The Trailblazer Series: The Intellectuals
Earlier this month, we continued with our Trailblazer series with the sports star instalment. In this feature, we highlighted some of the world’s most talented sportsmen and women who also happen to have a disability, chronic condition or learning difficulty.
Throughout 2023, we’ll be continuing the series to highlight the successes of disabled individuals to prove that disability does not equal inability.
The Trailblazer Series: Let’s meet the intellectuals
Stephen Hawking, who lived from January 8, 1942, to March 14, 2018, was one of the most well-known scientists in history. Due to ALS, he was verbally impaired, therefore, Prof. Hawking had to use a customized wheelchair that had a computer placed on it that could speak for him.
Hawking was a renowned theoretical physicist who made important discoveries about the universe’s operation. One of many of his significant scientific accomplishments is the discovery of Hawking radiation. Additionally, in 1974, Professor Stephen Hawking was chosen as a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS). In 2009, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest, st civilian honour. He also received numerous accolades for his contributions to science. He might be the most well-known disabled person in the entire globe.
Helen Keller (June 27, 1880–June 1, 1968) is arguably the best-known representative of people with disabilities. At the age of 19 months, she developed a disease that left her deaf and blind. Keller continued to become the first deaf-blind graduate in history. The Story of My Life, Helen Keller’s autobiography, is regarded as a classic work of English literature. She traversed the globe in support of causes like socialism, women’s suffrage, labour rights, and antimilitarism.
Nick Vujicic was born in Melbourne, Australia. He was born without arms or legs due to the unusual condition known as phocomelia. Nick went on to graduate from Griffith University at the age of 21 despite all the challenges his condition presents. Nick is the creator of “Attitude is Altitude” and a well-known motivational speaker across the world.
Samantha Renke is a presenter, disability activist, inclusion and equality consultant, keynote speaker and columnist for the Metro newspaper in the UK. Samantha has dedicated her career to changing the workplace for disabled people and encouraging better representation of disabilities in the media. Now, Renke is the Disability Lead at Paramount, The Diversity Trust and UNLRN.
John Nash was a world-renowned mathematician. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1994 for pioneering the analysis of equilibrium in the theory of non-cooperative games. In 1959, Nash was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Despite his ongoing battle with his disease, Nash excelled in mathematics. He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University. The Oscar-winning film A Beautiful Mind was based on the life of John Nash (1998). Russel Crowe played Nash, and Ron Howard beautifully directed this masterpiece.
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter who was six years old when she was diagnosed with polio. Her condition caused her right leg to become shorter and thinner than her left. In 1925, Kahlo was involved in an accident that exacerbated her condition. She spent the majority of her life in bed, in excruciating discomfort. Despite this, Kahlo went on to become one of the most recognized artists and a cultural icon.
Frida Kahlo’s most famous works include Henry Ford Hospital (1932), My Birth (1932), Self-Portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and the United States (1932), Memory, the Heart (1937), What the Water Gave Me (1938), The Two Fridas (1939), Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1939), and Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1939). (1940).
Louis Braille became blind in one eye, at the age of three, as a result of an accident. This led Braille Louis Braille to devise a reading and writing method for the visually impaired. This tactile approach is known as Braille language. Braille began working on his touch-based programming while still a student. He won a scholarship from the Royal Institute for Blind Youth. Braille originally revealed his code system in 1824.
Listen to Dis’: Disability-Led Arts Organisation
Listen to Dis’ are the inclusivity-focused, disability-led arts organisation championing disability culture through art and performance
Listen to Dis’ is a registered non-profit community arts organisation that champions disability culture through the medium of inclusive art and performance. Their work manifests in many forms including workshops, artist series and theatrical touring, and everything has an underlying message to support and empower the global disabled community.
Here we highlight how Listen to Dis’ is bringing this message to life:
Listen to Dis’ VOICE
Listen to Dis’ VOICE is a weekly open-access program where artists join forces to learn, create, explore, and connect. The focus topic changes each week yet is always in keeping with the Listen to Dis’ core message of advocating for the disabled community. Through this profound program, Listen to Dis’ has created some truly important work surrounding ableist ways disabled bodies and minds are viewed.
The Other Ordinary
The Other Ordinary is Listen to Dis’ touring crip theatre company. Launched out of a class at the University of Regina named Devising Inclusive Theatre, and directed by Listen to Dis’ founder and artistic director Traci Foster. Dubbed TOO, it fosters the talents of emerging professional artists that produce tour shows with a focus on how it feels to live and work as disabled people.
Take their first show, ‘Neither Heroes nor Ordinary People,’ as a prime example, which uncovers the realities of living with disabilities through music, monologue, dance, beatbox, and singing. Their second show, Mine to Have, is about sexuality, sensuality, disability, and
the political right to live in one’s body.
Visiting Artist Series
LTD’s visiting artist series connects disabled artists with the wider arts ecology by inviting artists, both disabled and not, to host workshops that explore disability art. Inviting artists from outside the LTD’s group enables LTD’s network to expand but also ignites deeper learning on both parts of the essence of disability culture and mindset.
