If the definition of a hero is someone who can inspire and encourage, then those living successfully and productively with a disability qualify. By overcoming their disability while maintaining a positive outlook on life, the disabled become advocates for living life victoriously. Three examples of inspiring heroes are:
Stephen Hawking: Born January 8, 1942, Hawking was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) when he was a 21-year-old college student. He was told at the time of his diagnosis that he would not live more than two years. Despite the physical degenerative symptoms of his disease Hawking has earned many degrees and is now an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge.
Whereas most people suffering from ALS die within 3 to 5 years of their diagnosis, Hawking has lived for over 40 years since his ALS diagnosis. Hawking cannot walk, talk, breathe easy, swallow and has difficulty in holding up his head. Despite his physical limitations and challenges, Hawking remains involved as a theoretical physicist and author as well as making cameo appearances on television series such as Star Trek and The Big Bang Theory. “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny” says Hawking. In addition to his life’s work, his positive outlook and humor are inspiring (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Hawking).
Itzhak Perlman: Renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman contracted polio at the age of four. Although he made a good recovery, he lost most of the use of his legs. Perlman made his debut to the American public in 1964 on the Ed Sullivan show and is now said to be one of the most distinguished violinists of the late 20th century. Critics say, “It is not the music alone that makes his playing so special. They say he is able to communicate the joy he feels in playing, and the emotions that great music can deliver (http://www.itzhakperlman.com/about/)”.
Perlman is also a conductor and teacher. He has taught at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College and at Juilliard. In addition, Perlman has received many awards and honors over the span of his career including The Presidential Medal Of Freedom which was awarded to him by President Obama in 2015 .
Joni Eareckson Tada: At the age of seventeen, a diving accident left Joni as a quadriplegic. Although during the two years following her accident Joni experienced anger, depression and suicidal thoughts, she soon rallied. She learned to paint by holding the brush between her teeth and began to help others living under similar circumstances. Since her injury she has written over 40 books, has starred in a movie about her life story, recorded several musical albums as well as advocating for the disabled.
Life can leave us feeling defeated and overwhelmed. Fortunately, we can glean inspiration and encouragement from those who have risen above physical challenges. By reaching their full potential, the disabled become heroic examples s of courage, strength and perseverance.