Q: What do Alanis Morissette, David Hasselhoff, Oprah, Regis Philbin, Cynthia Nixon, and Robin Roberts all have in common? A: Yes, it’s true that they’re all celebrities, but what’s more is they’re all celebrities who have made donations to the United Cerebral Palsy charity.
It is crucial to raise public awareness of Cerebral Palsy for many reasons, including to fund research efforts and to help educate the population at large. Effective publicity may also help correct any unfair negativity surrounding Cerebral Palsy with a forward-looking optimism. And who’s better at maintaining a presence in the public eye than celebrities? From time to time, we are all transfixed with the lives of movie stars, and it’s reassuring to know that so many of them are beyond mere glitz and glamor. What many people might not realize is that several of these stars have close connections with Cerebral Palsy and other disabilities. By hearing about a disability like Cerebral Palsy from celebrities, it helps to normalize the condition and communicate that they, too, can be affected in one way or another by disability.
WNBA basketball star Elena Delle Donne, who played most recently for Team USA in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, traces her inspiration to her oldest sister, Lizzie, who is blind, deaf, and has autism and Cerebral Palsy. Lizzie is Delle Donne’s role model, and Delle Donne credits her determination in life to have fueled her own. Delle Donne has a tattoo of angel wings in honor of Lizzie to remind herself to keep perspective when struggling with a challenge, because whatever that challenge may be, it pales in comparison to those her sister Lizzie faces. The angel wings represent Lizzie’s challenges, which are the wellspring of Delle Donne’s inspiration – inspiration that has manifested itself in the 2016 Olympic Games no less.
Actress Laura San Giacomo, whose son Mason has Cerebral Palsy, uses her public platform to empower other families by challenging the negative connotations and common emphases on what those with Cerebral Palsy may not be able to do. It turns out Mason has been able to prove doctors wrong again and again by doing things they said he’d never be able to do, like play basketball. While Giacomo is perhaps best known on the big screen in movies like Pretty Woman and Checking Out, and in television shows like Miami Vice, Just Shoot Me!, and Saving Grace, she uses her limelight to prompt people to change their conception about Cerebral Palsy from one steeped in limitation to one of rising up to challenges.
Television actress Susan Lucci’s Grandson, Brendan, also has Cerebral Palsy. Lucci, appearing in television shows like All My Children, Deadly Affairs, and Devious Maids, is no stranger to stardom, nor is she shy about telling the world about her seven-year-old grandson’s achievements. After a lower spinal cord surgery, Brendan and his family hoped walking without an uneven gait might be possible. At an event, Lucci, Brendan, and Brendan’s mother all congregated on the famed red-carpet so that Brendan could take some of his first few steps with his new and improved stride. Events like these really showcase the pride that families have for their children, and remind the public that people should not be reduced to their diagnoses, but rather defined by their perseverance and character. We can all be sure that Brendan’s walk down the red-carpet, flanked by Lucci and his mother, will reel hope and warmth to other families.
R.J. Mitte, famous for playing Walt Jr. in the hit television series Breaking Bad, is very active in using his celebrity to stress the importance of viewing disabilities the right way. Mitte’s character Walt Jr. has Cerebral Palsy, motivating his father Walter White, played by actor Bryan Cranston, to attempt to secure funds for him amid an inadequate healthcare system. Mitte himself actually has Cerebral Palsy, and actively campaigns for various issues associated with disability, including speaking out against bullying.
In the 2016 film Who’s Driving Doug, Mitte plays a young man with muscular dystrophy. But Mitte is quick to point out that each disability comes with unique challenges; just because Mitte has Cerebral Palsy does not mean that he understands what it’s like to have some other disability, like muscular dystrophy. The public can sometimes fall victim to this confusion, hence his outspokenness on the topic. Since Mitte enjoys a large following and popularity, his efforts permeate not only the Hollywood scene, but are felt in the homes of families with challenges everywhere.
As Elena Delle Donne, Lauren San Giacomo, Susan Lucci, and R.J. Mitte exemplify, celebrities can harness their star power to spotlight those with Cerebral Palsy, advocate for Cerebral Palsy awareness, and challenge the public to view individuals who have it in a positive light instead of one darkened with limitations. The fact that these celebrities and others are able to do what they do is an exciting indication that progress is underway to normalize disabilities and cement into public consciousness that people are never defined by them. Since celebrities are so influential in society, especially to the youth, it is all the more important that they use their fame to benefit those with disabilities like Cerebral Palsy. And what a great thing it is to know so many are doing just that.