July is Disability Pride month – aim’s to shine a light on physical, learning, hidden disabilities and mental health conditions, by enabling open conversations about disability, encouraging people to share experiences, raising awareness and challenging barriers whilst celebrating the diversity, a pride with the community.
Throughout the month I will aim to share stories about people occupational therapists should know and admire. These people will have lived experiences of disabilities and/or long term health conditions, but they will also be examples of how people can live the life they want to and engage in the occupations that matter to them. I hope you will enjoy learning about some of these people who were or are notable in their field, and just so happened to also have a disability and or long term health condition.
31st July – Stephen William Hawking
No list of disable people to know and admire would be complete without the inclusion of Stephen Hawking (January 8, 1942 – March 14, 2018) a distinguished English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author. At the time of his passing, he served as the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge. From 1979 to 2009, he held the esteemed position of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, widely regarded as one of the most prestigious academic roles worldwide.
Hawking was born in Oxford to a family of medical professionals. In October 1959, he embarked on his university education at University College, Oxford, where he graduated with a first-class BA degree in Physics. He then pursued his graduate studies at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge, beginning in October 1962. In March 1966, he obtained his PhD degree in Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, specialising in general relativity and cosmology.
At the age of 21, Hawking was diagnosed with an early-onset, slowly progressing form of motor neurone disease, which gradually paralysed him over the course of several decades. Despite the loss of his speech, he communicated through a speech-generating device, initially using a handheld switch and later a single cheek muscle.
His scientific contributions included collaborative research with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularity theorems within the framework of general relativity, as well as the groundbreaking prediction that black holes emit radiation, known as Hawking radiation. Initially met with controversy, this discovery gained widespread acceptance as a significant advancement in theoretical physics following further research in the late 1970s. Hawking was the first to propose a theory of cosmology that reconciled the general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics. He staunchly supported the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
Hawking also achieved commercial success with his popular science writings, presenting his theories and cosmology to a wider audience. His book “A Brief History of Time” remained on the Sunday Times bestseller list for an unprecedented 237 weeks. He was honoured as a Fellow of the Royal Society, a lifelong member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. In 2002, he was ranked number 25 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. Hawking passed away in 2018 at the age of 76, after battling motor neurone disease for more than five decades.
30th July Amy Francis-Smith
A highly-acclaimed architect, designer, and access consultant. She currently serves as the project lead at Pinnegar Hayward Design and has fulfilled the role of Vice-President at the Birmingham Architectural Association. Amy is dedicated to advocating for legislative changes that promote improved accessibility for individuals with disabilities in the built environment.
As a recognised specialist in accessible environments by the Design Council, Amy provides expert advice on accessibility, policy, design, and top-level strategy. She brings a wealth of experience in design and construction, with a particular focus on residential schemes and large-scale healthcare projects. Additionally, Amy offers her expertise in access consultancy for buildings and new product development.
Amy is a passionate advocate for better access policies surrounding accessible housing and the Building Regulations. She enlightens students and professionals through engaging talks and lectures that emphasize social responsibility. Amy also actively contributes to the advisory board of Habinteg, an accessible housing association. Furthermore, she tirelessly lobbies the government and proudly serves as an ambassador for the Architect’s Benevolent Society.
Amy’s work extends beyond the architectural field, as she has collaborated with esteemed organisations such as the Financial Times, BBC, British Council, Coventry City of Culture, City A.M., Wallpaper*, and the Architects Journal. Her contributions have earned her repeated recognition on the Power 100 list. She has been shortlisted among thousands as a National Diversity Award Positive Disability Role Model.
Amy draws her personal experiences with severe chronic illnesses and disabilities, including Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Crohn’s, a hearing impairment, and Complex post-traumatic stress disorder CPSTD.
29th July Eliza Suggs
Elizabeth Gertrude Suggs was an American author of the 19th century, who had osteogenesis imperfecta. She is best known for her work as a temperance lecturer. The biographical information available about Eliza Suggs can be found in her book, Shadow and Sunshine, which was published in 1906.
Suggs was born in Bureau County, Illinois, she was the youngest of four daughters to James and Malinda (Filbrick) Suggs. Both of her parents were born into slavery, When Eliza was only four weeks old, her parents noticed that she cried continuously and discovered that she had a broken limb. After that injury healed, she experienced more fractures, even with minimal movement. Her condition often meant dying in childhood, but Eliza defied the odds and lived into her early thirties.
