Top 38 Speakers With Disabilities

  • By Shelby Baron
  •  Dec 21, 2022

One in four U.S. adults has a disability. Mobility and cognitive issues are the most common functional disabilities, but there are so many, many others. They can be extremely isolating when you’re the one experiencing them, but you’re not alone. Our top 38 speakers with disabilities have triumphed through any challenges they’ve faced. Some own businesses, some have accomplished what many others only dream of doing, and they all haven’t let their disabilities stop them from trying something new.

1. Jake Olson

As a baby, Jake Olson lost the vision in one eye to a retinoblastoma. Twelve years later, he would lose his other eye to the same cancer. His love for football remained steady throughout his childhood and teen years, and he became determined to play. He learned how to long snap in high school and earned a spot on his team. He’d go on to be the nation’s first Division I, completely-blind college football player. He’s written two books, founded a non-profit cancer research foundation, and shares his story with audiences.

2. Scout Bassett

Scout Bassett was left at a Nanjing orphanage when she was just a baby. A chemical fire destroyed the majority of her right left, making it difficult for her to move around. At age six, someone turned a leather bet, polyurethane foot, and hardware to create a makeshift leg for her. She finally learned to walk. At the age of seven, an American couple adopted her and brought her to Michigan. Despite the obstacles she faced, she became a star on the Paralympic team.

3. Shaquem Griffin

In utero, Shaquem Griffin’s fingers never fully developed due to amniotic band syndrome. At the age of four, his left hand was amputated. He didn’t let that stop him. He became the first player with one hand to be drafted into the NFL. He played for the Seahawks and Dolphins before retiring in 2022. He’s now a mentor with the NFL Legends Community and an inspirational disabilities speaker.

4. Coach Rob Mendez

Coach Rob Mendez travels the U.S. talking about achieving his dream of becoming a football coach. It may not seem like much until you learn that he was born without arms or legs due to a rare genetic condition called Tetra-amelia syndrome. He accomplished his dreams so far and won the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the ESPYs in 2019.

5. Pease Brothers

Kyle Pease was born with cerebral palsy, but his two brothers didn’t let that keep Kyle on the sidelines. They included him in everything they could. They joined him on a trip to the top of the Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite National Park and helped him achieve his dream of competing in an Ironman competition. They also founded The Kyle Pease Foundation together and help other young athletes secure grants and scholarships to help them achieve their dreams.

6. Nick Santonastasso

Nick Santonastasso was born with Hanhart Syndrome, resulting in having no legs and only one arm. He never let that stop him from becoming a high school athlete, fitness model, and bodybuilder. He has a large fanbase that includes Dwayne Johnson and Tony Robbins. He’s also a popular disability keynote speaker with Fortune 500 companies and schools.

7. Shane and Hannah Burcaw

Shane Burcaw uses a motorized wheelchair as he has a form of muscular dystrophy. Hannah is his able-bodied wife who helps with his daily care. While some might find it to be an unusual pairing, they are like any couple who love and support each other, argue from time to time, and explore the world and life together. Look for them on their “Squirmy and Grubs” YouTube channel and book them for your next event.

8. Chad Foster

Chad Foster works for Red Hat/IBM and is a keynote speaker with expertise in being disabled. He lost his vision during college and was the first blind executive to graduate from Harvard Business School’s Program for Leadership Development. Despite his disability, he took a job at a top consulting firm and has become a leader in technology helping land more than $45 billion in contracts.

9. Melissa Stockwell

After graduating from the University of Colorado, Melissa Stockwell became a U.S. Army Second Lieutenant and was deployed to Iraq in 2004. Three weeks into her deployment, she lost her left leg in a bomb blast. She’s the first female to lose a limb during active duty. She didn’t let that slow her down and trained to qualify for the Paralympics. She qualified in 2008 and is a 3x world champion and Ironman competitor. She’s the co-founder of Dare2Tri Paratriathlon Club and is a level 1 certified triathlon coach.

10. John Register

After qualifying for the Olympics, John Register was jumping over a hurdle when he landed wrong. He hyper-extended his left knee, severing an artery. While trying to reconstruct the artery, gangrene set in, and his left leg was amputated. He didn’t let that stop him. He learned to walk and run again, eventually qualifying for the 1996 Paralympic Team. He won silver in the 2000 Paralympic Games.

11. Chris Nikic

At the age of 21, Chris Nikic became the first person with Down Syndrome to complete an Ironman. He’s a strong, resilient person who underwent heart surgery at five months and four ear surgeries at the age of 17. He won a Jimmy V Award for Perseverance in 2021. Chris’s speeches delight audiences as they are both inspiring and impactful.

12. Eric LeGrand

While playing for Rutgers University, Eric LeGrand made a tackle that left him paralyzed. Since that tragic play in 2010, he’s worked to regain sensation through his body and movement in his shoulders. Tampa Bay signed him as an undrafted free agent two years later. He’s a fighter who shares his story with others to show them that even in the worst situations, you need to persevere as you can achieve your dreams.

