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"I'm going to put you in a paralyzing diving accident so you can inspire people with watercolors you paint with your feet."—Maria Bamford (with Irish accent reminiscent of Roma Downey)
Sometimes a Girl of the Week or part of a Very Special Episode or Made for TV Movie, the Inspirationally Disadvantaged Person superficially appears weak or downtrodden, but has hidden reserves of strength which often results in An Aesop.
This trope comes in three flavors:
A lot of the time, especially in the Sitcom, the Inspirationally Disadvantaged person's reserves of strength are applied to doing some perfectly ordinary task such as competing in the school talent show, graduating, or going on a date. It's only elevated to the heights of heroism because the person doing it is "differently abled". In some cases, the character turns out to have a special talent or skill that no other character can beat, sometimes implicitly "making up" for the disability, sometimes bordering on Disability Superpower.
Advocacy groups have spoken out against the practice, since it's more than a little patronizing to portray a handicapped person as heroic for doing something the rest of us do all the time - comparable to You Are a Credit to Your Race. That's one reason that this trope is a lot less common than it used to be, though a few shows that aren't afraid of a little Glurge still do it from time to time. It's also been noted that people seem to like to shower actors who portray these kind of characters with awards, thus prompting more than a little cynicism about the motives of actors who take on these roles.
Disparagingly known as the "super-crip" by disabled people, these are characters with disabilities shown as going above and beyond the level of even non-disabled people despite or in spite of their disabilities. This has led to the belief that disabled people should be amazing and talented even by non-disabled standards. See Handicapped Badass and Disability Superpower.
This Inspirationally Disadvantaged person is of the Magical kind, with shades of Incorruptible Pure Pureness. This flavor of Inspirationally Disadvantaged is there to be a good influence and teach the non-disabled lead, who is often white and male (but with some exceptions), a Very Special Lesson. Quite often, the person who is Type C Inspirationally Disadvantaged is Too Good for This Sinful Earth.
All types are seen as exploitative, with disabled characters often being little more than gimmicks to tug the heartstrings of able-bodied and able-minded viewers and make them feel "inspired" without actually challenging them to do anything about the systems that make life so difficult for the disabled in the first place. In addition, the trope is so well known that many people slap ANY handicapped character with the label regardless of how they're portrayed.
See also Idiot Savant, The Rainman, Waif Prophet, and Whoopi Epiphany Speech. Sorry, Billy, But You Just Don't Have Legs is essentially the inversion of this trope. Also somewhat related to Littlest Cancer Patient.
- The DCU has this in the character of Barbara Gordon, Batgirl. She was crippled after an attack by the Joker, and instead of giving up her career as a superhero, she became the Badass Bookworm / Genius Cripple Oracle and did more good from a wheelchair and a computer than she ever could have done on the streets.
- From Marvel Comics, there's Daredevil who has a Disability Superpower: he is blind but his other senses are heightened to a superhuman degree due to toxic waste. His mentor was a blind, old martial artist named Stick who seemed to do everything Daredevil can do... but he technically had no superpowers. He just trained himself that well.
- Also from Marvel is Silohuette of New Warriors fame. She was partially paralyzed when she was younger, resulting in her having to walk with braces. Despite this, she is an agile martial artist that can not only use her braces in her fights but has them tricked out with weapons.
- The titular character from Forrest Gump. To be fair, most of the things he does, especially in the book, are heroic by any standards.
- Forrest Gump is almost an Inversion, really. Forrest becomes so successful because he is
retardedpure of heart.
- Forrest Gump was spoofed by The Fast Show, with a trailer for a fictional film about 'a cute disabled man'. It won an award for 'best portrayal of a disabled man by a fit and healthy young actor'.
- Forrest Gump is almost an Inversion, really. Forrest becomes so successful because he is
- The Other Sister attempts to avoid this trope, but much like Shallow Hal's utter failure at being "fat positive", the movie falls short of showing a developmentally disabled girl's moving out of her parents house and falling in love as anything other than a Narmy "triumph of the human spirit."
- Not to mention most of the "humor" of watching the two lead's hilarious misunderstandings of the world around them. The movie could have been accurately labeled Retards Say the Darndest Things.
- Mask succeeds in averting it. By the time the movie begins, Rocky's already been through all the struggles and is extremely capable of getting on with his life.
