9 Amazing Motivational Speakers With Special Needs

Over the years we have heard many inspirational stories about individuals with special needs who have focused on their abilities and have accomplished some pretty amazing things in their lives. Some of these individuals have gone on to help motivate others to look past their challenges and focus on the talents and abilities that they have.

Here are 8 motivational speakers that are spreading the messages of ability, inclusion and most importantly, Yes I Can!

Joseph Reid: My Life Is Hard, Get On With It

My name is Joseph and I reside in the bay of plenty. Online I’m known as Defender1995. About 20 and a half years ago I blessed my parents with (you guessed it) me! While most of New Zealand was watching Peter Blake win the Americas Cup. I entered the world, barely alive.

I was born very very sick due to my lack of oxygen during the birth. As a result of that I have to live with Cerebral Palsy (Athetoid) in my day to day life. I’m half Kiwi and half Polish. In the very first days of my life I had to stay in Tauranga hospital, because I was very sick. The first 5 years of my life were very intensive and involved a variety of therapies. Travelling to Hamilton at 1 year of age, I began Conductive Education two times a week.  Mum & I did that for almost 3 years. This is a program from Hungary, and is predominately for children with Cerebral Palsy.

I sat in a Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber (dive chamber for the “bends”) to try and improve the oxygen levels in my blood. After Conductive Ed I had volunteers help me do exercises at home 10 times a week. As I grew, I started to learn to drive my first Power Chair when I was still at Kindy!. I lived in a small rural community, people recognised me and got to know me…  But I couldn’t connect to people with a conversation because I am non-verbal. I wasn’t quite ‘world famous in NZ’ like L&P,  but Mum often said I was world famous in Omokoroa!

I started at the local country school when I turned 5. Not long after,  I made the papers using my new Hart Walker. The walker was 1 of my 2 main activities keeping me physically active, the other being swimming, which I still do weekly. During Year 7 I initiated going to a bigger school and began attending Bethlehem College. One reason I liked it there was because I was no longer the only person in a wheelchair. My Christian faith was further developed, my Poppa is a retired minister and has been a big influence in my life. My teacher aides helped me do the school work, but it was hard as I couldn’t talk and there was no technology that ‘fitted’ me, and supported me to communicate efficently. This was a long, and at times frustrating period that has gone on for most of my school life.

I have a good brain for thinking, but my body won’t listen to the messages to my muscles. My eyes are very good and probably my most important body part. Mum and I developed a good way of communicating using my eyes which we call “blink spelling”. Blink spelling means I blink through the alphabet until I get to the letter I want, and spell words out. Mum has developed short cuts to predict words and I sometimes “draw” letters so we’ve got pretty quick over the years, people who are with me a lot get to learn it too. Some people just read my facial expressions (I am very expressive!) and ask me yes/no questions. Luckily I’ve grown up during a period of huge technological progress.  My main problem was waiting for a tool that would work for me.

I trialed clicker buttons on my knee, hand and chin, but these made me work so hard for very little progress. My first success was when I used the clicker program to fully access a standard computer, I used this for several years. It involved a grid on my computer screen which scanned directional arrows for the mouse, as well as left and right click options, this combined with an on-screen keyboard meant I could finally use a computer. The clicker was good at the time, but it took me a long time to move around a page and often left me hot and sweaty from all the exertion. I realised early on that using a computer opened up a completely new way for me to connect with people.

My older sister, Amy, has been my mentor. She guided me around my initial setup of my online presence. As I started my internet journey I became very inspired by Steve Jobs, the man behind Apple. What he aspired to and achieved in his short lifetime was truly amazing. Steve revolutionised computer products for my generation. My life changed in a big way in 2012 when I was given an Eye-Gaze computer! The Eye-Gaze system is much faster and uses a lot less of my energy. The Eye-Gaze calibrates with my eyes, I can then click on things by maintaining my gaze on the screen while a loading clock completes. The main thing is that it has to be set up correctly. This means it needs to be at the right height and distance from me to calibrate with my eyes. I can also type words and it will speak for me through the speaker. I have pages of vocabulary which I have customized to my preferences that I can speak at any time. I still prefer to use my laptop, but there’s an in-built computer system on the device that I use too, I simply bluetooth the Eye-Gaze over to it when I want to use my Laptop. The more time I spent on the Eye-Gaze, the quicker I became. It only took me a week to figure it out.

I found using the Eye-Gaze gave me the opportunity to share my humour and connect with people and ideas. Before I had my Eye-Gaze computer I was able to go online, but I wasn’t able to type nearly as fast.  For example, I could only “Tweet” about 3 times a day using the Clicker because it used to take me about five minutes to write one sentence. Using the Eye-Gaze computer is my access to the world, because I am non-verbal people can’t readily understand me face to face. Connecting online allows me to communicate and create my community. I have been able to get myself and my personality out there, away from the physical barriers I have. I sussed out pretty quickly that social media was a way for me to partake in a social life a lot more. Facebook is a great medium for friends and family to keep in touch. They see what I’m doing and enjoying and I can see what they are up to. I use Facebook mostly to have chats to people, especially friends from school. My Gmail is used like any email account.  To send and reply to messages, pictures and jokes and to subscribe to organisations. It is also how my Dad & I connect when I’m not staying at his house, I aso use the Gmail chat feature too. My favorite form of social media is Twitter,
It is truly a global community.

