Award-winning actor R.J. Mitte was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at three. In his teens, he started acting classes as a way to meet friends, and not long afterwards landed a major role in TV series Breaking Bad. R.J. has since used his fame to advocate for actors living with disabilities.
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is often caused by brain damage before or at birth and is associated with movement and speech disabilities. Other notable people living with CP are British actress Francesca Martinez, Miss USA contestant Abbey Nicole Curran and Ironman athlete Bonner Paddock.
Watch R.J. talk about Cerebral Palsy and Breaking Bad:
Down syndrome is a genetic condition often characterised by low muscle tone and learning difficulties. Her challenges didn't stop American actress Jamie Brewer from living in the limelight, however. She's best known for her appearances in American Horror Story, and earlier this year she became the first woman with Down syndrome to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week. Like R.J. Mitte, she's used her position to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.
Other well-known people with Down syndrome include actress Lauren Potter (Glee); Spanish actor Pablo Pineda (the first European with Down syndrome to complete a university degree) and special Olympian John Franklin Stephens, whose beautiful open letter to political commentator Ann Coulter went viral in 2012.
Watch Jamie shine at New York Fashion Week:
Susan Boyle grew up believing she had brain damage. Her classmates called her “Susie Simple” and bullied her because she was “different”. At 47, she auditioned for Britain's Got Talent – and her life changed as soon as she started singing. She didn't win the contest, but her beautiful voice won hearts across the world. Her debut album topped charts everywhere, including here in South Africa.
A few years later she got a new diagnosis: it wasn't brain damage that made her so “different”, but Asperger syndrome.
Asperger's is an autism spectrum disorder associated with social difficulties. Other celebrities living with Asperger's are actress Darryl Hannah (Splash, Kill Bill) and Ghostbusters star Dan Aykroyd.
Watch Susan's audition for Britain’s Got Talent:
Although Gabrielle Marion-Rivard is not a professional actress, she was perfect for the lead role in French-Canadian film Gabrielle. Like her character, she has William syndrome, a very rare genetic condition characterised by learning disabilities and medical problems. The film follows the main character's desire to live independently, especially when she falls in love for the first time.
For her role, Gabrielle won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Actress. She hopes that films like this will open more doors for people with disabilities: “We want to show that we're just normal people, like you and me,” she said in an interview.
Watch the trailer for Gabrielle (English subtitles):