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Tzvi Schectman
BY Tzvi Schectman

8 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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!”

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.

Who is your favorite motivational speaker with special needs?

Tzvi Schectman

Written on January 11, 2013 by:

Tzvi Schectman is the Family Coordinator for the Friendship Circle of Michigan and the Editor of the the Friendship Circle Blog. You can connect with Tzvi on LinkedIn and Google+
  • Michele

    Norman Kunc.

  • Rose

    without question, it is Nick Vujicic
    Born without arms or legs and just an incredible, do anything, go anywhere guy. He is also Australian, so I’m biased!

  • Robert Pio Hajjar! He defied the negative expectations of others and started his own charity and has inspired thousands to create social change.

  • My vote is for Robert Pio Hajjar! Amazing individual, you inspire us and give us hope of a bright future for our Alex…keep rocking the world, Robert!

  • Donald

    Hands down it’s Robert Pio Hajjar! His amazing ‘WOW factor’ success as a
    transformational international motivational speaker has created a new paradigm
    for legions of persons with intellectual disability to become self-advocates.

  • Dave M.

    I have heard Robert Pio Hajjar speak and I was blown away by his upbeat, positive personality and charm. He is a shining example of what is possible with the right attitude.

  • Diana M

    God dealt Robt. Hajjar specific cards to make us think about “disablility” to see the ability in others, over the obvious visual first reaction. He presents an inspiring model of what we each should strive to be… open, joyful, enthusiastic for life, and willing to learn despite our failures. Bravo Robert. You teach us to charge ahead despite our obstacles.

  • Rachel Whalen

    Each of these speakers has a special gift. Hearing him affected me profoundly. Robert Pio Hajjar ‘s story and words reach deep into your soul and make you believe you can do anything! In fact, you ask yourself what you have done with your life in comparison to what Robert has accomplished in his short life despite his disability and many roadblocks along the way. His positive attitude, apparent zest for life and love of all peoples is his gift from God. May you continue to be blessed, Robert!

  • These individuals are really inspiring. In spite of their disabilities,
    they strive to be at their best and still feel positive about themselves. Their
    stories suggest that even with disabilities, they could still be productive if
    they persevere.

  • Mary Conway

    Robert Pio Hajjar is #1,and the only truly “transformational” motivational speaker I ever heard!

  • Pingback: 8 motivational speakers with special needs | Wish For Sunshine But Build Dykes()

  • Jane Goldner

    Wow! Hands down to them! Very inspiring. I just keep on replaying the videos and I can’t help it. They are indeed amazing motivational speakers! Kudos!

  • Nina

    You might also want to check out me and my story on

    • fcmichigan

      Thanks for sharing this Nina. Hope you get a lot of laughs!

  • Motivational speakers can help those people who search to find inspiration and strength in their life in order to make some changes in their day to day activities!

    Motivational speaker

  • mariya jaiss

    I am very much pleased with the contents you have mentioned.I wanted to thank you for this great article.I enjoyed every little bit part of it and I will be waiting for the new updates.

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  • Nice Blog Tzvi, but you should also think of adding some other also, so that I think this will be full fledged list of Motivational Speaker


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