Robert Pio Hajjar: Ideal Way

In 2006, Robert Pio Hajjar, born with Down syndrome, and Addie J. Daabous, Robert’s aunt, founded Ideal Way. During an atypical conversation about Addie’s frustrations with her successful business, Robert suddenly suggested that they have a higher calling in life: to create an organization to help people with intellectual disabilities. They started Ideal Way and Robert proudly donated his life savings of $62.05 in small change as seed money.

Today, that $62.05 is framed and displayed in the Ideal Way office. It symbolizes Robert’s generosity and devotion to the dream of creating a better world for people with intellectual disability.
Website: ideal-way.ca

Marc Elliot: What Makes You Tic?

After spending the first six months of his life in St. Louis Children’s Hospital, undergoing seven experimental surgeries, Marc became known as the “miracle baby.”

However, Marc’s challenges did not end after he left the hospital. At the age of nine, he was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes him to make involuntary motor and vocal tics. As Marc grew older, his tics manifested in many different ways, from “ticcing” inappropriate words to blurting out random noises, including barking like a dog and chomping his teeth.

Over the next 10 years, Marc struggled to live a normal life in the suburbs of St. Louis. After graduating in May 2008, Marc embarked on a nationwide speaking tour. The tour was intended as “just something to do” before he became a doctor. Over the past three years, Marc has spoken to hundreds of groups and organizations, reaching out to more than 100,000 individuals in the United States and internationally.
Website: marcelliot.com

Temple Grandin: The World Needs All Kinds Of Minds

Autism activist Temple Grandin talks about how her mind works — sharing her ability to “think in pictures,” which helps her solve problems that neurotypical brains might miss. She makes the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids.
Website: templegrandin.com

Mike Berkson and Tim Wambach: Handicap This

Handicap This! is a live stage show with a message of possibilities. From performances at the University of Illinois to the nationally recognized stage of the North Shore Center. They have received rave reviews, standing ovations, and left the audience cheering for more.

Mike Berkson, born with cerebral palsy was told he would never talk,  works with Tim Wambach  to stir your senses, challenge your thinking, and wake up your attitude. Their show is a provocative look at friendship, breaking down barriers, and living with handicaps – most of all about everyone’s potential.

Their true story pushes the envelope and encourages everyone to examine the concept of their own abilities. Mike and Tim’s story will raise awareness about people living with severe physical handicaps and inspire individuals to achieve their own goals and dreams.
Website: handicapthis.com

David Harrel: A Little Potato and Hard to Peel

David Harrell is an actor, writer, speaker, dancer and disability advocate. Originally from Brunswick, Georgia, he now resides in New York City. He holds a BFA in Theatre Performance from the University of Southern Mississippi, an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and has worked as an actor throughout the country over the last fourteen years.

His latest show ”A Little Potato and Hard to Peel is a captivating and transformational journey. What starts out as one man’s challenge to accept his own strengths and limitations becomes a compelling charge to all of us, challenging us to look more closely into our own lives.
Website: davidharrellonline.com 

Michael Bortolotto: Positive Rebel

Michael Bortolotto, is a successful professional speaker who lives with Cerebral Palsy. For the past twenty-two years people of all ages have been inspired, motivated, educated, and entertained by his “CAN DO” attitude.

By using real life experiences and examples, he encourages and persuades his audience to rethink, what they may believe is impossible to realizing anything is possible by being determined, persistent, and focus on the end result.
Website: positiverebel.ca

Roger Crawford: Center Court

Before Roger Crawford inspired others on Center Stage he achieved phenomenal success on Center Court. Sports Illustrated has recognized Roger as “one of the most accomplished physically challenged athletes in the world”. He has lived out the principles of perseverance, unshakable optimism, and overcoming adversity and eloquently communicates with audiences today. Roger’s remarkable life story is a powerful example that . . .”Challenges are inevitable, defeat is optional!”
Website: rogercrawford.com

John Quinn: Someone Like Me

John Quinn tells the incredible story of despite being born with cerebral palsy, how he pursued his boyhood dream of a career in the United States Navy. John’s powerful story of overcoming numerous life challenges has enthralled audiences around the country.

By openly sharing his living with Cerebral Palsy, John is not only educating those he comes in contact with, but telling the story of a brain disorder that affects over 800,000 people in the United States. John raises awareness by showing what is possible and by getting people to focus on his ability – not his disability.
Website: johnwquinn.com

Who is your favorite motivational speaker with special needs?


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