LTD’s is amplifying the voices of the disabled community through a variety of mediums that all celebrate art, performance and culture. Follow their journey on their Instagram here.
Through facilitated dialogue and inclusive art practice and performance, we weave new realities for our members and for the broader community – shifting the way people perceive disability and creating an understanding of and appreciation for crip art, mad art, and disability culture.
The Sensational Museum
‘Using what we know about disability to change how museums work for everyone’ is the tagline for The Sensational Museum
Led by Professor Hannah Thompson from Royal Holloway, University of London, The Sensational Museum is a £1 million pound-funded project by the Arts and Humanities Research Council whose goal is to alter current access methods and introduce a deeper sense of inclusivity within the museum sector in the UK.
Thompson is joined by a plethora of professionals on this project who unite on the idea that disability needs need to be put at the centre of all museums’ strategies going forward. There is Social Design specialist Anne Chick from the University of Lincoln; Psychologist Alison Eardley from the University of Westminster; and Museum Studies expert Ross Parry from the University of Leicester. They will work together between April 2023 and July 2025 to really transform the way disabled and non-disabled people interact with the art and each other in museums in the future.
Collaborating with museum staff as well as disabled and non-disabled visitors, the more-than-equipped team will be looking into two core areas: new ways of accessing museum collections and cataloguing objects in a more inclusive way. The key idea is to acknowledge and put into practice the fact that the needs of diverse visitors are all unique and not everyone absorbs art in the same way. Sector organisations include VocalEyes, an initiative that works towards inclusion for the visually impaired and blind in the arts and heritage sector, Curating for Change which helps create career paths for the disabled community, and the Museums Association, a membership organisation that campaigns for socially engaged museums. They will all be on hand to offer acute advice and inspiration as to how this project can create innovative change within museums across the country.
“Many people want or need to access and process information in ways that are not only – or not entirely – visual. But museums are very sight-dependent places. Let’s imagine a museum experience that plays to whichever senses work best for you. The project aims to give all visitors inclusive, engaging, enjoyable and memorable experiences,” Professor Hannah Thompson.
Visit The Sensational Museum website to stay up-to-date with this project and how it’s developing. It has the capacity to create real social justice and impact the disabled community and how they will be able to engage with art in a more inclusive way in the future.
Adaptive Kidswear: Get to Know What’s Available Online
Marks and Spencer, Tubie Kids and Seenin are just a few brands investing in adaptive kidswear
Both big brands like M&S and Etsy as well as more emerging companies like Seenin and Tubie Kids are innovating within the adaptive kidswear market. Whether clothes, accessories or shoes, companies are re-designing everyday items to suit multiple disability needs. Blending fashion with function, here we highlight how each company is approaching this movement.
Special Kids Company
The Special Kids Company was founded by Sasha Radwan, who spent time in the Middle East, only to see first-hand how children with special needs were hidden from society’s view there. This inspired her to launch her company, which stocks multiple brands of adaptive wear for kids. Featured on her online store are Scratch Sleeves dungarees, specially designed adaptive clothing for children with autism, eczema and post-surgical healing. And there are wheelchair accessories by brands including Bundle Bean and My Buggy Buddy. Think organisers, cup holders and those all-important rain covers.
Founded by Lucy Carr-Seaman, whose daughter, Hester, was born with a rare agenesis of the corpus callosum named Aicardi syndrome, Seenin is the answer to Lucy’s struggle to find exactly what she needed to make Hester and her life more comfortable. Seenin stocks everything from aprons and bibs to seamless socks and weighted blankets. There’s also a sweet kerchief range that can be designed by the shopper. The style fabric, colour and print can is all bespoke.
Tubie Kids focuses on adaptive clothing and accessories for tube-fed children. This innovative company provides beautifully designed, colourful, tube-friendly yet functional clothing that gives children the full dignity and sensory comfort they need and deserve. Their Tubie Kids® 2in1 Combo Tops are especially brilliant, as they are an everyday staple that has flat seams, no label tags, and a discreet opening for abdominal access.
Marks & Spencer
Retail giant M&S also offers what they’ve called a ‘Kids Easy Dressing,’ range. This collection includes hip dysplasia clothes, feeding tube clothing and zip-up bodysuits. They have rethought where poppers need to be placed as well as introduced super-soft materials to stimulate comfort. Sizes start from newborn and go up to 16 years. From pretty patterns to bold colours, as well as useful multi-packs, there is a lot to admire here.
ASDA’s ‘Easy On Easy Wear’ clothing is designed to support kids in working towards independent dressing via items like pull-on school trousers and ‘Easy On’ 2-in-1 school pinafores where the shirt is attached to the skirt. They have also done their research on sensory-kind fabrics and offer a range of items from sweatshirts to polo shirts that help comfort kids throughout their day.
E-commerce company Etsy hosts an abundance of independent brands and designers that have created adaptive clothing and accessories from first-hand experience. From tube feeding vests for 1-14-year-old boys and girls to adaptive trousers with side zippers and pyjamas with a back zipper, there is a lot on offer that will hopefully make the lives of parents and children living with disability or illness a touch more comfortable.