Interview | The Trailblazing Women of Muscular Dystrophy UK

5 Questions ~ 3 Influential Women

Emma Vogelmann (left) with Lauren West (right)

Lauren West, Trailblazers Manager

Michaela Hollywood, Co-Founder

Emma Vogelmann, Employability Officer

Michaela Hollywood (centre, front) campaigning with MDUK

1. What is your disability and how does it affect you?

Lauren West: I have SMA (spinal muscular atrophy) Type 2. I’ve never walked independently and got my first powered wheelchair at the age of two and a half.

Despite the severity of my SMA, I passed my driving test, went to university three hours from home, and moved to London to start my working life. I now still live in London with my partner and with support from live-in PAs who do all my personal care and domestic tasks.

Michaela Hollywood: I have SMA (spinal muscular atrophy) Type 2. I commonly say that I can do pretty much nothing without assistance except speak! Although, I have recently learned to drive using hand controls.

Possibly the biggest impact of my SMA is my breathing and the impact of chest infections, which can make me sick quite often. I’m also deaf, and have pancreatic insufficiency which affects my ability to digest food, and that can cause a lot of pain and fatigue. My motto is; I can drive a van, and boil a kettle but I can’t make a cup of tea!

Emma Vogelmann: I have SMA (spinal muscular atrophy) Type 2. I’m a full-time electric wheelchair-user and since contracting Swine flu in 2009, I also use a portable ventilator via a tracheotomy.

2. How and why did you become involved with MDUK Trailblazers, and what is your role?

Lauren West: I became involved at the very start of Trailblazers, after I left the Whizz-kidz Kids Board. I felt I had a campaigning void in my life after leaving the board, so I was really excited when I heard about Trailblazers. For a long time, I was the only Welsh Trailblazer and so I formed a great bond with the original team, Bobby and Tanvi.

I stayed involved throughout university through participating in work experience and attending events like APPGs. I was delighted after a few years in different jobs to be offered the role as Campaigns Officer, as I’d always wanted to work for Trailblazers. It was then super exciting to take up the role of Trailblazers Manager at the beginning of 2016.

Michaela Hollywood: I was involved with Trailblazers from the very beginning, before it even started!

I was at a MDUK Family Weekend when I was 16, and, because of my disability and access requirements, I couldn’t book tickets to see the band McFLY perform in my local arena. Consequently, I spoke to the then Chief Executive of the charity Phil Butcher, and said we need a “young people’s forum”. My idea at the time was that those of us with a muscle wasting condition have powerful voices that weren’t being heard, and too many non-disabled adults were making decisions that affected our lives without even thinking of consulting us. And out of that Trailblazers was born!

I volunteered for the first number of years, and directed the organisation from Northern Ireland for a year before it became official. I went to university and did my undergraduate degree in Public Relations, followed by a Masters in PR and Communications, specialising in political lobbying. I then joined the team from home in Northern Ireland a little over 3 years ago.

Emma Vogelmann: I was invited by MDUK to a Parliamentary roundtable meeting about disability employment. I really liked that a prominent charity was directly engaging with young disabled people and their lived experiences. After that, I asked if there were any opportunities to get involved with the organisation which led to a 4 month internship with the Campaigns team. I absolutely loved it, so when the role of Employability Officer was advertised I knew I had to apply. The rest, as they say, is history!

Michaela Hollywood, who has SMA Type 2

3. How do you feel about being an influential career woman with a disability? Has your disability made you more determined to pursue your career goals?

Lauren West: I don’t think I would describe myself as an influential career woman but if I am seen that way, then that’s a real honour.

I think my disability has made me much more determined in all parts of my life, not just my career. I have always been quite driven and even when I wasn’t sure what career path I wanted to follow, I knew I wanted to do something that made a difference.

But I genuinely think there’s been one driving force behind my ambition and that was a social worker who was sorting out my university care package. She made an off-the-cuff comment about how when I was done having fun at university, I’d come home and she’d help set me up on benefits in a little flat. Whilst this is needed for some, this is not how I wanted my life to go, but I knew I’d face similar beliefs and attitudes throughout my whole life. So I was determined to fight against that societal expectation.

Michaela Hollywood: For me, I think it made my education very important. And it’s made me steely and determined. It’s a good advantage to be able to use my voice as communication is so important when your impairment is so physical. I’m proud to be in the position I am, and try to keep my focus on what I can do for others.

Emma Vogelmann: I never really thought of myself as an influential career woman in all honesty. I suppose you just crack on with your day-to-day work, so you never stop to think about it.

Now I am starting to see the impact my work has on other people, such as my employment work. I’ve seen the people involved in my project access jobs, find a careers mentor and so many other meaningful changes. That’s incredibly rewarding for me.

My disability makes me more determined to do a lot of things, but definitely in my career. Someone in a meeting I ran summed it up perfectly, “disabled people feel the pressure to be exceptional just to be considered equal to their able-bodied co-workers”. While this is not the culture at MDUK, I do feel that internal pressure to prove myself constantly. I’ve learned first-hand and from others that it is unfortunately really hard to enter the working world as a disabled person, so once you’re there you feel like you need to show your employer why they made the right decision.

Lauren West, who has SMA Type 2

4. In relation to employment, what challenges have you faced due to your disability, and how have you overcome these obstacles?

Lauren West: Throughout school and university, getting a typical student job just wasn’t on the cards for me. For one thing, I just didn’t have the stamina to study and work. But also the usual student jobs just weren’t physically accessible to me. I was worried that this lack of work experience would put me at a severe disadvantage for getting a job once I’d graduated.

