If you were born with a disability before 1948, life looked pretty grim. Our country had made almost no progress in the treatment and rights for disabled citizens. People looked at the disabled like they were less than an able-bodied citizen. Institutions resembled something out of a horror film and getting into a building for a disabled person was about as easy as scaling a mountain.
Though treatment for the disabled has at times been appalling, it has never stopped people from doing amazing things. People like Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, Christopher Reeve, and Franklin D. Roosevelt all suffered from disabilities – and all went on to outstanding things in their lives. Each one accomplished great success in a time when disabled individuals didn’t have the same rights and privileges that the rest of the world has! Let’s take a closer look at these great inspirations and what they were able to do in spite of their injuries.
Known for her efforts in assisting with the underground-railroad. She rescued dozens of slaves and helped them get to freedom. What many don’t know is she also suffered from seizures. In the mid-1800s, she refused to aid in the abuse of another slave and was subsequently hit with a metal weight in the head. This blow left her unconscious and bleeding for days. As soon as she awoke she was to back work in the fields.
Famous painter from Mexico City who created over 140 paintings in her life. Frida suffered from a serious accident while she was on a bus that collided with a trolley car in 1925. The accident left her bedridden for 3 months. Think about that – 1925, 23 years before we started making advancements in the treatment of the disabled. A time before buildings had to be accessible for all. Before buses had to have wheelchair ramps. Before everyone was even provided a free education! Frida’s time in the hospital gave her the inspiration for her paintings using herself as the subject for most of her work. After some time and rehab, she was able to regain the ability to walk, though she never fully recovered. Throughout the rest of her life she suffered from relapses of pain that would leave her bed-ridden for days at a time.
In 1995, the original Super Man actor was thrown from a horse leaving him paralyzed. This was a time when America was just implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act. He never let the injury slow him down though, spending his remaining years advocating for those who suffered from spinal cord injuries. He used his fame and connections in Hollywood to bring the injury to light by speaking out at the Academy Awards, hosted the Paralympics, and spoke at the DNC.
Born in 1882, he was the only US president to serve 4 consecutive terms in office. FDR led the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. His strong leadership brought the country through one of the toughest times it had ever faced. Some might argue his strength came from his personal battles. In 1921, FDR was diagnosed with polio, which left him unable to walk. He left the public eye for years to try and find a cure for his illness. Eventually he taught himself to walk short distances with the aid of metal braces and canes. It was this advancement that gave him the confidence to run for president in 1932, ‘37, ‘41, and ‘45.
What we can learn from all these inspirational leaders is that a disability shouldn’t be our definition. It shouldn’t be something that holds us back. We can look at these leaders as inspiration. We can see how they never let their injuries hold them back from anything and, they lived in a time before they had the same rights and privileges as able-bodied people. If FDR can lead a country to greatness, if Harriet Tubman can escape slavery and rescue dozens of others, if Frida Kahlo can go on to be one of the most famous painters ever, there should be nothing holding you back. Go out and find your greatness!