13. Rob Paylor

During a Collegiate Rugby Championship, Rob Paylor broke his neck and was told he would never walk or be able to move his hands again. He’d spend the rest of his life as a quadriplegic. He refused to accept that and is on a path to walk again. He’s a firm believer that positivity and drive can help you achieve anything and shares that message with audiences of all ages.

14. Chris Moon

Discovery’s documentary “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” shares Chris Moon’s story. He was a British Army Officer who was taken prisoner by the Khmer Rouge and negotiated not only his release but also two others. He was in a minefield that was supposed to be safe, but he was blown up and lost an arm and leg, but he treated himself until he was rescued. He recovered 400% faster than doctors expected and went on to run the London Marathon a year later. He’s an ultra-distance runner, believed to be the world’s first amputee to run ultra-marathons. He’s also an enthusiastic disability speaker.

15. Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown is the founder of Jennifer Brown Consulting, a firm that designs and teaches equitable, inclusive workplaces, classrooms, and agencies. It’s her goal to inspire, educate, and show others how to empower anyone to be their best and ensure that leaders, co-workers, and teams have the structure in place to support others in their goals.

16. Brandon Farbstein

Brandon Farbstein was born with metatropic dysplasia, a very rare form of dwarfism. He grew up being isolated and bullied by his peers, but he decided to take those experiences and raise awareness of the need for change. By the age of 18, he’d championed the Virginia government to enact two new laws – one addressing bullying and the other requiring empathy and emotional intelligence to be taught in classrooms. It’s his mission to Elevate Empathy.®

17. Danny Crates

When he was 21, Danny Crates was in a serious car accident that resulted in him losing his arm. He didn’t let that stop him from his athletic career. He was back playing rugby within six months and won gold at the 2004 Paralympic Games. He went on to win the European Championships and World Championships before his retirement from rugby. He’s gone on to become a popular disability speaker, a contestant on Celebrity MasterChef, and a TV presenter.

18. Marcus Aurelius Anderson

Right before deployment with the U.S. Army, Marcus Aurelius Anderson became paralyzed from a severe spinal injury. Not only did he die twice during surgery, but he was also told he would never walk or use his hands again. He could have let that defeat him, but he chose to use it to show others that even the most tragic events could lead to helping others and inspiring change.

19. Jen Bricker-Bauer

Born without legs, Jen Bricker-Bauer never let that stop her from dreaming and her adopted family supported her in everything she did. She spent her childhood obsessed with gymnastics and idolized an Olympic gold medalist. Jen took her passion for a sport that others may believe she could never be part of and became a power tumbling champion. Even more surprising, the Olympic gold medalist she idolized turned out to be her biological sister. She shares her unique, inspiring story with audiences.

20. Amy Purdy

Amy Purdy’s battle with what she thought was the flu led to her being rushed to the ER with septic shock. She was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial infection that led to her losing both legs and requiring a kidney transplant at the age of 19. She beat the odds and went on to win three medals in the USASA National Snowboarding Championship and bronze in the 2015 Paralympics. She’s the co-founder of Adaptive Action Sports and talks to audiences about overcoming challenges to achieve everything you desire.

21. Jeremy Poincenot

Jeremy Poincenot went from having 20/20 eyesight to losing his central vision in both eyes. When his vision started to blur at the age of 19, he learned he had Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). Instead of that stopping him, he used his family’s support to enter and win the 2010 World Blind Golf Championship. With his dad’s help, he’s won seven other national championships and several other major golf tournaments. He and his friends created the Cycling Under Reduced Eyesight (CURE) Ride, an annual fundraiser that’s already raised hundreds of thousands for LHON research.

22. Rico Roman

After high school, Rico Roman enlisted with the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq and Kosovo. On his final tour, he was in Iraq and hit a roadside bomb. His left leg didn’t heal well which led to an amputation within a year. He didn’t let that stop him. He learned and mastered several wheelchair sports, including one he wasn’t certain about. He went on to play sled hockey for the San Antonio Sled Rampage and made it to Team USA Sled Hockey in 2014.

23. Blake Leeper

Blake Leeper was born without both legs and has been using prosthetics since learning to walk. His first competition was in the Parapan American Games in 2011. He went on to win eight Paralympic Track and Field events and is both a world record holder and 3x American record holder. He’s been training for or participating in the Paralympics since 2009 and is a talented speaker who knows how to engage his audience.

24. Eric Weihenmayer

More than 20 years ago, Eric Weihenmayer became the first blind person to reach Mount Everest’s summit. Seven years later, he climbed to the top of the Carstensz Pyramid in Papua New Guinea, which completed the Seven Summits. He achieved this while blind, which is what makes him one of the most popular disability speakers. He’s the co-founder of the movement No Barriers, a movement that believes “What’s Within You Is Stronger Than What’s In Your Way.”

25. Jami Marseilles

Jami Marseilles lost both legs in a very tragic event. She and a friend were coming home from a ski trip when they got stuck on a logging road during a snowstorm. As their SUV became buried by the snow, they did all they could to stay alive. A week later, snowmobilers happened upon them. Both were badly frostbitten, and Jami had gangrene in both legs, leading to a double below-the-knee amputation. She didn’t let that experience stop her from becoming a Paralympian. She’s the only female double below-the-knee amputee to complete both a half and a full marathon.