I was lucky that Trailblazers found me an internship at my local MP’s office, so I did one day a week there for three months in my final year of study. I also did work experience at MDUK which gave me a great taste of living and working in London.

I was incredibly fortunate to secure a job in London prior to graduating from my Master’s degree. However, when this job turned out to not be what I expected and complete with a very abusive boss, I had real trouble finding a new job. I mainly applied to charities and many claimed to be part of the ‘two ticks scheme’ which offered guaranteed interviews for disabled applicants.

However, it was rare I’d even get called for an interview and it took many unhappy months before I was offered a role as a mental health advocate. The same year, I started working for MDUK and I love being part of a charity that values diversity and inclusivity.

I think the only way I’ve overcome challenges within employment is just through stubbornness and determination. I really think there are organisations out there for everyone but it can just take a long time to find the right fit.

Michaela Hollywood: The biggest one is my health. Self-care is important to keep me ticking over. I’ve been really lucky to work for a group I wholeheartedly believe in, and where we see real help and progress happening. I try to make sure others are afforded the same opportunities I have been lucky to have.

Emma Vogelmann: I struggled to find an employer willing to give me a chance after university. Of course, this is true for most graduates. But I do feel that being a disabled graduate made it harder. I remember asking Lauren West for advice before I started working at MDUK about when, where and how to disclose my disability, because I didn’t want to be counted out too soon for jobs, but I also didn’t want to hide something I consider a strength. I decided to always disclose my disability, though this is a very personal choice that isn’t necessarily right for everyone. I work within a disability charity, so it is extremely relevant to say I’m disabled, but I know a lot of people who aren’t comfortable with this and that’s completely okay too.

Emma Vogelmann, who has SMA Type 2

5. What is your proudest achievement?

Lauren West: In terms of in my career, I think it was being in charge of the Trailblazers’ 10 year anniversary celebrations.

As someone who was part of Trailblazers from the start, being able to bring those 10 years together through an incredible event in Parliament was just the best experience. Seeing over 100 people all in one room celebrating their successes of the past 10 years will be forever one of my best moments.

Michaela Hollywood: This is a tough one! My dad, Michael, likes to tell anyone and everyone he meets to “Google” me because he is so proud of what I’ve achieved.

In 2015, I was given a Points of Light award by then Prime Minister David Cameron, and a few weeks later was named on the BBC 100 Influential Women List. I think those few weeks were a definite highlight.

Emma Vogelmann: What a tough question! I suppose it would be winning my case against a taxi driver who discriminated against me due to being a wheelchair-user. It happened on my second day of work at MDUK and it was a difficult experience to go through. But to have two courts agree that wheelchair-users cannot be overcharged was a great feeling. I really hope it will empower other wheelchair-users to not accept discriminatory treatment from taxi drivers.


Many thanks to the brilliant Emma, Lauren and Michaela for answering my questions.

Strictly Come Dancing 2018

Disability, Diversity & Representation

Following on from Paralympian Jonnie Peacock’s influential appearance on last year’s Strictly Come Dancing, the latest line-up includes Para-triathlete Lauren Steadman and acid attack victim Katie Piper. The former has no lower right arm, and the latter suffered significant facial disfigurement following a violent attack when she was only 24 years of age.

The inclusion of these two young women on such a high-profile BBC One talent show, with viewing figures in excess of 11 million, will no doubt play a big part in the promotion of positive views on disability and diversity, as well as encouraging body confidence.


Katie Piper – Acid attack victim and charity founder

35 year-old TV presenter, author, philanthropist and charity campaigner Katie Piper was left permanently scarred after a vicious acid attack in 2008. The former aspiring model has subsequently undergone over 60 necessary surgical procedures.

The industrial strength sulphuric acid that was thrown in Katie’s face has caused extreme damage and left her with sight, swallowing and breathing issues, requiring ongoing, invasive treatment.
The perpetrator was instructed to carry out the callous attack by an abusive former boyfriend whom Katie had met online.

Over the past decade, Katie has found admirable strength and persevered through the most trying of times. She bravely shared her story in two autobiographies and the 2010 BAFTA winning documentary, ‘Katie: My Beautiful Face’.
Katie has written four more self-help books, fronted several televised shows relating to body disfigurement, and most notably established The Katie Piper Foundation, to support fellow victims of acid attacks. She is also now happily married and has two young daughters.

Katie & Strictly Come Dancing

Prior to being paired with professional Strictly dance partner Gorka Marquez, Katie said, “there was a time not long ago that I wondered if I’d ever be glamorous again and now I know that is going to happen!”.

Katie Piper is all about embracing body confidence and celebrating diversity, whilst raising awareness of the consequences of acid attacks, which is a crime that is sadly on the increase. Her appearance on this hugely popular primetime BBC show will enable her to reach a wider audience and spread that message.

Piper is acknowledged to be the most anxious of this year’s celebrity contestants. Having really struggled to overcome the nerves during her first performance of a Waltz to Adele’s ‘when we were young’, Katie scored 17/40. Her confidence was knocked by negative feedback from the judges, particularly Craig Revel-Horwood who did not hold back.

Katie has since revealed, “it’s funny because like in the first week it did really affect me and it was silly because whenever I would wake up on Sunday at home it was like your 35-years-old and it’s an entertainment show, calm down.”