Eliza faced significant mobility challenges and was unable to sit up without assistance. Initially, doctors struggled to identify the cause of Eliza’s condition. However, as she grew older and medical advancements occurred, she received a diagnosis of what was then known as Rickets, but is now referred to as Osteogenesis Imperfecta.
She actively participated in the Temperance movement as a committed member of the Free Methodist denomination. Prior to her father’s passing in 1889, Eliza played a supporting role alongside him in his efforts for Temperance. After he past, she embarked on her own journey. Eliza, together with her sister Kate, would attend diverse events such as Temperance conferences, camp meetings, and religious services, where she would share her personal experiences, trials, and her unwavering faith in Jesus Christ and its sustaining effect on her life.
28th July Rosie Jones
A comedian, author, podcaster, actress and activist with cerebral palsy, who in her own words is a triple threat. Rosie has superb comic timing with the ability to make you belly laugh and then make a serious point about every day ablism that really makes you stop and think. I first wrote about her in a blog after seeing her live at the fringe in 2019 you can read it here https://ot-rach.com/2019/08/11/my-take-on-engaging-in-the-occupation-of-laughing-my-head-off-at-the-edinburgh-fringe-festival/
Most recently Rosie has used her platform to challenge ablism head on in a channel 4 documentary, this documentary was not welcomed by all in the disability community causing controversy. This is something the AbleOTUK team will be exploring in their next article in OT magazine.
Personally in my opinion Rosie can do no wrong, she uses her talents and platform to continue to challenge every day ablism and will always be an example to follow.
27th July Octavia Spencer:
Oscar-winning actress, has captivated audiences worldwide with her outstanding performances, particularly in the movie “Hidden Figures,” where she brought to light the untold stories of the remarkable women behind NASA’s success.
Spencer is open about her dyslexia, what it was like to faced challenges as a young girl having difficulty in reading aloud, initially causing her to feel overwhelmed and paralysed. Acknowledging that it continues to affect her, as an adult and author of two books. “I was a dyslexic child and am a dyslexic adult; that doesn’t really mean that you’re not intelligent — it just means that your brain functions differently,” Spencer said. “I was actually tested for the gifted program in my school because I was more auditory inclined than visually.”
26th July Mary Temple Grandin
An academic and animal behaviourist from the United States. She is highly regarded for her advocacy of humane treatment for livestock intended for slaughter, as well as her comprehensive research in animal behaviour, with over 60 scientific papers published. Grandin also serves as a consultant to the livestock industry, offering valuable advice on animal behaviour. In addition to her contributions in the field of animal sciences, Grandin is a spokesperson for autism.
She holds a faculty position in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University, specialising in Animal Sciences. Grandin’s remarkable achievements have been recognised on a global scale, as she was included in the “Heroes” category of the Time 100 list in 2010.
Her life story has been portrayed in the award-winning biographical film Temple Grandin. Known for her unwavering support for autism rights and the neurodiversity movement, Grandin continues to be an influential figure in her field.
25th July Isabella Spingmuhl Tejada,
A fashion designer who is notably recognised as the first fashion designer with Down Syndrome. Operating under her label, Down to Xjabelle, she crafts sustainable designs by employing vibrant Guatemalan fabrics.
Through her work, she endeavours to challenge prevalent stereotypes and social discrimination that she has encountered due to her condition. In 2016, her exceptional creations graced the International Fashion Showcase segment of London Fashion Week, showcasing her talent on a global platform. Furthermore, she was acknowledged as one of the BBC 100 Women, solidifying her mark in the fashion industry.
As for her background, Springmuhl is the youngest among her siblings. Her maternal grandmother, herself a gifted designer, served as an inspiration for Isabella early on, as she exhibited her own talent in drawing and dressmaking for her dolls as a young girl. Despite facing initial rejection due to her Down syndrome, she persisted in her pursuit of a fashion education. Ultimately, her determination led her to gain admission to a fashion school where she could further refine her skills.
24th July – Aaron Rose Philip,
Born 2001, and is an Antiguan-American model. Notably, in 2018, Aaron made history by becoming the first black, transgender, and physically disabled model to be represented by a major modelling agency. Since then, Aaron has participated in numerous significant high fashion photo shoots and campaigns.
