I recently got around to watching The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a beautiful film about former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby's struggle with the aftermath of a massively debilitating stroke. Though not super common, stories about a protagonist overcoming the complications of a disability are getting some attention, what with the Oscar-winning The King's Speech. Even the most recent season of Breaking Bad depicts DEA agent Hank Schrader working through physical therapy after a near-deadly shooting. These stories are part of a niche sub-genre of characters coming to terms with a disability.
But what you don't see in these types of stories are female protagonists. An obvious candidate for a story like this would be a biopic of deaf-and-dumb heroine Hellen Keller, but no such major film adaptation has been done, save a documentary about her released in 1954.
In fact, women are rarely portrayed with disabilities of any kind in film or television in recent years. The last major actress with a disability I can recall is deaf actress Marlee Matlin, who won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and four Emmy nominations. Much has been written about the lack of interesting roles for women, including something Tad Friend touched on in a piece in a recent issue of the New Yorker on female comedians. But rare as interesting roles are for women, roles for women with disabilities are even rarer.
If a stuttering king is worthy of an Oscar, maybe Hollywood can consider writing such a role for a woman.
Addendum: So many people have pointed out that I have forgotten The Miracle Worker, a 1962 film starring Patty Duke. Though it still doesn't change the fact that far more movies get made about men overcoming disabilities far more often than ones about women do. Commenter Sayantani writes,
As someone who teaches illness and disability memoirs - I've been convinced that it's because disability (or illness) brings masculinity into crisis and these narratives are all struggling with that point of social/cultural crisis.My knowledge of film history is nowhere near comprehensive, but I think the original point I raised is still a valid one.
Since Western masculinity is constructed as autonomous, with bodily control, physically powerful, etc. Lots of great things have been written about the hypermasculine disability narrative (or the male disability narrative struggling with masculinity/virility).