Disabilities were traditionally thought of as disadvantages that hinder a person’s capacity to be a productive member of society and to live life to the fullest. Some people may even look at a disability as indicating a total dependence on others and an utter lack of self-sufficiency. Fortunately, most people nowadays are better educated and enlightened about the truths behind a disability.
There are various types of disabilities which may range from physical disabilities such as blindness, hearing impairment, or restrictions in bodily functions, to learning disorders such as dyslexia or difficulty in reading and writing. A lot of people also suffer from psychological difficulties such as mood disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders, to name a few.
Exploring the world of disabilities through prominent personalities, however, immediately reveals that a disability is not necessarily a hindrance nor a life sentence concerning what one can and cannot accomplish. Many world leaders who have made their indelible mark on history have proven that disabilities are mere challenges that can be overcome and surpassed.
1) Alexander the Great (356 BC ”œ 323 BC)
Alexander the Great was said to have epilepsy, then known as ‘the sacred disease’ due to the belief that those afflicted with these seizures were either touched by the gods or possessed by evil spirits. He was the King of Macedonia, expanded his territories and conquered the Persian empire. To this day, he is considered one of the greatest military leaders ever.
2) George Washington (1732 ”œ 1799)
George Washington, in spite of his early education, was described as having dreadful grammar skills and poor performance in reading and language skills. Suspected to have suffered from dyslexia, a learning disorder, Washington also had difficulty in spelling and expressing himself in writing. Still, he was a gifted military leader and became the first President of the United States and the only President to have been unanimously elected for three terms, the last of which he already refused. He was also recognized as The Father of His Country.
3)Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 ”œ 1821)
Anecdotes and excerpts from several of Napoleon’s biographies described him as having suffered from epilepsy during his lifetime. As a young student in Paris, while being punished for insubordination and made to eat on his knees, he had a major seizure and was consequently let off his punishment. Even in his adult years, there have been records of Napoleon suffering from epileptic seizures with frothing at the mouth that lasted for about fifteen minutes. Napoleon was a general and war hero with numerous victories to his name and became no less than the Emperor of France.
4)Abraham Lincoln (1809 ”œ 1865)
From birth, Abraham Lincoln was already predisposed to suffering from mental illness. Both his mother and father suffered from bouts of depression and were both described as sad, somber, and gloomy. Lincoln had a host of paternal relations including a great uncle who was reportedly deranged, an alcoholic, and a depressive uncle; at least one manic-depressive cousin, several cousins who suffered from mood swings; a niece who was diagnosed and committed to an institution for the insane, and the list goes on and on. Lincoln himself had expressed suicidal ideations and had publicly suffered at least two breakdowns. In spite of his battle against this consuming adversary within himself, Lincoln acquired great stature and became the 16th President of the USA, and was best known for his victorious war effort and for changing the face of slavery in America.
5)Woodrow Wilson (1856 ”œ 1924)
Woodrow Wilson was suspected to have suffered from dyslexia, a type of reading disorder. He was a very poor student, was considered quite slow by his teachers, and did not learn to read till he was 12 years old. His father, determined to help his son, tutored him intensively. Woodrow taught himself shorthand and through sheer determination and self-discipline was able to get into college, obtained a degree in law, and became a lawyer, a revered college professor, a governor, and eventually, the 28th President of the United States.
6) Winston Churchill (1874 ”œ 1965)
Throughout his life, Winston Churchill suffered from a speech impediment, similar to what his father also had. He was prone to stuttering, speaking with a lisp, making occasional rattling noises in his throat, and described himself as tongue-tied. He consulted several specialists in the field and worked diligently on speech exercises for extensive periods. He aspired to become a great public speaker and did become one of the world’s greatest orators, known for his emphatic political speeches which he delivered effectively and compellingly. It was said that he chose his words carefully and avoided words that began and ended with an ‘s.’ He himself was quoted to have said that his ‘impediment is no hindrance.’ He spoke the truth as his lisp and stuttering did not hold him back from serving England twice as Prime Minister and for being instrumental in the victory in the war against Nazi Germany as well as for being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1953.
7) Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 ”œ 1945)
When he was 39 years old, Franklin D. Roosevelt was afflicted with polio and was paralyzed from the waist down, thus requiring the use of a cane, crutches, or a wheelchair. In public, however, he downplayed the extent of his physical disability and, as a result, very few people knew at that time that he was, in fact, unable to walk without assistance. In spite of these difficulties, Franklin Roosevelt attained the honor of being the only American President to have been elected four consecutive terms due to his success in aiding the recovery of the U.S. economy and restoration of order after the World War.
8) Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004)
In his 70s, Ronal Reagan was thrown off a horse and suffered a concussion as well as a subdural hematoma which required surgery. Doctors were convinced that these events hastened the development of Alzheimer’s disease which is a progressive and degenerative disorder that weakens brain cells and causes deterioration of memory, language skills, thinking skills, and behavior. Reagan was a popular actor who enjoyed a long and fruitful political career as governor of California and was the 40th President of the United States.
9) Boris Yeltsin (1931 ”œ 2007)
Boris Yeltsin suffered quite a lot from depression and alcohol abuse. In his memoirs, he often recounted his bouts of severe depression and agonizing self-appraisals. His problem with alcohol caused him to be involved in periodic disappearances and not showing up for appointments with heads of state. In spite of these challenges, Yeltsin accomplished much as the first, freely elected President of Independent Russia.
10)David Blunkett ( 1947 – )
David Blunkett was born into a poor family in one of England’s most disadvantaged districts. He was blind since the day he was born due to a rare genetic disorder. He studied at schools for the blind where he applied himself and garnered honors. He went into local politics and eventually became a Member of Parliament, Secretary of Education and Employment, and Home Secretary in the United Kingdom.
These outstanding personalities have proven that an impairment need not be a disability. These people have not only taken their lives into their own hands but turned them around for the better. Not only have they conquered the challenges within their own minds and bodies that nature has bestowed upon them, but they have touched numerous lives and made a positive difference in the lives of many people through their displays of courage, persistence, hard work, and the will to succeed.