At age of 14 , she published her memoir titled “This Kid Can Fly: It’s About Ability (Not Disability),” which chronicles her personal experiences growing up with cerebral palsy. Collaborating with Tanya Bolden, Aaron co-wrote the memoir, and it was published by HarperCollins.
She has graced the cover of Paper magazine’s “Pride” issue, and in a notable interview, she engaged with supermodel Naomi Campbell. Additionally, Aaron appeared on the cover of S moda for El Pais’ September issue and INDIE’s Spring/Summer 21 cover. Her portfolio includes editorials shot for distinguished publications like American Vogue, British Vogue, and Vogue Italia. Aaron has also been featured in campaigns for renowned brands such as Dove, Sephora, Outdoor Voices, and Nike. Notably, she starred in the music video for Miley Cyrus’ song “Mother’s Daughter,”
Aaron exclusively debuted in Moschino’s spring/summer 2022 runway show at New York Fashion Week, becoming the first wheelchair-user model to walk in a runway show for a major luxury fashion brand.
23rd July Naoki Higashida,
Born in Kimitsu, Japan in the year 1992. Following a diagnosis of autism at five, Naoki subsequently acquired the ability to communicate through the utilisation of a self-made alphabet grid.
This newfound means of communication afforded him the opportunity to engross himself in the creation of poetry and short stories. In his thirteenth year of existence, Naoki penned the notable work titled “The Reason I Jump”, which was subsequently published in Japan during the year 2007.
The English translation of this literary piece was made available to the public in the year 2013, and it has since been translated into over thirty languages. In addition to this seminal work, Higashida has authored numerous books in Japan, spanning various genres such as children’s literature, picture books, poetry, and essays.
He was also prominently featured as the focal point of a distinguished Japanese television documentary produced in the year 2014. Demonstrating steadfast dedication to his cause, Higashida maintains a rigorous schedule of public speaking engagements nationwide, wherein he shares his invaluable personal insights into the realm of autism. 24th July Stephen Hawking,
22nd July Wanda Diaz Merced,
A blind astronomer, is known for sonifying large data sets. She works at the European Gravitational Observatory Cascina and advocates for equality in astronomy. She was recognised by the BBC as one of the 7 most trailblazing women in science. Díaz-Merced pursues a career in science, losing her sight in her twenties she found new ways to study stellar radiation using sound. She studied physics at the University of Puerto Rico and earned a doctorate in computer science from the University of Glasgow. She has collaborated with various institutions and is a member of the International Astronomical Union. Díaz-Merced won Google’s European Scholarship for Students with Disabilities in 2011 and was awarded an Estrella Luike trophy in 2017.
21st July Stella Young,
Stella Jane Young (24 February 1982 – 6 December 2014) was an Australian comedian, journalist, and disability rights activist. Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, she audited accessibility in her hometown at the age of 14.
Young held a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Public Relations and a Graduate Diploma in Education. She worked as the editor for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ramp Up magazine and hosted the disability culture program No Limits. Young challenged society’s habit of using disabled people as “inspiration porn” and was recognized for her work as a journalist, comedian, feminist, and disability activist.
A bronze statue of Young in her wheelchair was unveiled in her hometown of Stawell in 2023.
20th July Ade Adepitan,
Adedoyin Olayiwola Adepitan, known as Ade Adepitan MBE, is a Nigerian-born British TV presenter and wheelchair basketball player. He has a career spanning over 20 years, hosting travel documentaries and sports programs for BBC. A prominent disability advocate and one of the first physically disabled television presenters in the UK. He contracted polio as an infant, resulting in using a wheelchair.
Adepitan was part of the British wheelchair basketball team at the 2004 Summer Paralympics, winning a bronze medal. He is involved in various charities promoting access to sports for disabled individuals. He has also acted in shows like Casualty and Desperados. In recent years, he has hosted travel documentaries, including Africa with Ade Adepitan and Climate Change: Ade on the Frontline.
In 2021, he was selected to present open-access meetings for a scientific group reporting on global environmental changes.
19th July Alastair Campbell
is a British writer, communicator, Podcast host, and strategist. He gained recognition for his role as Tony Blair’s spokesman and press secretary. Born in Yorkshire, he studied at Cambridge University and embarked on a career in journalism.