Katie and Gorka received their lowest score when they returned the following week with a Paso Doble. The choreography was intended to reflect the motto of the song to which they danced; ‘confident’ by Demi Lovato. However, Katie was visibly close to tears upon hearing the judges comments. While Darcy attempted to focus on the positive attitude with which Katie possessed, the others described her as “Stompy”, “plank-ish” and in need of improvement.

Nevertheless, the couple were supported by the viewing public and voted through to week three, and thankfully so, since their Foxtrot earned them 22 points – their highest score.

Katie says, “by week four I was in the groove, laughing and enjoying it and it was okay. You go in the green room afterwards and the [judges] are just normal, nice people.”

Sadly a Jive was to be Katie’s last dance on Strictly. Though disappointed to leave the competition relatively early, Piper admits though she overcame her nerves, insecurities and improved whilst on the show, she is not a natural dancer, and wouldn’t have wanted to be patronised or pitied.


Lauren Steadman – Paralympian

26 year-old Paralympian Lauren Steadman, originally from Peterborough, was born without a lower right arm. However, this has never prevented the determined sporting star from pursuing her dreams.

This Elite Para-triathlete is already a Double World Champion, Paralympic silver medallist (Rio 2016 – Women’s PT4) and six times European Champion.

Encouraged by her uncle who was himself a triathlete, she began competing in her local swimming team from age 11, representing Team GB. Two years later, Steadman took part in her first international competition in Denmark, as well as the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. Intent on pushing the boundaries of possibility even further, she switched sports, from swimming to the triathlon, after the London Paralympic Games in 2012.

Alongside her demanding athletics career, Lauren has pursued academics and achieved a first-class Psychology degree in 2014, followed by a Master’s in Business and Management.
Lauren recalls, “In one year I had taken all three titles – British, European and World Champion – for the first time, and graduated from university with first class honours. It really couldn’t get much better than that!”.

Lauren & Strictly Come Dancing

Lauren signed up to appear on the latest series of Strictly Come Dancing as she wanted to set herself a new challenge, learn another skill and test her “own levels of uncomfortableness”. When asked what she was most excited about she replied, “pushing myself and any boundaries I may encounter with having one arm. I like to succeed even if the odds are against me”.

With no experience whatsoever, Steadman claims her friends and family would describe her amateur dancing style as that of a baby elephant!

The glitz and glamour of Strictly is indeed a stark contrast to her sporting life. Not only that, dance itself is a very different discipline to what she is used to as an athlete. Dancing requires fluidity, expression, emotion and creativity, rather than the rigidity and stern focus necessary for triathlon events.

Despite all the odds, Lauren and partner AJ Pritchard stepped out with an impressive Waltz in the opening week of the show, scoring 25/40 from the four judges. The couple dropped 3 points with their second dance; a Charleston, and were awarded 20/40 for their slightly awkward Cha Cha Cha in week three. However, they returned on top form the following Saturday with an elegant Quickstep, earning them 25 points.

Their latest performance marks a first in Strictly history – a Contemporary dance, newly categorized as the ‘couple’s choice’. It was a highly personal interpretation with choreography designed to represent Lauren’s personal journey, her defiance and disability. The emotional dance was awarded with a standing ovation from the studio audience and 24 points from the judges.

Lauren has chosen not to wear a prosthesis during her time on Strictly. Preferring that her disability remain visible, she is keen to break down barriers, challenge convention and encourage other disabled people by demonstrating how dance can be adapted to suit different bodies and abilities.
For Lauren, the rollercoaster Strictly journey continues…


This article was uploaded by Disability Horizons on 26/10/2018

Interview | Steel Bones Charity

On 30th May, a determined group of individuals set off on a truly inspirational challenge to become the first amputees to conquer Mount Snowdon. The team, consisting of 18 amputees from around the UK, were led by Paul Clark, who lost his leg as a result of a bone infection following surgery in 2014. Accompanying him was Leigh Joy-Staines, Co-Founder of the voluntary charity STEEL BONES, which works to connect, support and inspire amputee families across the UK to overcome the trauma of amputation.

I was fortunate to interview both Paul and Leigh, prior to their challenge. Here is what they had to say…


1. Leigh, can you please tell Disability Horizons readers a little about yourself and your disability?

I was born with clubfoot (talipes) and had about 30 operations before the age of 5 to try to rectify them. The Doctors did the best they could at the time. I managed to get through school with just a few more operations, and lived a relatively ‘normal’ life. I was always in quite a lot of pain but this didn’t stop me, as I just loved playing sports and so I didn’t care about the pain.

I was bullied a lot but luckily had fantastic, grandparents, parents, cousins and friends who stuck by me and gave me the strength I needed inside to keep going. It impacted massively on my anxiety but I hung onto those people around me. Looking back, I was actually quite a popular kid. I just let the nasty name calling go over my head.

I left school early and started working immediately. I always worked hard and partied hard at weekends. But at the age of 23, after working a job with a long commute which involved a lot of walking, I couldn’t take the pain any longer. I then went to see my GP who referred me to an orthopaedic surgeon at Guys Hospital (London).

The surgeon seemed to think it would be a simple operation to put things right. Unfortunately, he hadn’t completed the proper pre-operative checks and didn’t have my notes in the operation. [As a result] he severed my last remaining artery and the nurses didn’t realise the foot’s blood supply was cut off until it was too late. All I remember is my girlfriend (now wife) turning up with my mates to take me home, and I was rushed into an ambulance.

The team at St Thomas’ Hospital were amazing. It became a second home for me since I was there for 5 months whilst they tried to save the leg, and then whilst I learnt to walk again. Since the amputation, I’ve had lots of problems with my stump (which I call JOYBOY) such as neuromas, spurs and infections. My other leg is also now disintegrating as it has taken a lot of pressure since the amputation. I’m now working with some excellent surgeons and physiotherapists to hopefully rebuild it, otherwise I will have to lose that leg too.

