2009 | Joni Eareckson Tada

From her wheelchair, she has moved the world for those with disabilities.

Joni Eareckson Tada was just 17 when a diving accident left her paralyzed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair. But "paralyzed" hardly describes a woman who, since her accident, has written 35 books, accepted a presidential appointment to the National Council on Disability, spoken in more than 45 countries, established a disability ministry that reaches around the world and produced paintings with a brush between her teeth.

Joni's best-selling biography, "Joni," chronicled her struggle to accept her paralysis as part of a divine plan. Translated into 40 languages, "Joni" was also made into a movie with Joni starring as herself. A full-time disability advocate, she founded Joni and Friends, an organization dedicated to serving the worldwide community of the disabled and their families.

The Joni and Friends International Disability Center, based in Southern California and headquarters for her ministry, operates five flagship programs:

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  • A daily radio program, "Joni and Friends," airs on more than 1,000 broadcast outlets around the world, while a television series airs weekly.
  • The Family Retreats program holds events for hundreds of special needs families around the world.
  • The Wheels for the World program, working with inmates who refurbish donated wheelchairs, has distributed 52,000 of those wheelchairs to disabled children and adults in 102 developing nations.
  • The Field Services program provides training and educational resources for churches interested in disability ministry.
  • The Christian Institute on Disability is a training center providing curriculum development, internships and a policy center to promote a biblical worldview on disability-related issues.

When Joni accepted a presidential appointment to the National Council on Disability, she helped draft the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990. In 2005, she was appointed to advise Condoleezza Rice on policy and programs that affect the disabled in the State Department and around the world.

While recovering from her accident, Joni learned to paint and draw. Today her high-detail fine art paintings and prints are sought after by collectors. She is the author of a memoir, "The God I Love"; "A Christmas Longing," which includes her Christmas paintings; and "A Lifetime of Wisdom: Embracing the Way God Heals You."

We salute Joni Eareckson Tada for giving inspiration and independence to individuals with disabilities.