Against All Odds


How People with Disabilities Thrive in the Arts

Against All Odds

It is a common and terribly judgmental assumption that people with disabilities cannot participate in normal everyday life. Being disabled doesn’t mean not being able to do things; it just means that disabled people can’t do some things, which is quite all right, especially in the arts. Art is an expression of feeling, where anyone can be free to express what they want to share with the world. It is inclusive and more importantly, therapeutic. That is why so many people suffering from disabilities are encouraged to do any kind of art.


Whether it is in theater, fine arts, film, writing, or music, people with disabilities can express what they are going through these outlets that enable them to heal or to accept themselves. The themes of their work are usually about their disabilities, about exploring how it is to be disabled in a world where the physical or mental realities are so different from theirs. The advocacy of many people in this form of art encourages others with disabilities because representation is so very important.


Here is a list of some famous disabled people who have contributed to the arts:


  1. Stevie Wonder

The singer of “Isn’t She Lovely” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You” is famously blind. He is a musician, singer, songwriter, record producer and knows how to play many instruments. As a child prodigy, he wouldn’t have been able to be successful if people around him did not encourage him to explore his interest in music.

  1. Marlee Marlin

She is an Academy Award–winning actress for her leading role in the film Children of a Lesser God. She became deaf when she was only eighteen months old, but growing up with that disability did not stop her from pursuing acting.

  1. Stephen Wiltshire

An autistic savant, Stephen is a world-famous architectural artist and began drawing at the age of ten. He could draw incredibly detailed sketches of landmarks that he has seen only once.

  1. Tom Harrell

Schizophrenia has not stopped Tom Harrell from becoming one of the most famous trumpeters and composers in the world. He won multiple awards and has been nominated for a Grammy.

  1. Meera Popkin

The star of Broadway and West End productions of Cats and Miss Saigon, Meera, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She struggled with it but has since gone back to performing and being a broadway star.

  1. Frida Kahlo

One of the most famous Mexican artists, Frida Kahlo was both physically and mentally disabled. She had polio as a child and had an accident at eighteen which gave her pain all throughout her life. She also suffered from anxiety and depression but still continued to create despite this.

  1. Helen Keller

Probably the most famous artist with disabilities, Helen Keller was deaf and blind. Despite those obstacles, she was able to obtain a college degree and went on to write twelve books. She was also a political activist and a lecturer.


There are many more famous artists who are disabled in one way or another, but even with conditions stacked against them, they kept expressing themselves through art. This proves the human spirit to be indomitable and strong against all odds.


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by Rosalie H. Contino, PhD