Emma and Leigh Joy-Staines

2. You are one of the founders of STEEL BONES. Why did you decide to establish the charity?

We had no proactive support at the time of amputation. My girlfriend (now wife) and I just tried to pretend everything was fine and ‘normal’. We didn’t take stock of what had actually happened. I’m still dealing with the trauma and am only just really accepting what happened – It was such a huge shock. When you still want to be the lad about town but your body fails, it breaks you. But, I’ve held on tightly to my family.

We phoned several amputee charities asking for support, but none came through. We felt so lonely and isolated, particularly once our children arrived. Our son Teddy was being asked lots of questions: ‘Why isn’t your daddy strong?’ and, ‘Why does he wear a boot?’

This really hit us hard as we didn’t know how to deal with the outside world, only our little unit. So, we decided to start meeting other amputee families.

It all started with a Facebook group and it’s gone from strength-to-strength.

We have met so many amazing people and it gives us great motivation to know that we are not alone. The charity focuses on the entire family, and not solely the amputee, because an amputation affects the entire family unit including friends too.

We provide support packs and create friendships with families to ensure they have the tools and advice they need to achieve their goals. We also run a weekly fitness club and an amputee football club with Cambridge United Trust and Cambridge FA. Furthermore, we are launching a series of children’s books based on amputee family stories. We also run a schools workshop programme with ‘If Not Me Inclusion Coaching’, which focuses on inclusive sports and raising awareness of amputees.

These projects are very close to our hearts as we know the impact they make. We hope to avoid what our son endured in his first couple years at school, and to ensure no amputee family feels isolated. We also have an events programme that all amputee families are welcome to join.

Our biggest event of the year takes place on 29th July 2018 in Cambridgeshire. To find out more join our Facebook group: STEEL BONES or sign up to our mailing list http://steelbone.co.uk

3. Can you tell us exactly what this particular challenge involves?

The challenge involves a group of amazing amputee families climbing

Mount Snowdon. We have been training for the past 6 months and have endured falls, knocks, sores, blisters, aches and pains. Despite this, the hugely inspirational group has kept on going. It is just so exciting to see them achieve this incredible goal.

STEEL BONES is entirely voluntary so the funds raised by this go directly to amputee families in the UK. It provides a lifeline by putting on more clubs, events and proactively supporting the amputee community.

4. Paul Clark, you’re heading the challenge to climb Mount Snowdon in May. How and why did you first become involved with STEEL BONES?

After my amputation on 30th May 2016, it was a very hard and lonely time for myself and my family. We didn’t know who to turn to for help and support and we felt very isolated. We didn’t know what support we could get or where to even start looking. We found there to be a big lack of understanding in the public and government as to what amputation means for an individual and their family.

We came across the STEEL BONES Facebook group and realised they were local, and had been in a very similar situation to us when Leigh lost his leg. They were offering free help and support to amputees and their families, so we contacted them for some advice.

Their support from day one was fantastic. Not only did they give us advice on who to contact regarding different matters, they also helped from with forms, letters and so on until we were sorted. Their support didn’t stop after this – they continue to support myself and my family with information and advice. They have also introduced us to many new friends in the same situation. It has become one big happy amputee family!

Paul Clark, who led the team of amputees in their challenge to climb Mount Snowdon

5. Where did the idea come from?

My wife and I have always wanted to climb Mount Snowdon, so we said let’s still do it and raise money for STEEL BONES to thank them. The money raised will allow them to continue supporting other amputees and their families throughout the UK.

6. What are you hoping to achieve as a result of the challenge you have set for yourselves?

Not only is this a personal goal of ours, and a massive challenge, we also hope to promote amputee awareness throughout the UK. We want people to be aware that just because I have lost a limb, it doesn’t make me any different, and I can still overcome challenges like anyone else.

I have managed to get a great team to join me on this amazing adventure, and it’s great that I have managed to pull together a group of amputees from around the UK. Not only will this bond us as a group, it will challenge us all and show that amputees can do anything, whilst also raising a fantastic amount of money for STEEL BONES.

Show your support for the team and make a donation by clicking here.


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Interview | Scott Watkin: SeeAbility

36-year-old Scott Watkin, an eye care and vision development officer with the charity SeeAbility, is one of this years deserving recipients of the British Empire Medal.

Scott, who has learning disabilities and the eye condition keratoconus, is recognised for his tireless work in the learning disability community.

A dedicated ambassador, Scott began his career co-chairing the learning disability partnership board on the Isle of Wight. This led onto an influential role as co-national director for learning disabilities within the Department of Health. He also lectures at the University of Hertfordshire, focusing on eye care, vision and equal rights. However, he notes his work with SeeAbility as a major milestone.


1. Scott, could you please tell Disability Horizons readers a little about yourself and your disability?

I was born with Williams syndrome which is a learning disability. Apparently I am one in ten thousand! Some of my muscles can be quite weak and my coordination can be not great at times.

I went to a special school and teachers never really paid attention to me, and it meant I didn’t really get the grades I wanted to get. I was bullied too which made learning very hard.

It also means I am more likely to have vision problems and actually I was diagnosed with keratoconus which I’ve had two corneal graftoperations on. I have quite a difficult daily routine involving eye drops and contact lenses.