26. Adam Bremen

He was born with cerebral palsy and has spent most of his life in a wheelchair. Deciding that he refused to remain overweight, Adam Bremen lost more than 65 pounds and created a keto snack that fit a need no other company met. Adam created the Keto Krisp through his company CanDo. He keeps learning and doing new things and shares his message of never letting your limitations keep you from doing everything you want to achieve.

27. Chris Waddell

Chris Waddell was on a slope when his ski popped off, which led to a catastrophic injury that fractured two vertebrae and damaged his spin. He ended up paralyzed, but he never let that stop him. He learned mono-skiing that same year and returned to college. He became a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, where he medaled 12 times. He’s a member of both the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and the Paralympics Hall of Fame.

28. Travis Mills

When an IED exploded during his tour in Afghanistan, Travis Mills lost some of both arms and both legs. He survived, however, and is only one of five quadruple amputees from the Afghani and Iraqi wars to survive. He faces battles each day, but he turned this tragedy into the Travis Mills Foundation to help post-9/11 veterans by giving them an all-expenses paid trip to Maine for adaptive activities, R&R, and socialization with other vets.

29. Vincent A. Lanci

Traumatic brain injuries are something Vincent Lanci knows too much about. He was walking when a driver hit him. The victim of a hit-and-run, he went from doctors not knowing if he’d ever wake up to doctors wondering how many of his activities of daily living would return as he healed. He’s the host of “That Entrepreneur Show”, two YouTube channels, and a knowledgeable speaker on TBIs.

30. Jack Jablonski

Like most children in a cold climate, Jack Jablonski skated and played hockey for fun. During high school, he had a 50-goal season. With dreams of playing for the NHL, all seemed to come crashing down when he was injured during a high school game. He hit the boards head-first and couldn’t get up. He was paralyzed. While that stopped him from playing hockey, he hasn’t stopped striving to build a career in the NHL. He founded the Bel13ve In Miracles Foundation, raising funds for spinal cord injury recovery, and he’s employed by the L.A. Kings.

31. Charlie Kimball

After being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Charlie Kimball had to give up his racing season. Fears were that his disease would keep him from being able to drive race cars at super-fast speeds again. He didn’t let that stop him. He’s become the first licensed driver with diabetes to race in IndyCar.

32. Blake Leeper

Blake Leeper is a U.S. Paralympic athlete who has competed around the world. He won bronze and silver at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, four medals in the 2013 Paralympic World Championships in France, and set a record during trials for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio and won silver.

33. Cody McCasland

When he was born, Cody McCasland’s parents were told he wouldn’t survive the night. He did and continued to thrive, despite not having shin bones or knees. At 15 months, he had both legs amputated, but he was running with prosthetics when he was just five. He’s setting his sights on a successful Paralympic career, but he’s also a supporter of the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and regularly visits injured vets in military hospitals and rehab centers. Book him to talk about his PosiCan message.

34. Danelle Umstead

As a child, Danelle Umstead started to lose her vision to retinitis pigmentosa, a rare eye disease. Her dad was determined to show her that she could still live a full life, so he took her skiing. She was scared, but the rush she felt on the slopes became a passion. As her vision deteriorated completely, she needed a guide on the slopes, and that’s where she met her husband. They became the first husband and wife visually impaired ski team for Team USA to win. They continued and won bronze in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

35. Dan Cnossen

Dan Cnossen lost both legs during the war in Afghanistan. After both legs were amputated, he started training for the Paralympics. He competed in the 2014 Paralympics and won gold four years later. He shares his experiences and continued success through his talks.

36. Josh Pauls

He was born without tibias and had both legs amputated before he was even a year old. Despite this, Josh Pauls never let that stop him from playing hockey. He is the Team USA Paralympic Hockey Team captain and is the youngest player to join the team. He may have spent his first few years on the bench, but he’s worked hard to get where he is today and shares his insight with audiences.

37. Adam “The Road Warrior” Gorlitsky

In 2005, Adam Gorlitsky went from an athletic lifestyle to being told he would never walk again. Injuries in a car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. A decade later, he had the chance to explore the ReWalk robotic exoskeleton, technology that would help him stand, bear weight, and enjoy mobility again. He raised funds for his own ReWalk exoskeleton by selling “I Got Legs” t-shirts and walking in the 2016 Cooper River Bridge Run. He’s turned I GOT LEGS into a non-profit that helps others with spinal cord injuries.

38. Bean Gill

Talk about overcoming adversity! Benveet “Bean” Gill turned 30 and experienced so much in a short time. Her dad walked away from the family. She left an abusive relationship. And, she took a vacation and felt a sharp pain in her spine that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Neurologists told her she likely had a virus and that she would regain movement in a week. That never happened. She founded the ReYu Paralysis Recovery Center in 2017. She champions for people with disabilities as she’s seen exactly how inequality is another hurdle people with disabilities overcome.

Whether you’re booking a disability speaker for your school, business, or organization, all of these speakers are engaging, inspiring, and delightful. They have personal stories to share and experience speaking to audiences of all sizes.

X