Campbell played a significant role in creating New Labour and guiding the party to power. He served as the Prime Minister’s Chief Press Secretary before becoming the Director of Communications and Strategy.
He has authored of many books about politics. He is open about is mental health conditions, making a documentary in 2019 for the BBC Alastair Campbell: Depression and Me.
18th July Dr Victor Pineda,
Pineda, an American urban planner and scholar, has made noteworthy contributions in the field of inclusive and accessible smart cities. Diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA-Type II). Pineda’s expertise have allowed him to establish himself as a globally recognised human rights expert. He has been appointed twice by the president for his exceptional abilities and currently leads the Inclusive Cities Lab at the prestigious Institute for Urban and Regional Development, UC Berkeley.
Early in his professional journey, Pineda attained the distinction of becoming the youngest government delegate involved in the creation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This monumental achievement propelled him to launch the World Enabled Global Initiative, a disability affiliate program that leverages the influence of prominent disabled persons’ organisations and intergovernmental agencies to bring about meaningful change. Additionally, he established the Pineda Foundation, a voluntary non-profit organisation dedicated to advocating for the rights and dignities of young individuals with disabilities.
17th July Frida Kahlo,
Frida Kahlo is now a worldwide recognised figure with her image becoming an ironic one; But how much do you know about the woman behind the image. A Mexican self-portrait painter who love of art was encourage in her childhood as a way to focus her time whilst recovering from including polio and later spinal and pelvis damage from a car accident. She discovered her talent and passion for painting.
One of Kahlo’s notable artworks that portrays her disabilities is The Broken Column (1944). This painting portrays her standing on a beach, with the beach serving as the background while her body takes the foreground. Her body is depicted as open in the middle, revealing a rod and restrictive medical corsets that were an integral part of her life. The presence of embedded nails throughout her body highlights her pain and struggles.
In another artwork titled The Tree of Hope, Keep Firm, Kahlo depicted two versions of herself. The sun is portrayed on the left side of the background, while the moon graces the right side. The ground on both sides is fractured with deep crevices spanning across the canvas. Kahlo painted an open wound down her back and hip on the back of her body. On the left side, she is adorned in a red gown, clutching her restrictive medical corsets. Additionally, she holds a sign bearing the words, “Tree of hope stands firm.”
Throughout her life, Kahlo faced her disabilities head-on, transforming them into works of art. She created numerous paintings that portrayed her personal challenges. Her unfaltering determination and refusal to be defined by her disabilities served as a powerful testament to her resilience, influencing countless individuals.
16th July John Nash,
John Forbes Nash Jr, an American mathematician, was given the prestigious 1994 Nobel Prize for Economics in recognition of his groundbreaking advancements in the field of game theory.
Beginning his pioneering work in the 1950s, Nash revolutionised the study of mathematics by delving into the intricacies of rivalries between competitors with varying interests. His extensive research on game theory culminated in the formulation of the Nash equilibrium, an optimal outcome attainable by all participants in a finite game. Despite its inherent limitations, the Nash equilibrium has found wide application among business strategists.
Nash embarked on his academic journey at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, initially pursuing a course in chemical engineering before ultimately shifting his focus to chemistry and mathematics.
He successfully obtained both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics in 1948, remarkable achievements in their own right, before proceeding to complete his doctorate at Princeton University at the young age of 22. Subsequently, he was appointed to the faculty at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and devoted his research efforts to the field of partial differential equations. Nash’s ongoing battles with mental illness led to his resignation from MIT in the late 1950s.
Nash was later treated in Hospital for exhibiting symptoms of paranoia, persecutory delusions, hallucinations, and a gradual withdrawal from social interaction. Following thorough evaluation, medical professionals diagnosed him with schizophrenia. In 1961, Mr. Nash was then admitted to the New Jersey State Hospital located in Trenton. Throughout the subsequent nine years, he underwent periodic stays at psychiatric hospitals.
John Nash life story was depicted in the Hollywood film a beautiful mind, which I remember going to see when I was an assistant occupational therapist in a mental health hospital.
