Even with the advent of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), finding work in the Arts if you are a person with a disability is a difficult thing.
Before the ADA, it was nearly impossible. That’s why I am especially inspired by circus performers in sideshows, who despite being on the outskirts of society, put themselves on display for profit. Some of them became very famous.
* General Tom Thumb
* Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man
* Annie Jones, The Bearded Lady
* Schlitzie Surtees, The Last of the Aztecs
But even today it still remains a challenge. Here are just a few artists that have met that challenge head-on and succeeded. Some might surprise you.
Daniel Radcliffe – Actor
I was surprised to learn that Daniel has a disability. It’s called dyspraxia, otherwise known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD). People with DCD may have problems with:
- co-ordination, balance, and movement
- learning new skills, thinking, and remembering information at work and in leisure activities
- daily living skills, such as dressing or preparing meals
- writing, typing, drawing and grasping small objects
- social situations
- dealing with their emotions
- time management, planning, and personal organization
Daniel’s DCD may be the reason he’s famous now. His mother encouraged him to try out for a play when he was 9. He was having a tough time at school and she believed acting would help build his confidence up. I think it worked!
For more information about Daniel Radcliffe and Dyspraxia visit this site: Dyspraxia and Harry Potter Star Daniel Radcliffe
Frida Kahlo – Mexican Painter
Frida had a number of health conditions. She contracted Polio at a young age. And some believe she also had Spina Bifida as well. I’m suspicious of that one.
But it was an accident on a trolley car at the age of 18 that left her body wracked with pain.
It was her parents that encouraged Frida to paint. She often painted her pain, as can be seen in her piece “The Broken Column” (my favorite of her’s). In it, she is wearing a corset which is holding her torn torso together. Although her whole body is supported by the corset, she is conveying a message of spiritual jubilance. She has tears on her face but, looking straight ahead, she challenges us as well as herself to face the pain.
Her lower body is wrapped in what looks like a hospital bed sheet. And she has nails all over her body including her face, perhaps signifying nerve pain she is experiencing from the accident.
Kahlo became the first Mexican artist to have her work purchased by a major international museum when the Louvre bought her painting, The Frame, in 1939.
For more information about Frida Kahlo, visit this site: Frida Kahlo
Helen Keller – Writer and Activist
Blind and deaf
Helen was born without sight or hearing. But Hellen would go on to do remarkable things with her life. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a college degree. She published 12 books and campaigned for women’s rights and labor rights for her entire life. With her teacher, Anne Sullivan, Hellen learned to feel objects and associate them with words spelled out by finger signals on her palm, to read sentences by feeling raised words on cardboard, and to make her own sentences by arranging words in a frame. Helen was engaged to be married at one time. This was unheard of at this time. It was unseemly for a disabled woman to marry. Her family and teacher Anne were very much against it. A disabled person was thought to remain celibate. When Helen went to meet her betrothed for their elopement, he never showed up.
For more information about Helen Keller, visit this site: Helen Keller’s Family and Home Life
Claire Cunningham – Dancer
Claire has osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease usually reserved for the elderly. I couldn’t find out much about her disease but she does use crutches to get around. And she’s incorporated these crutches into amazing dance routines. Look her up on YouTube! Her dances are gorgeous and enlightening.
For more information about Claire Cunningham, visit this site: About Clair Cunningham
Joni Eareckson Tada – Painter and Writer
I’ve loved Joni since I was a young girl. I bought her book, “Joni” in my teens and was amazed at how she grabbed life by the horns!
Joni broke her back in a diving accident and lost all feeling and movement from her shoulders down. During occupational therapy, she learned to paint with a brush between her teeth. She went on to paint beautiful pieces, including “New Life” of a Monarch Butterfly, of which I have a framed print I cherish.
In 2009 Joni was inducted into the Indiana Wesleyan University Society of World Changers and was presented with an honorary doctorate while speaking at the university on April 1, 2009.
For more information about Joni Eareckson Tada, visit this site: Joni Eareckson Tada
Daisy and Violet Hilton -Singers
Born Feb 5, 1908 – Daisy and Violet Hilton are famous to me because I portrayed Daisy in the 1999 PHAMALY production of SIDE SHOW. I think this was the second highlight of my life, next to the birth of my son. I got to meet Alice Ripley, the actress that portrayed Daisy on Broadway. And I got to meet and work with the playwright, Bill Russell!!!
In real life, Daisy and Violet were exhibited as children and toured the United States in Sideshows in the 1920s and 1930s. If you’ve ever seen Todd Browning’s movie FREAKS you saw the Siamese twins Daisy and Violet. They also made their own feature film, CHAINED FOR LIFE.
Daisy and Violet died on Jan 4, 1969. First one, then the other shortly after.
For more information about Daisy and Violet Hilton, visit this site: All That’s Interesting: The Hilton Sisters
Another great article of artists with disabilities can be found here: Inspiring Disabled Artists Check it out.
I hope you enjoyed this article and perhaps learned something you didn’t already know. I love to hear what you think. Leave me a comment below!
Thanks for reading!