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Shark Tank promo photo showing six main sharks seated and standing above a shark tank with the words "Shark Tank"

Shark Tank: People with Disabilities Can Be Best Talent on Any Team

Rockville, Md., Oct. 9 – 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 last night’s 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 that 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.

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email [email protected]

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