However the Film falsely claimed that Nash’s recovery was down to medication and the care he received in hospital. In fact he stopped using medication in the 1970’s as this article in the Guardian at the time of his death explains, its an example of the medical model health care wanting to control the narrative as to how a person might live the life they want to,
15th July Helen Keller,
Helen Keller, was an American author and educator who most likely due to scarlet fever as a baby, lost both her vision and hearing. She attended a School from the age of six, where she began to learn how to associate objects with words through finger signals on her palm, read sentences by feeling raised words on cardboard, and construct her own sentences by arranging words on a frame. Keller also learned to lip-read by placing her fingers on the lips and throat of the speaker while simultaneously having the words spelled out for her.
Keller, began writing about blindness, a subject that was considered taboo in women’s magazines at the time due to its association with venereal disease. Her articles were published in the Ladies’ Home Journal, and other prominent magazines such as The Century, McClure’s, and The Atlantic Monthly.
Throughout her life, Keller documented her experiences in several books, including “The Story of My Life” (1903), “Optimism” (1903), “The World I Live In” (1908), “Light in My Darkness and My Religion” (1927), “Helen Keller’s Journal” (1938), and “The Open Door” (1957). In 1913, she began giving lectures with the assistance of an interpreter, primarily on behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind. She also played a significant role in the formation of commissions for the blind in 30 states by 1937. Keller cofounded the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920 alongside civil rights activist Roger Nash Baldwin and others.
14th July – Virginia Woolf
A British novelist known for works such as To the Lighthouse and Orlando, From the age of 13, Woolf had symptoms that today would be diagnosed as bipolar disorder she experienced manic, depression and psychosis episode, ending in her taking her own at age 59.
Her diaries and letters showcase her sharp wit and also provide insight into the richness of her relationships and her ability to appreciate the simple pleasures of everyday life. Woolf’s writing outlines her complex relationship with her long term mental health condition. Demonstrating that her engagement in writing was therapeutic for Woolf. She wrestled with the notion of whether her illness was an insurmountable obstacle or indeed a necessary condition for her art.
One poignant entry in Woolf’s diary reads, “The only way I keep afloat is by working.” For her, writing was an absolute necessity, but it was also a way to confront her innermost thoughts and emotions. At times, Woolf believed that only by sinking into the depths of her depression and psychosis could she arrive at the truth. It’s a chilling metaphor that appropriately captures the way Woolf would end her life – by succumbing herself in water.
13th July Selina Mills
Selina Mills is a writer, journalist, and activist who is visually impaired. She is dedicated to advocating for the experiences of blind individuals throughout history and is committed to reshaping our understanding of blindness in a historical context.
Selina has held senior positions as a reporter and broadcast journalist at renowned organizations such as Reuters, The Daily Telegraph, and the BBC. During her tenure at the BBC, Selina actively contributed to the groundbreaking series Disability: A New History (2013), which has received global recognition and was rebroadcasted worldwide. Currently, she is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s In Touch program, where she enlightens listeners on various topics ranging from the history of blindness to audio description.
Today see the publication Selina’s book, Life Unseen: A story of blindness. A thought-provoking work that examines the shifting perceptions of blindness throughout the centuries and thoroughly explores the personal impact of these notions on Selina’s view of her own blindness. Get the book here https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/life-unseen-9781848856905/
12th July – Claude Monet
Claude Monet, a distinguished French painter acclaimed for spearheading the artistic movement known as Impressionism. This movement ardently focuses on capturing the transitory interplay of light and color in one’s surroundings. As Monet entered his sixties, he commenced experiencing alterations in his visual perception, particularly pertaining to his discernment of colour. He persisted in his artistic pursuits despite these challenges. When he reached the age of 72, he received a diagnosis of nuclear cataracts affecting both of his eyes. Among Monet’s most celebrated masterpieces are notable works such as “Poppies” and “Woman With a Parasol.
11th July – Brad Lomax
Brad Lomax, was a member of the Black Panther Party, who also made significant contributions to the Americans Disability Rights movement in the 1970s. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Lomax’s experiences navigating health care systems in Oakland fuelled his determination to advocate for people with disabilities.
He played a role in the historic protest became known as the “504 Sit-in”. This protest progress disability rights in America and helped pave the way for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to become law in 1990, which started the idea for celebrating disability and later became known as disability pride month.
He was integral in connecting the disabled activists with the Panthers, who provided them with hot meals and supplies needed to withstand the long Sit-in. Disabled leaders of the 504 Sit-in widely acknowledge and credit much of the occupation’s success to the Black Panthers.