- There's no aversion. Mask is double-dipped in this trope. While Rocky may not 'suffer' from craniodiaphyseal dysplasia (AKA lionitis), the movie is all about how he's able to "get on with his life" is the inspiration to others, including other disabled people. Rocky could even be considered a version of Genius Cripple, as he makes top honors in multiple subjects at his graduation. But even so, he does have depressive breakdown over it at one point. It's his courage and determination that makes him Inspirationally Disadvantaged, even after his death near the end.
- Also, Mask is a biographical film.
- Being There (and the Seemingly-Profound Fool character type in general) was actually an aversion of this, and now can be seen as a subversion of straight examples such as Forrest Gump. Chance is mentally challenged and is forced out on the streets when the master of his household dies. He rises to great heights and inspires others - but not because of any of his own qualities. Instead, he happens to encounter powerful people who think he's extremely intelligent, and interpret his concrete statements as metaphors. He's a sweet fellow but has no great inner reserves of strength or wisdom.
- I Am Sam is about a mentally challenged single dad fighting the state for custody of his daughter. Unfortunately, Roger Ebert was just one of the critics who thought the movie represented a bad case of Straw Man Has a Point when it came to portraying Sam as in the right.
- Tommy is about a "deaf, dumb, and blind kid (who) sure plays a mean pinball!"
- Actors portraying mentally challenged characters who manage to live extraordinary lives as Oscar Bait forms a reoccurring theme in the movie Tropic Thunder.
- Tropic Thunder also gave us a brutal parody in the form of the Film Within a Film, Simple Jack, which Kirk Lazarus attributes the failure due to the fact that character is portrayed as too mentally retarded, citing I Am Sam as an example. Specifically, he states that Simple Jack and I Am Sam lack the Inspirational part of the trope, meaning that the performance is just plain uncomfortable to watch.
- The Wizard concerns a young, implicitly Autistic boy who turns out to have a talent for beating arcade games. The Family-Unfriendly Aesop comes along when his older brother decides to use this skill to gain money -- and everyone he meets encourages him to do so.
- Speaking of Autism and Fred Savage, there's a little Glurge-heavy brain tulip from the mid-80's entitled The Boy Who Could Fly (reviewed here, and it is about an Autistic boy who is so Too Good for This Sinful Earth that he can... well...
- Even Biopics are not spared. The blind pianist Ray Charles comes to mind.
- Bollywood uses this in their recent movies in order to win a Filmfare Award. Blind Michelle McNally (played by Rani Mukherjee) in 2005's Black and mentally-disabled Rohit (played by Hrithik Roshan) in 2003's Koi...Mil Gaya are examples. Naturally, they won.
- My Name Is Khan would like to have a word with you.
- Averted hard in Sling Blade. Karl is mentally retarded and the film focuses predominantly on how difficult everyday life is for him, displaying no Rain Man-esque abilities save for a knack for mechanics. He has just been released from an institution after murdering his mother and her lover when he was twelve and finds it almost impossible to adjust to life outside. Karl's early hardships are also deeply horrific (his younger brother was born stillborn and his father forced him to bury the body), but never played for inspiration or a source of glurge.
- Violet Loomis from A Little Piece of Heaven is a Type C, aside from her bratty Clingy Jealous Girl moments regarding her brother's budding romance with a neighbor. She's pure and innocent, is seen saying her prayers at least once, says cutesy sappy things like "let's go to Heaven and see mama and papa," and gives hugs and cuddles to an abused little girl that magically make her feel all better.
- Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol is the Trope Codifier, if not the Ur Example, for being unusually hopeful and big-hearted despite his difficult circumstances.
- Stephen King has one or two of these per book. They tend to have Psychic Powers. Tom Cullen from The Stand is a great example.
- Stephen King is an example himself, as he suffers from macular degeneration and knows that he is slowly going blind. In an interview, he states that it scares him but that he can find inspiration in Christopher Reeves's ability to go on with his life despite losing the use of his legs.
- Even more common in Dean Koontz's books, especially his more recent ones. If none of the main characters have a disability, they will often either work for or visit a place where such people are treated or live.
- Many stories in the Chicken Soup for the Soul are stories written by disabled people about living with their disabilities or by nondisabled people about disabled people they know. Either way, readers are meant to find some "inspirational" value in the disability element.
- Heather Kuzmich was a 21-year-old college student when she went on America's Next Top Model. On her application, she listed her Asperger's, which she had been diagnosed with at fifteen, only under "medical disabilities". She was put on the show and, much to her befuddlement, portrayed as Inspirationally Disadvantaged. And the other models became All of the Other Reindeer thanks to Manipulative Editing.
- Blair's cousin Gerry on The Facts of Life.
