It’s not easy to get your work before a global audience.
Yet finding the right platform for your talent is even harder when you are also living with physical, mental, sensory or intellectual limitations.
Fortunately, there is a tonne of trailblazers whose acting abilities, musical mastery or proficiency in painting have seen them achieve exactly that.
If you fancy representing your community in mainstream media, you may like to follow in the footsteps of these incredible individuals – all artists who have drawn from their disabilities to achieve excellence in their chosen craft.
Henri Matisse is one of the undisputed masters of 20th century art. Renowned for his use of colour, the French painter was confined to a wheelchair after a battle with cancer. So weakened were his abdominal muscles, that Matisse could only stand or sit upright for short periods each day. This only served to fuel his creativity so he developed several different ways to make art – including using a bamboo pole with charcoal attached so he could draw shapes on paper lining the wall – to work around his physical limitations. Unable to travel, he surrounded himself with images of places he could no longer physically visit. He continued to make triumphant works right up until the end of his life in 1954. Best quote, “Every day that dawns is a gift to me and I take it in that way. I accept it gratefully without looking beyond it. I completely forget my physical suffering and all the unpleasantness of my present condition and I think only of the joy of seeing the sun rise once more and of being able to work a little bit, even under difficult conditions.”
Legendary singer-songwriter Neil Young is widely regarded as one of the most influential performers of his generation. Twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Canadian musician also lives with epilepsy. With two sons with cerebral palsy and a daughter who has also been diagnosed with epilepsy, he co-founded the Bridge School for children with severe verbal and physical disabilities. Best quote, “In my life, I have had various health threats: polio, seizures, a brain aneurysm. None of these things has really changed me much, although it is hard to say for sure. These are events that are part of my life. They make me who I am. I am thankful for them.”
Helen Keller was an author, disability rights advocate and lecturer. American-born, she lost both her sight and her hearing after a bout of illness when she was just a toddler. Despite this, after getting a good education, Keller became a prolific author, writing 14 books and hundreds of speeches and essays. She campaigned for those with disabilities, women’s suffrage, labour rights and world peace, and was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Best quote, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows.”
Robin Williams may not be the first person who comes to mind when thinking of artists living with disability. Yet the American actor and comic battled for years with manic depression and was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as a child. Best known for his improvisational skills and ability as a stand-up comic, he was the recipient of numerous accolades including an Academy Award, two Primetime Emmy Awards, six Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards and five Grammy Awards. Best quote, “You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”
When it comes to the field of physics, few are more highly regarded than Stephen Hawking. At the age of 21, the cosmologist and best-selling author was diagnosed with an early-onset form of motor neurone disease that gradually paralysed him. After the loss of his speech, he communicated through a speech-generating device initially through the use of a handheld switch, and latterly by using a single cheek muscle. Similar to Einstein, Hawking had an estimated IQ of 160 and his scientific works included the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation. Best quote, “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with.”