Join us in observing National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Oct. 1 to Oct. 31, celebrating the many contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. We recognize the barriers still faced today in our community and vow to do better by advocating for structural change and advancing equity for all.
1974 - Present
Born with spinal muscular atrophy, Wong has been a lifelong fighter for representation for people with disabilities. Her career has included research, writing, anthology editing, podcast hosting, social media activism and influencing policy – all in support of people with disabilities. She founded the Disability Visibility Project to share the voices of those with disabilities and to eliminate systemic discrimination against them.
As the disability she was experiencing progressed, she lost the ability to walk and speak, as well as breathe or eat unassisted. President Obama named her to the National Council on Disability. “We have to fight the forces that dehumanize and erase us,” explained Wong.
1909 - 1956
Arthur Tatum Jr. was an American virtuoso pianist and improviser who is widely regarded as one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. He set the standard for manual dexterity. Fellow musicians hailed Tatum’s technical ability as extraordinary, and music legend Count Basie called him the “eighth wonder of the world.”
From infancy, he experienced visual impairment. Following several operations, Tatum gained limited vision and could distinguish colors. However, any benefit from the procedures was lost when he suffered an assault in his twenties, leaving him blind in one eye and with limited sight in the other. He traveled the world making music while living with blindness.
1936 - 1996
Barbara Charline Jordan graduated from Boston University Law School in 1959 as one of only two African American women in her class. After participating in the 1960 Kennedy-Johnson presidential campaign, she won a seat in the Texas State Senate in 1966 – the first African American state senator since 1883 and the first Black woman to serve.
In 1973, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and eventually used a wheelchair. Jordan retired from Congress in 1979 to become a professor at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. She earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, the country’s highest civilian honor.
1898 - 1986
Helen Brooke Taussig is credited as the founder of pediatric cardiology for her innovative work on “blue baby” syndrome. In 1944, Taussig, surgeon Alfred Blalock, and surgical technician Vivien Thomas developed an operation to correct the congenital heart defect that causes the syndrome. This concept was applied in practice as a procedure known as the Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt, which has saved or prolonged thousands of young lives.
Taussig was partially deaf following an ear infection in childhood, which progressed to full deafness as an adult. To communicate with her patients, she learned to use lip-reading techniques and hearing aids.
1880 - 1968
Many people remember the story of Helen Keller from their schooldays. She lost her hearing and sight as a toddler due to illness. After learning sign language, she excelled academically and became the first DeafBlind person in the United States to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Her life’s work was as an author, disability rights advocate, political activist and lecturer. Less well-known may be the causes she supported. She co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union, supported the NAACP, spoke out against lynching, was an early proponent of birth control, and joined the Socialist Party. Time magazine named her one of its 100 Persons of the Century.
1967 - Present
Born in Flint, Michigan, Jim Abbott achieved his dream of becoming a professional baseball player and did so with one hand – his left. As a child, his parents tried to involve him in soccer so he wouldn’t have to use his arms. However, his passion was baseball. With extraordinary hand-eye coordination, he showed great promise.
After playing in high school, he played at the University of Michigan. He was named the best amateur athlete and the top amateur baseball player in the nation as a sophomore. He pitched in the Major Leagues for a decade with the California Angels, Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees.
1961 - Present
During the 1980s and ‘90s, Michael J. Fox was one of the biggest stars working in television and movies. Typically funny and charming in his roles, Fox was loved by audiences and respected by critics. His life changed, however, when he was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease at the age of 29.
In 2000, he co-founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which funds research aimed at finding a cure for the disease as well as improved therapies for today’s Parkinson’s patients. Called the “the most credible voice on Parkinson's research in the world,” the organization has raised over $1.75 billion.
1942 - 2018
English physicist Stephen Hawking’s books helped people outside the scientific community understand his groundbreaking research on the universe’s origin. During his career, he helped people understand the potential of people with disabilities.
As a young man he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular wasting disease. His astonishing body of work was accomplished as he rapidly lost his ability to move and speak. Hawking was a powerful advocate for people with disabilities. “We have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities,” he said.
1972 - Present
One of Hollywood’s best-known actresses, Selma Blair has openly spoken about her struggles dealing with sexual assault, alcoholism, depression and illness. She was named a Time magazine Person of the Year in 2017 as one of the “Silence Breakers,” a group of women who spoke up about sexual abuse.
In 2018, she revealed she had received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Since then, she has continued to work as an actor and uses her fame to advocate for people with disabilities. Her open and honest discussions about her own health issues have empowered many people to seek needed help.
1947 - Present
Tom Sullivan is an American singer, actor and motivational speaker. Born prematurely, he was given oxygen while in an incubator to save his life. However, excess oxygen left him blind. After graduating from the Perkins School for the Blind, he attended Providence College, then Harvard University.
He was discovered by actress Betty White while performing at clubs on Cape Cod. Among his credits, Sullivan has appeared in several television shows, including M*A*S*H and the Tonight Show. He also sung the national anthem at Super Bowl X and the 1976 Indianapolis 500. He has been an advocate for treatments and assistive services for the visually impaired.