Not only was Lomax involved in ideas that now form disability history month he also understood that allyship is key to activist movements.
10th July – Dr. Maya Angelou
Known for her captivating poetry and literary works. Many are unaware that she also experienced selective mutism, a condition that emerged from a trauma in her childhood. Meaning she did not speak for five years, during this time she developed a deep love for language and the power of listening during this silent period.
Dr. Angelou blossomed into one of the most influential black women in history. Her talents spanned various art forms, including dancing, acting, singing, and writing.
Born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, adopting the name Maya Angelou in 1952 to align with her career in calypso singing.
Throughout her career, Dr. Angelou explored the complexities of the human condition through her works. Students often described her classes as profound lessons in what it means to be human. She taught a range of humanities courses, including “World Poetry in Dramatic Performance,” “Race, Politics and Literature,” “African Culture and Impact on U.S.,” “Race in the Southern Experience,” and “Shakespeare and the Human Condition.”
One of Dr. Angelou’s guiding principles was the recognition of our shared humanity. She often quoted the Latin saying, “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me,” borrowed from the African playwright Terentius Afer. This philosophy stemmed from Terentius’ experience as a Roman slave in the 2nd century BC, who later emerged as an influential writer.
By embracing this belief, Dr. Angelou encouraged a deeper understanding and empathy among her students and audiences alike. This has always struck me in something the profession needs to understand more, exploring the connection with occupation the impact trauma and being human.
9th July- Emmanuel Yeboah
Emmanual, a Paralympic athlete and activist from Ghana in West Africa, born in 1977 without a right shin bone. Within Africa culture it is often believed that people born with disabilities are cursed and consequently excluded from society. Emmanual’s own father abandoned him because of this belief. However, his mother stood by him and encouraged him to pursue his dreams. Emmanual attended school, but at the age of 13, he left to support his family by shining shoes.
After the death of his mother, Emmanual was motivated to bring attention to the challenges faced by disabled people. In 2001, he embarked on a 400-mile bike ride across Ghana to demonstrate that disability does not mean inability.
Along his journey, he spoke to disabled children and delivered speeches to church leaders and dignitaries.
As a result of his successful bike ride, the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) provided Emmanual with a grant and invited him to participate in the Triathlon Challenge in California. He completed the 56-mile event in an impressive seven hours.
During his time in the United States, Emmanual was given access to a prosthetic leg. Following surgery and a six-week recovery period, he participated in the another Triathlon Challenge and reduced his completion time by three hours.
He establish the Emmanuel Education Foundation, back in Ghana, which supports students with disabilities.
An example of having faith and determination and relisance pays off when people are give the opportunities, and tools to do occupations they enjoy.
8th July– Robin Cavendish
Robin Francis Cavendish, at the age of 28, contracted polio, which resulted in paralysis from the neck down, necessitating him to rely entirely on a machine that assisted with his breathing. This condition was commonly referred to as “responauts”. During the late 1950s, individuals with similar conditions were typically expected to spend the remainder of their lives in a hospital setting. Despite the advice of professionals, after a year, Cavendish made the decision to leave the hospital and surpassed the life expectancy predicted by experts.
During the 1960s, Cavendish sought out and documented the circumstances of all the “responauts” in Britain, as there had not yet been any record of the number of people who used “iron lungs” for assistance.
With the assistance of his friend Teddy Hall, an esteemed professor at Oxford, Cavendish developed a wheelchair that incorporated a built-in respirator, enabling him to leave his family’s residence. This wheelchair, created in 1962, served as a model for future designs, as Cavendish was determined to make mobility accessible to others.
Cavendish secured funding for the first twelve chairs from the Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust, and eventually convinced the Department of Health at that time to provide funding for a series of chairs, manufactured by Teddy Hall’s company, Littlemore Scientific Engineering.
Cavendish actively participated in testing and promoting various equipment that significantly improved the lives of numerous individuals living with disabilities. This includes the Possum, which was developed by scientists in conjunction with Cavendish at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. The Possum was designed to electronically control the immediate surrounding environment for individuals with severe disabilities.
By solely using his head, Cavendish was able to activate the Possum’s coordinating box, allowing him to carry out occupations like making phone calls, adjusting the television, or regulating the central heating.
