Since the American with Disabilities Act, the United States is one of the more favorable countries in the world to try to thrive with a disability. The act, passed in 1990, provided sweeping reforms of public accommodations and labor laws to protect and encourage those with disabilities. The result has been great for disabled people, with requirements such as wheelchair ramps and accommodations for service animals being enforced on the federal level. In the workplace, disabled workers enjoy many protections and employers are required to provide accommodations to make sure disabled workers have the opportunity to pursue the successful career.

Still, those with disabilities may be discouraged by the additional challenges they face. One thing that may help is to be aware of the many CEOs who have overcome disabilities. We can gain a lot of inspiration from leaders in business who have overcome a disability and have opened up about their challenges.

CEOs Who Have Overcome Disabilities

Elon Musk

One of the leading tech entrepreneurs, Elon Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla, did just that. He admitted to having Asperger’s syndrome on Saturday Night Live. He also added that he was the first person, with the condition, to serve as a host on SNL. However, Dan Akryod also had the condition, so two SNL hosts have had the disability.

Asperger’s syndrome is a mild form of autism, which happens more often in men than women. While Asperger patients do not show a major delay in cognitive development or in language skills, they frequently find it difficult to interact socially. They also have problems with sensory perception. However, with the proper treatment, they can go on, as Elon Musk, and lead normal lives.

During his time on SNL, Musk parodied his socially awkward characteristics. People with Asperger’s may have difficulties in expressing themselves verbally or nonverbally. However, this fact may also make them more empathetic and emotionally sympathetic than their non-autistic peers.


Sir Richard Branson

The founder of the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson often speaks, about living with the condition, dyslexia, inspiring others who have the condition by giving talks or discussing the condition in interviews.

Dyslexia is a learning disability where a person’s ability to read and interpret letters is imparied. Because of the condition, Sir Branson found it hard to succeed academically. He said that teachers dismissed his disability, calling him, instead, stupid or lazy.

However, dyslexia, Sir Branson found, made him stronger in business, as he was better able to delegate tasks that were difficult for him, which helped him to focus on the core of his business. It certainly worked, as the Virgin Group features 400 companies worldwide and provides employment to almost 70,000 people in 25 nations.

Tommy Hilfiger

Fashion Mogul Tommy Hilfiger is yet another CEO who has overcome dyslexia. While the CEO was diagnosed with the condition later in life, it still produced a profound effect on the way he does business. As a child, Hilfiger was embarrassed about the problem and therefore did not know who to tell.

However, since being diagnosed, he has encouraged people to reach out to others when something is not right. Because he was embarrassed about his situation and did not know what to do, he faced a number of challenges along the way.  He now tells people–young people especially–to reach out to others (adults) for help  if something is bothering them.

David Neeleman

The founder of five airlines and the current CEO of Breeze Airways, David Neeleman is a leader in the aviation field. However, Neeleman also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia. He says he struggled in school, when taking standardized tests or when trying to concentrate on his studies.

When he was in his thirties, he found out he had ADHD – a condition  that causes the patient to act impulsively and lack focus. However, he was able to use his creativity and meet his goals with his unique strengths. He added, in an interview, that his parents reminded him of his one-of-a-kind talents when his teachers overlooked them or refused to see them.


Because the above leaders have shared their experiences of having a disability, they have inspired people with and without impairments. By speaking of their conditions, they have shown us that some of the challenges we face can be turned into advantages. Disability is a broad term – one that can be redefined when we use creativity and faith to make the most of who we are and what we can do.


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