Top 10 Differently Abled Prodigies

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Differently abled-a milder term coined by the US democratic national committee in the 1980s was to replace ‘handicapped’. How were they motivated? What urged these people to change the name? Maybe the people thought it to be a genuine attempt in viewing them from a different perspective. A perspective which didn’t show them to be handicapped at all!  The only disability in life is a bad attitude. It’s a great achievement for people to do great things but it’s even larger when such acts are performed by people who have suffered a terrible disability. The following list looks at the lives of 10 such people who chose not to place a ‘dis’ in their ability.

10. Sudha Chandran


Born in Chennai, South India Sudha is an accomplished Bharatnatyam dancer, Indian television and film actress. She earned an M. A. Degree in economics from Mithibai College, Mumbai. On one of her trips from Mumbai to Chennai she met with an accident that lead to the formation of gangrene and ultimately to the amputation of her right leg. She subsequently overcame her disability with the help of a prosthetic ‘Jaipur Foot’, becoming one of the most highly acclaimed dancers of the Indian subcontinent. Since then she has been honored with numerous awards and has made regular appearances on the Indian television. She has never let her disability be the obstacle of her dancing career. A true artist in all forms!

9. Marla Runyan

Headshot for Marla Runyan, January 20 2012

Runyan developed the Stargardt’s disease at the age of nine which left her legally blind. Despite this disability she has turned out to be a three time national champion in the women’s 5000 meters. She has won four gold medals at the 1992 Summer Paralympics. In 1999, she won the gold medal in the 1500 meters race at the Pan American Games. She holds various records such as in the New York Marathon and in the B3 division in 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, High Jump and Pentathlon. As a popular saying goes, ‘True sportsmanship is excellence in motion’.

8. Tanni Grey-Thompson


Born with spina bifida and in a wheelchair since birth, Tanni Grey is a Welsh former wheelchair racer. She is considered to be one of the best athletes in the UK. As a young athlete, she also played basketball. She won two gold medals in the 100m and 400m in the paralympic games in Athens. As a record, she has won about fourteen medal, nine of which are gold has been successful in breaking over twenty world records. She was also the winner of five London marathons. She is currently a parliamentarian and TV presenter. Her autobiography was published in the year 2001 namely Seize The Day.

7. Ludwig van Beethoven


A student of Mozart, Beethoven is regarded as one of the greatest composers ever. So great that the standard audio CD was designed for a recording of 80 minutes, the time length of Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 9 . In the year 1796 Beethoven began losing his hearing. In spite of his illness he immersed himself in his work and created some of the greatest works of music. Beethoven’s finest works are also the finest works of their kind in music history: the 9th Symphony, the 5th Piano Concerto, the Violin Concerto, the Late Quartets, and his Missa Solemnis. And he achieved all this despite being completely deaf for the last 25 years or so of his life. A deaf person composing world famous musical masterpieces, a true prodigy in all respects!

6. Frida Kahlo


Most of us might recognize her from Salma Hayek’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of Kahlo in the 2002 biopic, Frida. She was a renowned Mexican painter who created striking drawings, mostly self portraits reflecting her own pain and sorrow. She was the first Mexican artist of the 20th century who was purchased by an international museum. She contracted polio at the age of six which affected her right leg and which she disguised by wearing long skirts. She also suffered from spina bifida which affected her leg and spinal development. Despite this, she created such works which are now celebrated in Mexico as emblems of national and indigenous traditions. Although she did not want her legs to be seen but nonetheless excelled in the field of art.

5. Christy Brown


Christy Brown was an Irish author, painter and poet who had severe cerebral palsy and was incapable of deliberate speech or movement for his early years. Doctors considered him to be intellectually disabled as well. Despite this, his mother continued to speak to him, work with him and try to teach him. One day he snatched a piece of chalk from his sister using his left foot and was able to communicate using his left foot. He is most famous for his autobiography My Left Foot which was made into an Academy Award-winning film starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Brown. The book is considered to be the best Irish novel since Ulysses.

4. John Nash


Who doesn’t remember Russell Crowe as John Nash from the Oscar-winning film A Beautiful Mind? John Forbes Nash is a Nobel laureate American Mathematician who has produced ground breaking works in game theory, differential geometry and partial differential equations. At the age of 31, he started to show signs of paranoia. Thereafter he was admitted to a hospital where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. After treatment, he was again admitted to the same hospital for nine years and was given shock therapy. However in 1970 at the age of 42, he was discharged from the hospital and he started to show signs of recovery and produced some successful works which won several awards such as the Neumann Theory Prize in 1978 and Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994. The movie, ‘A Beautiful Mind’ captures all the realms of Nash’s life.

3. Jean Dominique Bauby


Bauby was a well-known French journalist and author and editor of the famous French fashion magazine ELLE. In 1995 he suffered a massive heart attack that caused him to go into a coma for 20 days. When he recovered, he found himself in a neurological condition called Locked In Syndrome wherein he was able to think freely but his body was paralyzed from head to toe. He could only move his left eyelid. Despite this he wrote the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by blinking when the correct letter was reached by a person slowly reciting the alphabets. He had to compose the entire book in his head. The book was later made into an Academy Award-nominated film of the same name.

2. Stephen Hawking


Everyone of has heard of Stephen Hawking, famous for his book A Brief History of Time which made him an academic celebrity. He is severely disabled by motor neuron disease. Symptoms of the disease first appeared when he was enrolled in the Cambridge University when he suffered a severe head injury. He was diagnosed with the disease at 21 and doctors said that he wouldn’t survive more than two or three years. By 2009, he was completely paralyzed and yet in the very same year he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the US for his contribution in the field of theoretical physics. He stands to be the role model for many of the budding physicists.

1. Helen Keller


Helen Adams Keller was an author, American activist and lecturer. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Arts. A prolific author, Keller was well traveled and was outspoken in her opposition to war. She campaigned for women’s suffrage, workers’ rights, and socialism, as well as many other progressive causes. In 1920, she helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). How her teacher Annie Sullivan nurtured her and allowed her blossom is well depicted in 1962 Oscar-winning movie The Miracle Worker. The absolutely tremendous and unforgettable display of physically power that Keller showed all through her life is truly remarkable.


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