Campaign seeks to Embolden disabled girls with Welsh role models

The abuser can often be the person relied on for care. Photograph: Alamy
.Photograph: Alamy

By John Pring Disability News Service 3rd August 2017

A new campaign aims to highlight the achievements of Deaf and disabled women in Wales, and provide role models for disabled girls.

Disability Wales (DW) – the national association of disabled people’s organisations in Wales – has been awarded funding for its Embolden campaign as part of the celebrations that will mark next year’s centenary of women in Britain obtaining the vote in March 1918.

The grant comes from funding charity Spirit of 2012 – set up by the Big Lottery Fund – and the women’s rights charity the Fawcett Society.

DW wants the Welsh public to nominate disabled women from Wales who have achieved in various categories – as community activists, in their career, in the arts, in sport, through their educational achievements, or in any other way.

It is also looking for women from recent or distant history who have made a contribution to disability rights or have been allies of disabled women.

Their stories and pictures will be used to create a campaign aimed at challenging myths and stereotypes about disability and highlighting them as role models.

Dr Natasha Hirst, temporary policy and programmes manager for Disability Wales, told Disability News Service (DNS): “The achievements and successes of disabled women are just not visible at the moment.

“We have young disabled girls looking out for role models but there are very few people for them to look to.

“We do have our Paralympic athletes, but not everybody can aspire to become elite athletes.

“There are other ways in which disabled women make important contributions – through their local communities, to academia, in their careers or setting up successful businesses.

“We want to show the diversity of disabled women in Wales.”

She said that, nearly 100 years on from securing the vote, disabled women still face dual discrimination.

“We face gender discrimination because we are women, but we also face disability discrimination.

“It does put far more barriers in the way for young girls who are disabled and who are looking to see what they can aspire to do.

“There are very few people for them to look to. We want to find those case studies and celebrate them and challenge the perceptions of non-disabled people about disability.

“We want to have conversations about what it means to be disabled and challenge those stereotypes and misconceptions that so many people hold.”

Three disabled Welsh women have already been appointed as ambassadors for the Embolden campaign.

Tina Evans has worked for BBC Wales as a researcher and for Disability Wales, where she learned about the social model of disability and how it “takes the self-blame away, and is very empowering”.

She is also a “self-confessed adrenaline junkie”, including surfing, water-skiing, rock-climbing and skiing.

DW says that “using her wheelchair as a tool for independence rather than a limitation, she constantly challenges expectations and norms about what a wheelchair-user can do with their life”.

Evans is now employed on the work experience programme run by Hywel Dda University Health Board, which covers Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire in south Wales.

She told DNS: “I want to be an ambassador just to show that being a disabled person doesn’t hold you back.

“So much work has been done out there, so many initiatives that enable us to do things.

“It enables me to do things that everybody else does, showing everyone that you do not have to let your impairment hold you back.

“There is a lot of work to be done around access and attitudes but [I don’t want to] paint everyone with the same brush – there are a lot of people out there who haven’t got [a] negative attitude.”

She added: “I like being a role model to other disabled people, just to show them that they are able to get on with things in life in general, and not to let their impairment hold them back.”

Another ambassador is Sian Preddy, a BSL-user who is studying to become a midwife at the University of South Wales and will become the only Deaf midwife in Wales when she qualifies.

DW said Preddy was “injecting her passion for deaf awareness into every academic and clinical setting she enters, supporting others to learn and develop by building a more equal playing field for many women to follow”.

The third ambassador is author, broadcaster and disability consultant Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds, whose autobiography, Four Fingers And Thirteen Toes, intersperses her own story with the history of thalidomide, the drug that caused her impairments.

DW said that Moriarty-Simmonds “strives to promote disability equality and the social model of disability through her consultancy work and speaking engagements”.

Nominations for Embolden should be submitted by 28 August, with a shortlist to be announced next month, and an awards event to be held in March 2018.

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said: “Embolden is such an exciting initiative: Deaf and disabled women are too often invisible and this is a wonderful opportunity to share their achievements and really challenge people’s perceptions and expectations.

“We look forward to receiving nominations from across Wales and all communities.”

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “It is vital that disabled women’s stories are told and that their voices are heard.

“That’s why Fawcett is delighted to be supporting Disability Wales’ Embolden project.

“Shattering the stereotypes that society holds about disabled women is vital to building a better society for us all.”

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