8 empowering women with disabilities.

In honour of International Women’s Day.

Monday, 8ᵗʰ March, 2021

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we are highlighting 8 empowering women with disabilities. These incredibly talented women have proven that the challenges and conditions they have to face every day do not stop them from seeking and reaching success.


At the age of 17, Billie Eilish made history by being the youngest artist to be nominated for all four major Grammy Awards in one year. What most people do not know is that she has Tourette Syndrome, a condition that causes her to make involuntary movements which are sometimes referred to as tics. She explains that her “Tourettes makes easy things a lot harder” but that did not stop her from pursuing a career that puts her in the public eye.


The beautiful Jillian Mercado challenged the status quo within the fashion industry by becoming a fashion model in a wheelchair. At age 13, she was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, making her muscles weaker and less flexible over time. However, even with the odds against her, Mercado did not only land the denim brand Diesel as her first major campaign but has since then moved on to become an actress as well.


Teenager, Greta Thunberg, has been making headlines as an environmental activist by taking a stand against climate change. She founded the School Strike for Climate movement, gave speeches at the European Parliament, and challenged lawmakers. She describes that being on the Autism spectrum has given her the superpowers she needed to think outside the box and fight for the future of our planet Earth. 


The famous Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo has lived her life with disabilities. She had polio as a child which crippled her right leg. Later on in life, she was in a terrible accident, leaving her bedridden with a fractured pelvis bone, a dislocated shoulder, a broken leg in 11 places, a broken collarbone and a broken spine in three places. Despite all this, her soul was not crushed and she took up painting using a specially-made lap easel during her long recovery.


Actress Daryl Hannah is probably best known for her role as the one-eyed assassin Elle Driver in the action film Kill Bill or more recently as Angelica in the Netflix series Sense8. However, her Hollywood stardom did not come easy for her. She describes her childhood self as “odd”, “incredibly introverted” and “not very communicative.” Because of that, she experienced severe bullying, something she still faces nowadays on the internet. She was diagnosed with Autism as a child and has since then learnt how to deal with autism while pursuing her acting career. She had discovered that acting provided a vehicle for her vivid imagination.


Ellie Simmonds was born with Achondroplasia, a bone growth disorder that causes disproportionate dwarfism. At the age of 13, she won two gold medals in swimming at the Beijing Olympics and has been breaking records in the sport ever since. With five gold Paralympic medals under her belt, she is an inspiring woman not only to people with a disability but to all professional athletes. 


Maysoon Zayid describes herself as “Shakira meets Muhammad Ali” because she was born with Cerebral Palsy and as a result, she “shakes all the time.” As a child doctors told her parents that she would never walk and that she’d even be lucky to get past fourth grade. Despite all the odds being against her for “being Muslim, Palestinian, brown, a girl and someone with a disability” she found her voice and her calling as a stand-up comedian. By using her own life experience, she extracts moments that have angered her the most and spins them around into comedy gold.


Jessica Cox earned a Guinness World Record medal for becoming the world’s first armless pilot. Growing up in a world built for people with arms, she quickly realised she was at a disadvantage. However, she also learnt pretty early on that “pity prevents progress.” Jessica thought herself how to tie her own shoelaces, how to swim, drive a car and ultimately, fly a plane. 



Ahlgrim, Callie. “ 14 Records Billie Eilish Has Already Broken.” Business Insider, 4 Feb. 2021, www.businessinsider.in/entertainment/news/14-records-billie-eilish-has-already-broken/slidelist/80678952.cms#slideid=80678984.

Idika, Nicky. “Billie Eilish Reveals She Has Tourette Syndrome.” PopBuzz, PopBuzz, 28 Nov. 2018, www.popbuzz.com/music/news/billie-eilish-tourette-syndrome/.

Staff, Mayo Clinic. “Muscular Dystrophy.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 31 Jan. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/muscular-dystrophy/symptoms-causes/syc-20375388.

Gibson, Caitlin. “Jillian Mercado Made It as a Model with a Disability. Here’s What She Wants next.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 29 Aug. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/04/28/jillian-mercado-made-it-as-a-model-with-a-disability-heres-what-she-wants-next/.

“Jillian Mercado Wouldn’t Let Muscular Dystrophy Stop Her From Modeling | Glamour.” YouTube, uploaded by Glamour, 2 Apr. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbIsNQWKS5g&ab_channel=Glamour.

Tikkanen, Amy. “Greta Thunberg.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 9 Jan. 2020, www.britannica.com/biography/Greta-Thunberg.

CBS This Morning. “Greta Thunberg on the ‘Gift’ of Asperger’s in Fighting Climate Change: “We Need People Who Think ….” YouTube, uploaded by CBS This Morning, 10 Sept. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQ4rBLCpEeM&ab_channel=CBSThisMorning.

Maranzani, Barbara. “How a Horrific Bus Accident Changed Frida Kahlo’s Life.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 17 June 2020, www.biography.com/news/frida-kahlo-bus-accident.

Sheather, Michael. Daryl Hannah: “My Battle with Autism”, Now To Love, 18 May 2015, www.nowtolove.com.au/celebrity/celeb-news/daryl-hannah-my-battle-with-autism-9323. Accessed 4 Mar. 2021.

Wandsworth Libraries. “BETTER AT HOME: Ellie Simmonds.” YouTube, uploaded by Wandsworth Libraries, 27 Feb. 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jvbFuyw-h4&ab_channel=WandsworthLibraries.

Shah, Subi. “’My Best Jokes Come from Moments That Have Angered Me’.” New Internationalist, 13 Nov. 2020, newint.org/features/2020/08/11/mixed-media-spotlight-maysoon-zayid.

Marie Forleo. “Using Humor to Create World Change w/ Maysoon Zayid.” YouTube, uploaded by Marie Forleo, 9 Sept. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=skKRlH-6Pmg&feature=emb_logo&ab_channel=MarieForleo.

Talks at Google. “Survival of the Unfittest | Maysoon Zayid | Talks at Google.” YouTube, uploaded by Talks at Google, 29 Dec. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkPa6iio_6g&ab_channel=TalksatGoogle.

Zayid, Maysoon. “I Got 99 Problems … Palsy Is Just One.” TED Talks, 3 Jan. 2014, www.ted.com/talks/maysoon_zayid_i_got_99_problems_palsy_is_just_one#t-108287.

TEDx Talks. “What Are Your Fake Arms? | Jessica Cox | TEDxTelAviv.” YouTube, uploaded by TEDx Talks, 5 July 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF7Ogv-CKkU&ab_channel=TEDxTalks.

Cox, Jessica. “About Jessica Cox: Motivational Guest Speaker.” Possible Thinking, 2018, www.jessicacox.com/about-jessica-cox/.