2. How does your learning disability and eye condition affect you, and how have you found working with a disability?

My learning disability only shows when I’m nervous or worried about something, otherwise I’m a very confident person. I just need a bit of support to do my job and I’ve been really lucky to be supported well at SeeAbility.

My vision varies, some days it’s ok some days really poor. But I’m always ready to work!

3. What adjustments have you and/or your employer had to make in order for you to do your job effectively?

If I don’t know a journey, my manager will meet me in London and we will continue the journey together. I know my way from the IOW to London very well having made the trip many times.

If my vision is really poor, we put all my information on yellow paper in Arial 16pt font. This helps me to read it better.

When I first started working, I had lots of support to make steps in my job. But for me it’s just being able to talk to someone when I need to, and that’s the case at SeeAbility. If I don’t need that then I just get on with my job and carry on!

4. How and why did you get involved with the charity SeeAbility?

I first met Paula Spinks-Chamberlain (Director of External Affairs) at the Department of Health. SeeAbility supported me through my keratoconus and then I did some work as an ambassador. After that I was offered a job!

5. Could you please explain the role you play within SeeAbility?

I’m an eye care and vision development officer and I make sure people with learning disabilities get good eye care. I travel around the country giving training sessions to people with learning disabilities and carers. I need to make sure we lobby government to make sure they understand that eye care for people with learning disabilities is really important.

People with learning disabilities are much more likely to have sight problems than other people. Not only that, but they are the least likely to get the eye care they need. We are working so that eye care professionals make reasonable adjustments but what we really need is a national eye care pathway so that everyone with a disability can access a sight test.

6. You are also on the board of Learning Disability England. What are your aims and objectives in this capacity?

I try and make sure people with a learning disability have a voice. People with learning disabilities need the same access to services as everybody else.

It’s about setting the direction of learning disabilities in England. Lobbying government and challenging the social care cuts. I need to make sure we do what we say we are going to do.

7. Why is it so important to you to campaign for people with learning disabilities?

Firstly, people with learning disabilities are much more likely to have sight problems than other people. Not only that, but they are the least likely to get the eye care they need. We are working so that eye care professionals make reasonable adjustments but what we really need is a national eye care pathway so that everyone with a disability can access a sight test.

Secondly, people with learning disabilities deserve to have their voice heard. We deserve the same opportunities as everyone else as we have so much to offer. We just need the chances to shine.

8. What do you think are the main issues that require attention and improvement?

We need to stop the social care cuts and get a good eye care pathway down for people with learning disabilities so they can get the right eye care!

We need good annual health checks.

And to make sure the government take people with learning disabilities seriously and listen to what they want. For example, most people with learning disabilities want to work, and we just need employers to give us chance so we can achieve what others can have a good life.

9. Congratulations on being awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year 2018 Honours list. How does it make you feel to be recognised for your achievements?

I never thought I’d be recognised in this way, it’s a real big honour. I’m glad my work is being recognised nationally because it’s really important. It sends a message to all the eye care professionals that I work with, they need to know how important eye care for people with disabilities is.

10. Finally, what tips would you offer anyone like yourself with a similar disability, who is seeking employment?

Don’t stop trying to find employment. Don’t be afraid to say you have a learning disability and it’s ok to ask for reasonable adjustments. You will have so many positives to bring to any role and don’t forget that, you are actually very reliable, more than other people!


I’d like to thank Scott Watkin for taking the time to speak with me.

My interview with Scott was originally published by Disability Horizons

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My Top 10 Disabled Celebs | The Girls

The Girls:

My latest article for Disability Horizons showcases my pick of the top 10 disabled FEMALE celebrities. Because, in the wise words of Beyonce, girls run the world!

*Last year, Disability Horizons compiled their top 10 disabled celeb’s, including both men and women. To avoid repetition, I have not included any of the women from that previous article.


There is a great deal of ongoing discussion and debate around the inclusion and representation of disabled people within the media. Put simply, there is not enough diversity. Still, in 2017, the vast majority of British ‘celebrities’ are able-bodied.

However, we are seeing the emergence of more and more disabled people on our television screens and in the public eye. But, how many can you name? When contemplating this very question, I realised that most of those who immediately came to mind were male – Stephen Hawking, Warwick Davies, Alex Brooker, Adam Hills, Ade Adepitan and Jonnie Peacock, to name a few.

So what about the ladies?…


Hannah Cockroft MBE

Hannah, who has cerebral palsy, suffered two cardiac arrests within 48 hours of birth, which affected two parts of her brain. She was left with balance, mobility and fine motor impairment.

But this has most certainly not held her back. She is a gold medal-winning Paralympic wheelchair racer and 10 times world champion. In 2012 she became the first Paralympian to break a world record in the London Olympic Stadium for the 100 metres T34.

In 2014 she won the Sport Relief edition of Strictly Come Dancing with professional dancer Pasha Kovalev. That same year she launched 17 Sports Management Limited, a company representing disabled athletes.

Hannah continued her reign of success at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio where she won three gold medals.

Katie Piper

The victim of a vicious acid attack in March 2008, Katie has endured more than 250 surgical procedures to date. She suffered full-thickness burns (where both layers of the skin are destroyed) and had to wear a face mask for 23 hours every day. She also swallowed some of the sulphuric acid, damaging her throat, and was blinded in her left eye.

In 2009, the former model shared her horrific ordeal in the Channel 4 documentary Katie: My Beautiful Face. She also established the Katie Piper Charitable Foundation, which supports those with severe burns and disfigurement injuries.

In addition, she is now a successful author, television presenter, magazine columnist and philanthropist. An inspiration to many, Katie married in 2015 and is currently expecting her second child.

