revered throughout the world and invited to the White House by every U.S. president of her lifetime, Helen Keller remains a beacon of inspiration to millions.

“Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within.” Helen Keller

Read more with our blog on 8 incredible facts about Helen Keller.


{1} By Rehman90 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
[2] Via http://arunimasinha.com/photogallery.php
[3] By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (RJ Mitte Uploaded by maybeMaybeMaybe) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons