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'Shark Tank' Highlights Talents and Success of People With Learning Disabilities

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Lauren Appelbaum is the communications director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities.

To the everyday viewer, the television show “Shark Tank” seems like the opportunity for a budding entrepreneur to pitch an idea to a panel of sharks that either will or will not bite. However, the show is much more than that.

“Shark Tank” proves that people with disabilities can be the best talent on any team.

Three out of the six sharks, as well as one guest shark, have dyslexia, which is an umbrella term for a learning disorder that causes a person difficulty reading and interpreting words. Richard Branson calls it an “opportunity,” while Barbara Corcoran credits her determination and drive to her childhood diagnosis of dyslexia. Daymond John says he sees “the world in a different way than most people and for me, that’s been a positive.” Kevin O’Leary says his dyslexia gives him “some really unique perspectives and abilities that I’d call superpowers.”

Not only does each one of these four sharks have immensely successful careers; they also are fighting stigmas about people with disabilities each and every day.


In a recent episode an additional shark, Robert Herjavec also reveals personal information about himself.

“I come from a time, because I am very old, where they did not diagnose ADD; they called you hyperactive,” he said. “And that’s what I was.”

Herjavec was saying this in response to Jason Burns’ pitch for FidgetLand. These fidget toys were created for people with ADHD, autism and anxiety. However, Burns said that while they were created “in the special needs market… there is a much broader market out there for us.”

Burns, who has ADD, quit his job to focus on FidgetLand full time.

Corcoran makes a personal plea for why she relates and would be the best investor for him at $50,000 for 20 percent, even though Herjavec offers $50,000 for 15 percent. Corcoran describes herself as “the poster child of the kid that made good, who had a real severe learning disability.”

“I have a child who is 11 and she is ADD,” Corcoran begins. “She has the wiggle leg thing, which I don’t find annoying but I’m crazy about her. This is kind of a cause for me. I love these ADD-types and half of them are real geniuses, if only you could find a good slot to put them in.”

Burns accepts the $50,000 offer from Barbara Corcoran, who says her best talent has “some sort of curveball in learning.” In fact, she often looks for those with learning disabilities.

“In fact, if I were to make a list of my top, say, seven or eight entrepreneurs I’ve invested in on Shark Tank, I would say all but one has a learning disability. So it’s a turn on to me. I hear somebody has a learning disability, and they are my people, so to speak. And probably because I was so terribly abused in school as the ‘dumb kid.’”

Not only do these sharks with learning disabilities show they are a vital part of the team, but they use their knowledge to help others with disabilities achieve success as well.

“Shark Tank” airs on ABC on Sundays at 9:00 p.m. ET.

Learn more at RespectAbility.

Originally published: November 2, 2017
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