Cerrie Burnell

Cerrie was born with no right forearm and is severely dyslexic. Since childhood, she has always refused to wear a prosthesis or hide her disability.

An all-round entertainer, Cerrie is an accomplished actress, singer, playwright, children’s author and TV presenter. Between 2002-2008, she appeared in Holby City, Eastenders, Grange Hill, The Bill and Comedy Lab. She then transitioned to presenting, working on The One Show, The Wright Stuff and CBeebies (Jan 2009 – April 2017).

But her first appearance on children’s television was met with controversy. Some claimed that the presence of someone with a physical disability like hers could scare young viewers. In response, Cerrie spoke candidly about her disability and how it’s important that children are exposed to differences, for which she was widely applauded.

She now regularly speaks out in favour of diversity and the inclusion of disabled people in the media. In fact, she recently took part in the Channel 4 documentary Diverse NationShe’s since reached an even wider audience by presenting all the swimming events for the Channel 4 and the 2012 Paralympics.

Named by The Observer as one of the top 10 children’s presenters of all time, Cerrie has also been declared, by The Guardian, as one of Britain’s 100 most inspirational women.

A supporter of many charities including body-confidence organisation Body Gossip, Cerrie now wants to focus on writing more children’s books and acting.

Francesca Martinez

Critically-acclaimed stand-up comedian Francesca Martinez first became prominent playing Rachel Burns in Grange Hill (1994-8). Since, she has starred in BBC shows Holby City, Doctors and Extras.

But it’s not her acting that she’s most well known for, it’s her comedy. With a self-deprecating sense of humour, Francesca, who has cerebral palsy, describes herself as “wobbly”. In 2000 she became the first female to win the prestigious Daily Telegraph Open Mic Award at the Edinburgh Festival. She was also named one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy by The Observer.

Also a campaigner and activist, Francesca has organised many charity shows and is a patron of several charities, including Evenbreak, which helps pair disabled people with inclusive employers. She’s also an outspoken opponent of government welfare reform, in 2012 launching the campaign War on Welfare (WOW), which called for an end to disability benefit cuts. She later secured the first parliamentary debate for disabled people by disabled people.

In 2013 she won the Public Affairs Achiever of the Year Award and the following year was named one of Britain’s most influential women.

Her recent sell-out comedy tour was followed by a best-selling book, both titled WHAT THE **** IS NORMAL?! She is currently working on a feature documentary of the same name.

Cherylee Houston

Screen and theatre actress Cherylee was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome type III (EDS) at the age 23. She has appeared in Doctors, The Bill, Holby City, Emmerdale and Little Britain.

Her most recent role is that of Izzy in Coronation Street, which she has played since 2010, and is the soap’s first disabled character to be played by a disabled actor.

Aside from acting, Cherylee established the Manchester-based youth project TripleC, which aims to make drama accessible to all. She has spoken out about a number of political issues too, including the Conservative cuts to disability benefits and the representation of disability in the media. She also continues to raise awareness of EDS.

Anne Hegerty

Better known as The Governess in the award-winning ITV quiz show The ChaseAnne has a form of autism. In 2005, after watching a documentary about Asperger’s Syndrome and identifying with the symptoms, Anne told her doctors she believes she has the disability. It took two years for her to be officially diagnosed, during which time she lost her job as a proof-reader, due to her inability to multi-task.

Unable to pay her bills, Anne was confronted by bailiffs on New Year’s Day in 2008. She later sought advice and assistance and is to this day in receipt of Disability Living Allowance. Around the same time, her social worker encouraged her to audition for The Chase and even paid her travel costs to get there.

She is now a highly successful television personality and professional quizzer, have participated in Mastermind, Fifteen to One and Brain of Britain. Anne also talks candidly about her life with Asperger’s Syndrome and how it affects her.

Jess Thom

Jess, a comedian and public speaker, was diagnosed with the neurological condition Tourette Syndrome in her early twenties, and also uses a wheelchair. She’s most widely recognised for her memorable appearance on Russell Howard’s Good News in October 2015. The interview garnered much attention and has subsequently been viewed more than 600,000 times on Youtube – you can check it out in our article on 10 awesome disability-related videos.

In 2010 she co-founded Touretteshero, a blog that documents what it’s like living with Tourettes, featuring articles and videos. Its first production, Backstage in Biscuit Land (2014), met with critical acclaim. It has since toured nationally and internationally.

She has appeared on various television and radio programs including The Late Late Show, This Morning and Fry’s Planet Word. In 2013 she also delivered a TED talk about the misconceptions of Tourette’s and the creative potential of tics. While admitting her Tourette’s presents challenges and has been met with discrimination, she prefers to “celebrate [its] creativity and humour.”

Jess is an outspoken advocate and campaigner for disabled people’s rights. Her work often draws attention to the environmental and social barriers that prevent inclusion. An opponent of the medical model of disability, Jess insists her Tourette’s is a source of creativity, her wheelchair allows her freedom, and she is disabled not by her body but by the inaccessible environment.

Libby Clegg

Libby is a Scottish Paralympic champion sprinter, having won gold and broken records. She has a deteriorating condition Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, leaving her with only slight peripheral vision in her left eye. She is registered blind and is an ambassador for the Royal Blind Charity.

She has represented Great Britain in the T12 100m and 200m races at the 2008 Summer Paralympics, and the T11 100m and 200m in 2016 at the Paralympic Games in Rio. She is also the 2012 IPC European Champion and 2013 IPC World Champion.

