Hollywood has failed the disability community for a very long time. Characters with disabilities are rarely portrayed by disabled actors. However, the entertainment industry’s efforts to improve its diversity is slowly shifting, and lately we’re seeing more talented actors who have disabilities in the spotlight. Here are some celebrities with disabilities who are shaking up Hollywood.
Gaten Matarazzo is one of the standout child actors from Netflix’s hit Stranger Things. His character, Dustin, actually mentions the condition he has in the very first episode of Stranger Things, “I told you a million times, my teeth are coming in! It’s called cleidocranial dysplasia.” Matarazzo was born September 8, 2002 with the rare condition that affects the development of bones and teeth. He’s not shy about it and speaks out to educate others about it whenever he gets the opportunity.
Roy Frank “RJ” Mitte is most popular for his role as the teenager Walter “Flynn” White on Breaking Bad. Mitte was born August 21, 1992 and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was three years old. CP is a neurological disorder caused by brain injury (or damage) or abnormal development while a child’s brain is still developing. Today, Mitte continues to successfully act, produce and model while also serving as a celebrity ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy.
Marlee Matlin is an Academy Award- and Golden Globe Award-winning actress for her leading role in Children of a Lesser God and is one of the most successful hearing-impaired actresses in Hollywood. She was born August 24, 1965 and lost her hearing when she was 18 months old due to a genetically malformed cochlea. She has had a very lucrative career as an actor and has four children with her husband Kevin Grandalski.
Robert David Hall
Robert David Hall, best known for his 12-year role as Dr. Albert Robbins on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, uses prosthetic legs to walk. His legs were amputated in 1978 at the age of 30 after he was involved in a car accident where an 18-wheeler truck crushed his vehicle. He has been a long-time advocate for performers with disabilities in the Screen Actors Guild, Actors Equity, and the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists. “I don’t want to be lumped in just as some disabled guy. I’m an actor. I’m proud of the profession,” he has said.
Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox gained popularity early in his acting career for iconic roles in Back to the Future and Family Ties. He was born on June 9, 1961. Fox first displayed symptoms of early-onset Parkinson’s disease in 1991 while shooting the film Doc Hollywood. Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder affecting mostly dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. Fox went public with his condition in 1998 and since then has become a strong advocate for Parkinson’s disease research. The Michael J. Fox Foundation helps advance the study and research of the illness.
Daryl Mitchell has had a successful career in TV and film since the early ’90s, with appearances in such hits as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and 10 Things I Hate About You. Then, in 2001, at the age of 36, he was involved in a motorcycle accident that paralyzed him from the waist down. But that didn’t put an end to his acting career. He has since starred in several TV series including NBC’s Ed and Fox’s Brothers (for which he won an Image Award), and can currently be seen in AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead. He has also started a charity called the Daryl Mitchell Foundation to raise awareness of spinal cord injuries.
Jamie Brewer found herself in the spotlight after riveting performances in FX’s American Horror Story. She was born February 5, 1985 with Down syndrome, a congenital disorder arising from a chromosome defect, causing intellectual impairment and physical abnormalities. She hasn’t let that stop her though. The actress was the first model with Down syndrome to walk the New York Fashion Week in 2015 and her acting career continues to flourish. She’s a huge advocate for Down syndrome and was the youngest person with the condition to be elected president of the ARC of Fort Bend Chapter.
Micah Fowler is best known for his roles in the Kate Winslet film Labor Day and ABC’s Speechless. He was born March 5, 1998 and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at an early age. Fowler’s acting career is solid. When he’s off the set, Fowler works as an ambassador for the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and helps to fight the typecasting and lack of audition opportunities for disabled actors.
Stevie Wonder is one of the most famous people with a disability. He is celebrated as one of the top American musicians of all time. Wonder was born blind as a result of premature birth May 13, 1950. By age 12 he was signed to his first record label and had his first hit by the time he was 13 years old. Since then he has won 26 Grammys, an Academy Award, recorded over 30 Billboard Top 10 singles, and continues to perform and write hit songs today.
Katie Leclerc’s career began in 2005 with her debut on the cult hit TV show Veronica Mars. The actress was born November 6, 1986. It wasn’t until 2005 when she volunteered to be filmed taking a hearing test for a video about hearing loss that she realized she had hearing issues. She was officially diagnosed with Meniere’s disease five years later in 2010. The condition is an inner-ear disorder that impacts the person’s balance and hearing and can worsen over time. Leclerc gained notoriety with her role as a deaf teen on the ABC Family show Switched at Birth and used that platform advocate for the hearing impaired community.