Mark O’Brien


Mark O’Brien was a remarkable individual who lived a life that defied expectations. Despite being paralyzed from the neck down due to polio, he managed to become an attorney, poet, actor, and advocate for the disabled. O’Brien’s story was brought to the world’s attention in the 2012 film “The Sessions,” which chronicled his experiences with sexuality and intimacy as a disabled man. This blog post will explore the life and legacy of Mark O’Brien, focusing on his achievements and impact on disability rights and representation.

Mark O’Brien: Attorney and Advocate

Mark O'Brien

Early Life and Education

Mark O’Brien was born in 1949 in Berkeley, California. At the age of six, he contracted polio, which left him paralyzed from the neck down. Despite his disability, O’Brien was determined to succeed academically and professionally. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English literature and went on to earn a law degree from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.

Disability Rights and Representation

Throughout his career as an attorney, O’Brien was a passionate advocate for disability rights and representation. He served as the editor of “The Disability Rag,” a publication focused on disability issues, and worked with various organizations to promote disability rights. O’Brien also played a key role in the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990 and has since helped to ensure equal access and opportunities for people with disabilities.

Mark O’Brien: Poet and Writer

Early Writing and Publication

O’Brien’s love of literature and writing began at an early age, and he continued to pursue these passions throughout his life. In 1978, he published his first book of poetry, “Breathing,” which explored themes of disability, sexuality, and mortality. O’Brien’s writing was praised for its honesty and vulnerability, and he went on to publish several more books of poetry and essays throughout his career.

“The Sessions” and Legacy

O’Brien’s story gained wider recognition with the release of the 2012 film “The Sessions,” which was based on his experiences with sex and disability. The film, which starred John Hawkes as O’Brien and Helen Hunt as his sex surrogate, was praised for its frank and compassionate portrayal of disability and sexuality. O’Brien’s legacy as a writer and advocate continues to inspire and educate people around the world.

Mark O’Brien: Actor and Filmmaker

Early Acting Career

In addition to his work as an attorney and writer, O’Brien also had a brief but impactful career as an actor. He appeared in several films and television shows, including “The West Wing” and “Picket Fences,” and was known for his ability to convey complex emotions and experiences through his performances.

“Breathing Lessons” and Filmmaking

O’Brien’s experience as an actor inspired him to explore filmmaking as a medium for storytelling. In 1996, he wrote and starred in the autobiographical short film “Breathing Lessons,” which chronicled his experiences with disability and sexuality. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and helped to bring O’Brien’s story to a wider audience.


Mark O’Brien was a multifaceted and inspiring individual whose life and work continue to impact and inspire people around the world. His legacy as an attorney, poet, actor, and advocate for disability rights and representation is a testament to his determination and resilience in the face of adversity. As we continue to strive for a more inclusive and equitable world, O’Brien’s story reminds us of the importance of compassion, empathy, and understanding for all people, regardless of ability or circumstance.

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