As if she isn’t busy enough, Libby is also a course tutor and ambassador for Ability Training (ability-training.com), offering accredited disability specific awareness courses for sports coaches and fitness professionals.

Along with her beloved guide dog Hattie, she is helping to educate dog owners on the importance of nutrition and health. Libby raises awareness of the essential part guide dogs play in the lives of those with visual impairment.

She was recently honoured in the 2017 New Year’s honours service when she was appointed MBE for her contribution to sport.

Sarah Gordy

Award winner Sarah, who has Down’s Syndrome, is best known for her role as Lady Pamela Holland in the 2010 BBC TV series Upstairs Downstairs. She has also appeared in Holby City, Call the Midwife and Doctors, as well as various short films, radio dramas, commercials and many theatre productions.

She most recently portrayed Orlando Quine in the BBC series Strike: The Silkworm, based on the books by J.K. Rowling.

She is an ambassador for Mencap and patron of Circus Starr, a performance group that does shows for disabled children. When not acting, she volunteers at her local British Heart Foundation charity shop.

Genevieve Barr

Star of the latest Maltesers advert, Genevieve was born deaf. Having never learned sign language, she lip reads, and is, in fact, a professional lip-reader for different organisations.

She had a major role in the 2010 BBC drama The Silence, and the previous year played a deaf nurse in the Channel 4 comedy, The Amazing Dermot. Following her Bafta and International Emmy Award nominations for The Silence, she went on to act in the BBC3 drama series The Fades, and Shameless on Channel 4.

A freelance disability consultant and public speaker, Genevieve works with the charities Hear the WorldAction on Hearing Loss and AFASIC – a charity for children with speech, language and communication difficulties. She also runs courses and workshops for disabled actors.


What do you think of my choices? Who would be in your top 10?

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Interview | Matt “Hambo” Hampson

Parallel London 2017

Here is my interview with Matt Hampson for Disability Horizons


With less than a month to go before the return of Parallel London (an all inclusive fun run and festival), I spoke to ambassador Matt Hampson about his involvement, and why the event is so important to him.

Matt “Hambo” Hampson is a former England Rugby Union prop who, at the age of 20, was paralysed in a near-fatal routine scrum session. Despite having severed his spinal cord in the accident (which took place twelve years ago in Northampton) Matt is now busier than ever and living life to the full as a C4/5 tetraplegic.

In 2011, Matt decided to establish a charitable foundation in his name, to inspire and support others who have suffered similar catastrophic sports injuries.

A mentor, fund-raiser, columnist, award-winning author, rugby coach, patron and ambassador; Matt truly epitomises the foundation’s ethos – ‘Get Busy Living’.

Sport, Injury & Disability

1. Hi Matt, would you please tell Disability Horizons readers a little about your sporting background and your subsequent disability?

I had my accident back in 2005 playing for the England Under 21s. I suffered a dislocated neck in a scrummaging accident, and had to be resuscitated on the pitch by the referee (and former paramedic) that day Tony Spreadbury.

My life obviously changed forever. One minute I was a young, fit sportsman and the next I was paralysed from the neck down. It was pretty tough to deal with. But it’s made me the person I am today and I think it happened for a reason. And that was to set up the Matt Hampson Foundation, which aims to inspire and support young people seriously injured through sport.

2. How did you adapt to no longer being able to participate in sport as you had previously?

It was quite difficult but I think I tried to channel my energy into something productive, which was to try and focus on something that I could do rather than what I can’t. So now I do my motivational speeches, I see beneficiaries and I try to use my profile to influence and help other people in similar situations to the one I found myself in twelve years ago.

Charity

3. Can you tell us about the Matt Hampson Foundation – how and why did you set it up?

I set the foundation up because when I was in hospital I felt there wasn’t enough support out there for people in the same situation as myself. I felt quite isolated. I think the Matt Hampson Foundation aims to get individuals and families together and show them that there is life after serious injury through sport. It also tries to motivate them to ultimately ‘get busy living’ (an ethos inspired by Matt’s favourite film, The Shawshank Redemption).

4. ‘Get busy living’ is the ethos of the Matt Hampson Foundation, which aims to inspire and support young people seriously injured through sport. How do you achieve this?

We try to show people there is a life beyond their injury and that you can live a great and fulfilled life even with a catastrophic injury. Everyone has X amount of time on this planet, so why not enjoy it.

So yeah, we try and use ‘Get busy living’ as the sort of ethos around the foundation.

Disabled People & Sport

5. What are your thoughts on involving disabled people in sport?

I think after the Paralympics in 2012, it changed the world of disabled sport forever. I think people started looking at disabled sports people as proper sports men and women rather than feeling sorry for them, and almost letting them participate as a sort of afterthought and a token gesture. I think the Paralympics in London really showed that and put them on a level playing field with able-bodied athletes.

Parallel London Ambassador

6. How and why did you become an ambassador for Parallel London?

It’s to put people on a level playing field, whatever their disability – whether you’re able-bodied, in a wheelchair, young or old – anyone can participate in Parallel London.

I think it’s so, so important to know that you can do things and be alongside disabled people, able-bodied people and all be on a level playing field.

7. What does Parallel London mean to you personally, and how does it promote disability and diversity within sport?

Parallel London to me means inclusivity. So basically, trying to get everybody involved whatever their background, ethnicity or disability – all can be involved with, and contribute to Parallel London. It just shows that everybody is equal, and for a day it makes people realise that.