- Parodied in a sketch by The Kids in The Hall (& double parodied with Oscar Bait): At a movie award ceremony, three of the four actor nominees played characters with some sort of handicap and each "Oscar clip" shown is an impassioned speech against one-dimensional, ridiculously evil antagonists. One is deaf, one is paralyzed, and one has a railroad spike through his head. The fourth guy played Hamlet, and it ends up being a three-way tie between "everyone but the Hamlet guy".
- Corky, a kid with Down Syndrome who goes to high school, from Life Goes On. (The actor himself, Chris Burke, has the syndrome).
- The Megan Adams (blind book editor) character from The Rockford Files.
- One episode of Saved by the Bell had Zack falling for a girl confined to a wheelchair, and part of the plot included the gang putting on a wheelchair basketball game as a fundraiser. The episode has a similar subversion to the South Park examples below, as the girl berates Zack for calling attention to her disability to the crowd after the game.
- 7th Heaven featured a number of these. Laying the patronizing aspect on extra-thick, years later, in a Clip Show framed as Simon's art film, each of the characters appears in a montage. While other characters in the montage are identified with labels explaining their roles (Such as "fireman" or "teacher"), the Inspirationally Disadvantaged characters are each identified with the label "Angel". Y'know, because they're closer to God and all.
- Subverted with Jake on Becker, who happens to be a blind black man. He's not treated as 'inspirationally disabled' by the show, and his blindness is often used for jokes, as well as being shown to be just as flawed and human as the others.
- Deconstructed in a first season episode of The Golden Girls with Rose's sister. She tries to be one of these, but reality gets in her way. Best shown in a scene where where Rose tries to get her a cane so she can make her way through the room without falling over the various stuff the girls have spread around for the garage sale they're throwing, but she insists that she'll be fine because she memorized the layout of the house. Cue Rose, Dorothy, and Blanche dashing back and forth moving things out of her way. She then has a Heroic BSOD after setting fire to the stove. Reconstructed in the end when she goes back to a school for the blind to learn how to take care of herself, gets a seeing-eye dog, and is even driving by herself.
- The Golden Girls had several episodes where a disabled character appears, but none are never portrayed with this trope. In particular, Blanche dates two: a blind man, who she ends up pushing away after starting to fall for him, not because he's blind, but because she relies so heavily on her looks that she can't trust herself to keep the interest of a man who can't see her, and a man in a wheelchair, who appears Inspirationally Disadvantaged, until it's revealed he's cheating on his wife, and Blanche realizes that he's just as much a jerk as any guy, he just happens to be sitting down.
- Tom from The Secret Life of the American Teenager is portrayed rather realistically as a young adult with Down Syndrome. Some of his family and friends will patronize him sometimes (which is, unfortunately the truth for many people with developmental disabilities) but they usually treat him just the same as anyone else. He gets in just as much trouble as his sister when he screws up, and gets equal praise when he does well.
- A favorite form of Stunt Casting on The Amazing Race, but they usually work this angle so hard that these teams become Annoyingly Disadvantaged. Includes a woman with dwarfism (Charla, Seasons 5 and 11), a woman with one leg (Sarah, Season 10), a deaf man (Luke, Season 14), and a man with Asperger's syndrome (Zev, Season 15).
- Highway to Heaven has several:
- Recurring character Scotty is a paraplegic who, in his first appearance passes the bar exam despite his handicap. Scotty makes appearances in later episodes where his law firm is failing, but then succeeds because he doesn't quit and partially because he helps others with perceived disabilities.
- In the same episode that introduces Scotty, a high-school student with a promising career in sports loses the use of his legs, but thanks to the inspiration of Scotty and the boy that caused him to be paralyzed, the boy learns gymnastics.
- The homeless boy in Alone. All he wants is someone to love him. He manages to reunite a family and gain one of his own in the process.
- In A Special Love, this two-part episode has Todd, a boy with Down Syndrome, afraid to participate in any sports until he meets the inspirational Scotty (see above).
- This trope was Lampshaded by Mulder in an episode of The X-Files when Scully tells him he's like Captain Ahab:
MULDER: You know, it's interesting you should say that, because I've always wanted a peg leg. It's a boyhood thing I never grew out of. I'm not being flippant, I've given this a lot of thought. I mean, if you have a peg leg or hooks for hands then maybe it's enough to simply keep on living. You know, bravely facing life with your disability. But without these things you're actually meant to make something of your life, achieve something earn a raise, wear a necktie. So if anything, I'm actually the antithesis of Ahab, because if I did have a peg leg, I'd quite possibly be more happy and more content not to be chasing after these creatures of the unknown.
