Role Models

The following is a list of some role models with physical disabilities. (Note: There are of course innumerable role models with other types of disabilities, but for purposes of this entry, I have limited the list to the physically disabled.)

Role models can play an important – in some cases, transformational – role in students’ lives. If you have a student with physical disabilities in your class, providing information publicly to the entire class (bulletin boards, readings, examples for projects) can go a long way to affirming that student’s sense of self. By including people like them in the class, you are sending a clear signal to the entire class that the student is part of the class too, that the student can achieve great things despite his disability, and that you value the student’s contributions to the class on an equal plain as the other students.

Even if you don’t have students with disabilities in your class, using these role models in your curriculum still sends an important, positive message about the accomplishments and potential of people with disabilities. In one sense, the message will be even more powerful because no one will think the teacher has included the role model just as a nod to a particular student.


Ali, Muhammad – Ali remains an international celebrity and goodwill ambassador despite having Parkinson's Disease.

Brimmer, Gaby – Even though Gaby was born with a severe case of Cerebral Palsy, she composed a few published novels with her left foot.

Brown, Christy – Christy was another well-known author with Cerebral Palsy. He painted and typed with his left foot.

Callahan, John – He is a quadriplegic cartoonist.

Dart, Justin – Dart, who had Polio, was a leader of the international disability rights movement and a renowned human rights activist.

Fox, Michael J. – Fox, with Parkinson's Disease, is raising funds and public awareness of his disease.

Golfus, Billy – He is an award-winning journalist in spite of becoming brain injured due to a motor scooter accident ten years ago.

Hawkings, Stephen – A very popular scientist, Dr. Hawkings has ALS and uses a voice synthesizer to give lectures.

Hockenberry, John – John, a paraplegic news reporter, makes the public aware that the disabled are people too.

Mairs, Nancy – Nancy has Multiple Sclerosis and charms the world by writing articles and novels.

Maynard, Kyle – Maynard, who has Congenital Amputation, wrote a book entitled No Excuses.

Nolan, Christopher – Christopher published a novel entitled Cerebral Palsy and types with his headpointer.

Perlman, Itzhak – Itzhak, a world-famous musician with Polio, teaches the world, "Disabled people can certainly dance."

Pryor, Richard – A comedian with Multiple Sclerosis, Pryor was one of the most successful and beloved performers ever.

Reeve, Christopher — Reeves, the actor who played “Superman,” became severely physically handicapped from a horse riding accident and inspired other disabled people to never give up.

Roosevelt, Franklin D. — FDR had Polio and was elected President of the United States an unprecedented three times!

Walker, Bradley - Bradley, who has Muscular Dystrophy, is a country bluegrass singer.


Also, although Chief Justice John Roberts, by virtue of his recent seizure, now satisfies the medical definition of epilepsy, I did not include him in the list because he has not yet publicly identified himself as someone with epilepsy.

Poole, Bernie and Yvonne Singer. “Educating People with Disabilities.” 3 June 2006. 2 August 2007. <>.

This page was created by Dan Gordon.