You can find out more about Matt’s involvement with Parallel London and the Matt Hampson Foundation. ‘Engage: The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson’, by Paul Kimmage, is available to purchase online.

Many thanks to Matt Hampson

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Interview | Samantha Renke

Actress, TV Presenter & Disability Campaigner

Here I interview actress, presenter and disability campaigner Samantha Renke. She reveals all about growing up with a disability and her dreams of becoming an actress despite brittle bone disease. She also discusses her involvement with Parallel London 2017.

Here is the link to the interview, originally posted by Disability Horizons.


Parallel London

The 3rd September sees the return of Parallel London, a mass-participation race for people of all abilities. Feature writer Carrie Aimes speaks to disabled actress Sam Renke, ambassador for Parallel London, about why the event is so important and why you should get involved.

Despite her disability, 31 year-old Samantha Renke moved to London five years ago to pursue her long-held dream of becoming an actress. Now a familiar face to many, she has since starred in an award-winning film, music videos, webisodes as well as the popular Maltesers television advert. The former teacher is also a columnist, disability campaigner and charity worker.

As if all this is not enough to keep her busy, Samantha was recently appointed ambassador for Parallel London. Here, we learn more about the rising star and her involvement with Parallel London, the world’s first fully-inclusive, fully accessible mass-participation event.

Life & Disability

1. Would you please tell us a little about yourself, your disability and how it affects you?

I was born in Germany to a German mother and British father. We moved to the UK when I was a baby. I studied French, German, Sociology and European Studies at the University of Lancaster before completing my PGCE in Secondary Education at the University of Cumbria.

Following this, I worked as a high school teacher for a number of years. I was also a trustee for the Brittle Bone Society for 6 years, supporting people with my condition, Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bones).

I am a full time wheelchair user and my bones break very easily. I’ve had around 200 fractures starting in my mother’s womb! I get fatigue and have some breathing difficulties. I do have a PA to help me with day-to-day tasks, which is my saving grace and allows me to live my life to the fullest.

After moving to London in 2012, my debut role was playing Alice Gardiner, a mischievous disabled girl who absconds to London in the film Little Devil. I won best actress and the film won Best Film in the Diversity of Arts category at the LA Diversity Film Festival. From there, I got an agent at Visable People and have appeared in a number of projects since.

I still love my charity work and I am patron of Head2Head, a multi-sensory theatre group. I am also affiliated with some other well-known charities, such as SCOPE. I love writing and have a regular column in Posability magazine and write regular blogs for the Huffington Post.

Maltesers TV Advert

2. People may know you best from the popular Maltesers TV adverts, which aired during the Paralympics. Why did you want to be part of that, and what response did you receive?

I think it’s any actor’s dream to be part of a national commercial as it’s certainly great exposure. More than that, I knew the concept was revolutionary and I felt so excited about the positive impact the advert would have.

Apart from some online trolling, the response has been phenomenal. Every day, without fail, when I leave my flat in East London I am recognised. People want my autograph and selfies. The lovely thing is that my disability is not the reason people stare at me now.

Celebrity Status

3. You’re a celebrity who happens to have a disability. What does this mean to you, and what challenges have you faced?

I always loved drama at school and attended a number of after-school drama clubs. However, one of my teachers took me to one side and told me not to get my hopes up of being cast in an acting role. I suppose at that time, 15 years ago, she had a point – the representation of disability within the media was non-existent. Nevertheless, this was heart-breaking to hear and I dropped all of my classes.

But after being a teacher for a couple of years, I knew I wanted to pursue my passion again. I hope my story encourages more people who have disabilities to get involved in TV, film and presenting. I’d like to think that when I have my own family, my children will follow their dreams, no matter what anyone else says.

Parallel London Ambassador

4. You were recently made an Ambassador for Parallel London. How did you come to be involved with this event?

My amazing friend Daniel White and his daughter Emily, who run the awesome blog the Department of Ability, introduced me to the Parallel team and the rest is history. It is a total love affair!

5. Can you tell us more about what Parallel London is and what it means for disabled people?

Parallel London is a fully-inclusive and accessible fun run and free family festival held at the iconic Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Open to all ages and abilities, there are no cut-off times and no barriers to involvement.

Parallel’s inaugural event took place on 4 September 2016. We hosted over 3,000 participants, of which, 41% declared themselves as having a disability. 5,500 people attended our family festival showcasing all different types of inclusive and accessible attractions. This year it is being held on the 3rd September.

6. Why is it so important to you to be involved with such an event?

Being part of a team and having people around you who love and support you for you is so important. As a child I did not get involved in anything as much as I would have liked, and this left me feeling isolated a lot. Parallel is all-inclusive, no matter what your ability. I think this is just amazing.

7. Is there any insider information you, as ambassador, can exclusively reveal to Disability Horizons readers?

Expect some surprises! I’m going to be getting my burlesque on with the amazing Folly Mixtures and their all-inclusive Burlexercise master class. So get your feather bowers ready.

My good friend Stephen Dixon from Sky News will also be at the event presenting for Sky and hosting with yours truly. He has told me that, regardless of the weather, he will be wearing his short shorts!

8. How can we all get involved with Parallel London?

Parallel London is taking place at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on the 3rd September. There’s a 10km, 5km, 1km, 100m and the Super Sensory 1km walk, cycle, push or run – whatever you want to do. It’s for all ages and abilities and everybody can be running side-by-side. You can get sponsorship for any charity or cause that matters to you – so why not give it a go?!


For more information on Parallel London visit www.parallellondon.com. You can also find out all the latest information about the event by following Parallel London on Twitter.

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