- Averted in Seven Days. The fact that resident genius Dr. Ballard is wheelchair-bound is almost never mentioned in the series. There was one episode that focused on it, and every now and then he'd make a joke regarding it, as real people might, but that's it.
- The main character on M.A.N.T.I.S. was a wheelchair-bound genius who built a suit of Powered Armor that let him walk - and fight crime.
- Not quite a straight example, or at least somewhat atypical, as the protagonist was already a brilliant robotics engineer before being rendered paraplegic. He built himself a Cool Wheelchair in the form of an exoskeleton that compensated for the loss of motor function, then belatedly realised that he had in fact created the technology for fully functional Powered Armour and decided to just run with it.
- Doctor Kevin Casey from Scrubs, an incredibly skilled surgeon with OCD. He attributes his skill directly to this, explaining that he was forced by his condition to read reference books obsessively until he memorised them. However, the trope is subverted at the end when the main characters get jealous and go to confront him, only to see him several hours after surgery still obsessively washing his hands, leading them to realise how much he really is suffering.
- Also subverted with one of the security guards. No one ever comments on his hook hand, because everyone knows him as the guy with the gigantic afro.
- Averted in Glee with Becky Jackson, Cheerio, Badass Adorable administrator, mean girl in development, and The Dragon to Sue Sylvester, who also just happens to have Down Syndrome. Unfortunately, also played painfully straight with Sean the quadriplegic football player, whose injury and subsequent development into a singer and maths genius is used to teach the series' heroine an Aesop about how there's more to her than singing after she temporarily loses her voice due to a bout of tonsillitis. If this was intended to be satire, it monumentally failed to land.
- In Community episode Debate 109, their debate opponent from City College is Jimmy "Soulpatch" Simmons who is rather aggressive about using his handicap status to win debate arguments.
- An episode of Quantum Leap featured a young woman deafened as the result of a childhood accident. However, she had become a very talented dancer (she could map out the tune of the music by feeling the vibrations). Sam convinced her to audition for a dance troupe. Although she initially performed well, she was unable to understand that she was to improvise her own routine because she had been unable to read the instructor's lips (not knowing of her condition, the woman had turned away from her as she was speaking). Humiliated, she prepared to begin working for an escort service, only to have Sam show up and convince her and the dance troupe leader to give her another chance.
- A character on the show Guiding Light, Abby (and the actress playing her) had been deaf from birth, but could read lips so well that other characters often forgot that she couldn't hear them. Aside from this, the character was given typical Soap Opera storylines, all of which never made her disability an issue--aside from her Attempted Rape, where she was unable to her her attacker creeping up on her--and eventually, the actress' Real Life decision to have a cochlear implant was incorporated into the show.
- Canada's Worst Driver had an Incorruptible in Season 7's Aaron. Subverted in that he was a genuinely terrible driver--as bad as any other candidate--but he Invoked this trope by insisting on staying through every episode, so that the other contestants would be inspired to be better drivers because of what happened to him (he spent six months in a coma and is physically disabled because of a car crash). He was the last graduate.
- Shannon Lake, the classic inspiring high-school classmate from the comic strip For Better or For Worse. True to her origins as an avatar for the author's developmentally-delayed niece, Shannon fulfills this trope very literally. At one point, mocked one time too many in the cafeteria, she gets up on a table and delivers a lengthy plea for understanding on behalf of all special-needs kids everywhere. This did not, to put it as kindly as possible, help her cause as a believable character.
- The radio form of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy played with this by featuring a device that simulated this effect. Since all forms of diseases, death and discomfort had been effectively removed from the most advanced parts of the galaxy, people started to realize the importance of this trope, and so anybody out to become famous in the galaxy took to wearing a watch-like device that would simulate the challenges of being deaf/blind/retarded/crippled/chased by assassins without the inconvenience of actually being disabled.
- In Mass Effect, your pilot, Joker, has Osteogenesis Imperfecta a.k.a. brittle bone disease, but is a very good pilot. It's also subverted on two accounts: piloting a ship is something that doesn't require strong bones, and Joker is still one of the best pilots in the Alliance, and if you ask him about his background, he says, "If you're looking for an inspirational story about the crippled kid who overcame impossible odds, you're gonna be disappointed." Turns out that since his parents were spacers, he was going to join the Academy regardless of whether he had his disability. In Mass Effect 2, you even play as Joker for a brief period near the end and he manages to get around the ship just fine with a slight hunch and a limp.
- Averted in Katawa Shoujo. The story is set in a school for disabled students and all of the main characters have some form of disability, but all of them are much deeper than merely this and their setbacks are always portrayed realistically, neither overdoing them nor ignoring them completely. Many of the characters are perfectly comfortable with themselves, with Emi proudly labeling herself 'the fastest thing on no legs' and Lilly becoming very amused when people get flustered over saying things like 'see you around' in her presence.
- It's discussed a little as well - if Hisao patronizes Hanako, she will become extremely pissed off with him and a Bad End will result. Also, in Rin's route, Hisao gets uncomfortable when the art teacher suggests mentioning Rin's disability (she has no arms and paints with her feet) to attract attention (the art teacher himself says that if they play up Rin's disability, they'll be accused of exploiting it, but if they hide it, they'll be accused of discrimination), and when Hisao sees that Emi is an extremely good runner, he resists the urge to say something like 'especially since you have prosthetic legs' when telling her that she's very impressive for fear that it would take away from the compliment.
- The Onion spoofs this
Coming up next: Serial killer with Down Syndrome commits fifth inspirational murder
- Felix from Kim Possible. Kim treats him as a disadvantaged boy through the episode, until she learns to accept that he kicks ass.
- Helps when your mum builds you a wheelchair capable of flying and includes heavy weapons.
- It's also played for laughs with Ron, who treats Felix like any other guy. Felix is glad Ron doesn't give a wet slap, but it seriously bugs Kim.
- Helps when your mum builds you a wheelchair capable of flying and includes heavy weapons.
- Jimmy and Timmy have been used to both lampshade and brutally subvert this trope on South Park.
- And there's also the "Conjoined Fetus Lady" episode, which features a school nurse who has had her dead twin attached to the side of her head since birth, and who only wants to do her job without being fawned over for her "courage." This does not stop the townsfolk from throwing her a parade, complete with dead fetus headbands. She ends the episode by calling them out on their behavior and became a minor reoccurring character for a while.
- Teo from Avatar: The Last Airbender brilliantly averts this trope. Teo might be an excellent pilot, but this is never suggested to be because he is paraplegic, nor does any of the other characters seem to consider him in any way unusual. The only notice anyone takes of Teo's handicap is when Sokka is impressed by his "glider chair".
- Also, in spite of only being in two scenes in The Day of Back Sun, and not doing much in either, he was on the front lines in the end so we can assume that he was fighting the whole time.
- Then there's Toph, though she's more along the lines of Disability Superpower. Also averted, as she's happy to make blind jokes about herself, and her genuine setbacks (being functionally illiterate in a world without Braille) are merely acknowledged.
- Toph doesn't just make blind jokes about herself, she makes jokes at other people's expenses about her being blind: "THERE IT IS!" (everyone looks excitedly where she is pointing) "...is what it will sound like when one of YOU spots it" (waves her hand in front of her own to face to remind her friends SHE CAN'T SEE)
Toph: I think it looks great, Sokka.
Sokka: Thank y-...Why do you feel the need to do that?
- Avoided with Garrett of Extreme Ghostbusters, paralyzed from birth, but is the jock of the group. Not only does he enjoy sports (character profiles stated he is one of the best wheelchair basketball players in the Buorghs), but he often does things like getting across the city by holding on to the bumper of a bus, and jumping off a building with a parachute. Given these activities, the writers could be accused of trying just a bit too hard to show that his disability didn't limit him, but he was still praised for his portrayal. He's also willing to crack jokes about his condition, and the one time he shows any offense is when he thinks Egon is patronizing him by telling him to stay back (He wasn't, Egon was just having a mid-life crisis and trying to take a more active role in the group).
- One of the reasons it doesn't seem like the writers are trying too hard is because sometimes Garrett's disability actually does limit him (usually when stairs are involved).
- Averted in the somewhat infamous episode of Family Guy; Chris' infatuation with his Down Syndrome classmate rapidly dwindles as she spends the entire date being a rotten, demanding bitch.
- Played mostly straight with Joe in the early seasons, until he became Flanderized into a walking punchline.
- An episode of Arthur has Prunella being over protective of her blind friend Marina after the rest of her friends question how she can do things and are worried about her, Marina grows tired of this behavior and asks her to stop feeling sorry for her.
- An episode of Clifford the Big Red Dog has Clifford, T-Bone, and Cleo meeting K.C. a dog who's missing a leg, T-Bone and Cleo are afraid of him at first and fear that if they touch him they will lose a leg, and Clifford is worried that he can't play as well as they can, K.C. eventually tells them that they won't lose their legs and proves that he can play as well as a four legged dog.
- Played cloyingly straight in The Little Clowns of Happytown episode "I'm Just Like You" with character of the week Rodney. He's in a wheelchair, but is taking a test to become a lifeguard and constantly harps on how if he can learn, so can anyone else. The climax of the episode has him save a bully from drowning. While the message is supposed to be "disabled kids can do it just like abled kids," it comes across as "disabled kids are BETTER than abled kids because they're such pure heroes."
- A couple of years ago, the media used teenager Jason McElwain as this, since he scored 20 points and won a game for his high school's basketball team, even though he was only the manager and has Asperger's Syndrome. In early January 2010, Kirkwood High School in St. Louis, Missouri, tried to stage this with their manager, who had some nondescript disability. The problem was, the school had contacted the media beforehand and planned which shots he was going to make and the team had already been winning when he made his big shots. The problem is that the media has to treat these kids as super-special and kind of fragile, instead of acknowledging that kids with Asperger's Syndrome and other disabilities can play basketball just as well as "normal" kids.
- McElwain's team was also ahead by quite a bit in his game. Though the team knew he could shoot well, they didn't want to risk using him in a close game.
- This guy.
- The human camera: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8YXZTlwTAU
- Double amputee Aimee Mullins works as a motivational speaker because of this trope. She's been a sprinter, a model, an actress, you name it.
- At a TED talk she describes how she once gave a talk to a class of elementary schoolers, but was afraid that the adults trying to make them be "sensitive to her condition" would subvert her message, so she only agreed to talk if she could have ten minutes with the kids without the teachers in the room. The notion that being a double amputee was a problem never crossed the kids' minds, especially when one girl suggested the possibility of some sort of jet-shoe prosthetic.
- Oscar Pistorius, double amputee and Olympic-grade sprinter. Not Paralympic-grade, Olympic grade. If they'd let him run, at least...
- Joni Ereckson Tada, likely who Maria Bamford is referring to in the top quote. She was left quadriplegic after a diving accident and learned to paint with her feet and teeth. She has also spent much of her life advocating for others with disabilities, and has a non-profit organization that sends wheelchairs to people in less prosperous nations. They even made a movie about her life.
- Nick Vujicic Dude's a motivational speaker with no arms or legs.
- Pianist Liu Wei, who has no arms and plays the piano with his toes.
- Christy Brown.
- Erik Weihenmayer
- Far too many cognitively disabled people run into this attitude. It can be very damaging to their maturity and independence. Professionals who work with this population are trained not to over praise or patronize normal, every day tasks and achievements. An appropriate attitude is "You loaded the dishwasher? Good. It was your turn" or even "Hey, thanks for folding the laundry so I didn't have to." Not "Wow! I can't believe you did that all by yourself! You're so special!"
- Helen Keller.
- It's of note that this and most other Disability Tropes are among the reason some of those with non-physical or mental disabilities don't tell other people that they're disabled.
- Ludwig Van Beethoven, one of the most famous Classical composers ever, started losing his hearing in his 20's. By his mid-40's, he was totally deaf, but still wrote some of his greatest music late in life. At the premiere of his 9th Symphony, with the famous "Ode To Joy" chorus, his back was to the audience as he was conducting ... and he could not hear when he got a standing ovation.
- Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most renowned Cosmologist alive today. Even after decades of Lou Gehrig's disease, he's still putting out both research papers and science popularizations for lay readers.
- Stephen has attributed his cognitive abilities in part to his disability. It was difficult or impossible for him to write down notes, so he by necessity had to memorize more than most students do. These mental gymnastics helped him be able to hold vastly complex theories in his head.
- Subverted in the case of Lon Chaney: he had no disabilities, but his parents were deaf. This forced him to use pantomime to communicate. Then he got into movies--during the silent era, a time when all actors could use to communicate was pantomime...
- Jean Chretien, when running in the 1993 Federal election as leader of the Liberal Party, was hit with an inept Progressive Conservative Party Scare Campaign ad that apparently mocked him for his face's Bell's Palsy. Chretien in response instantly took advantage of the public revulsion to that ad to give the public speech he had been waiting to give about being a little guy who had struggled with a physical disability since childhood. The result: Chretien won the election and became Prime Minister and the PC's were smashed from holding 169 seats to 2.