Many of the people I have shared so far, show such determination to live the life they want to and to do the occupations, they want, need and or required to do, often when the world tells them they can’t or should not. Something to think about.
7th July – Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens (1812-1870), a renowned Victorian writer, gained immense popularity during this period for his works such as Oliver Twist (1838) and A Christmas Carol (1843). In addition to his literary achievements, Dickens made noteworthy contributions to English society in various aspects, including crime, education, medicine, and social class.
But did you know that, Dickens exhibited behaviours that align with what we now identify as obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is believed that he experienced epilepsy as a child and throughout his life, which is reflected in some of the characters that were described has having health conditions or disabilities in his books.
As Dickens entered his thirties, he began to experience episodes of depression that impacted on his creative flow. The depression worsened with age, ultimately resulting in his separation from his wife. His depression eventually took a toll on his creativity, causing a significant decline in his previously prolific output.
Like many Victorians at the time Dickens used opium as a painkiller it is believed this may have contributed to a stroke, in 1869. On June 8, 1870, during a dinner, Dickens suddenly collapsed, later diagnosed with apoplexy. He passed away the following day. Dickens left his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished.
For me this is an example of how although health conditions can have an impact on a persons length and quality of life they can also be the reason people create great things like his books that are still loved to this day.
6th July – Rick Allen
Born in Dronfield, Derbyshire 1963, Rick joined Def Leppard when he was just 15 years old, Affectionately known to fans as Thunder God, Allen has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the greatest drummers of all time.
He has spent the majority of his career performing with remarkable musical skill and passion, all with one handed following a severe car accident in Sheffield, resulting in the loss of his left arm.
The band supported Allen in his journey of relearning his craft. Rick taught himself how to play the drums once again. The band, returned to the stage two years later and continued their musical journey with renewed determination and resilience. Allen’s contributions have played an instrumental role in the band’s commercial success, with hit releases such as “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Hysteria,” and “Love Bites.”
Showing that your can engage in any occupation, if you have the will to do so.
5th of July – Professor Mike Oliver On the 75th Birthday of the NHS we still have a lot to learn about embedding the social model within its practice.
Professor Oliver is widely recognised as the individual who coined and popularised the concept of the ‘social model’ of disability.
The social model of disability posits that the obstacles people with disabilities face are primarily a result of societal structures and attitudes, rather than their impairments or medical conditions. In his extensive body of work, Professor Oliver eloquently explained that it is society itself that creates disability, and by removing barriers and fostering inclusivity, we can significantly reduce and potentially eliminate disability altogether. This paradigm shift transformed disability from solely a medical issue to a human rights concern.
Many influential figures in the fields of legislation, policy-making, and social progress credit Professor Oliver and the social model as their ‘lightbulb moment.’ While the principles of the social model were initially laid out in a pamphlet by the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Discrimination in 1976, it was Professor Oliver who developed and popularised the term through his 1983 book, “Social Work With Disabled People.” This book played a pivotal role in the burgeoning disability rights movement, offering activists a framework to combat discrimination and challenge the prevailing notion that accessibility solely revolves around individuals with disabilities.
In an interview, Professor Oliver expressed his desire to present a more optimistic perspective that went beyond viewing disability as exclusively tragic and disabled individuals as unemployable. His goal was to highlight the potential achievements of disabled people if society removed the barriers they faced.
Born in Chatham, Kent in 1945, Professor Oliver himself became disabled in 1962 due to a spinal injury. Following a year of rehabilitation at Stoke Mandeville hospital, he found employment as a teacher at Borstal Young Offenders Institution. He pursued higher education when legislation changed to require a degree for continued teaching, initially enrolling in sociology at the University of Reading. However, due to inadequate support, he had to leave within weeks. Undeterred, he eventually completed a master’s degree and a doctorate at the University of Kent.
Throughout his career, Professor Oliver effectively bridged the realms of activism and academia. He held the position of Professor Emeritus of Disability Studies at the University of Greenwich and continued to be an active speaker, writer, and publisher, producing influential works such as “Understanding Disability,” “The Politics of Disablement,” and “The New Politics of Disablement.”
Professor Oliver who passed away in 2019 will be remembered as the pioneer of the social model, the individual who established disability studies as an academic discipline, and the man who sparked a global movement, profoundly impacting the lives of countless disabled individuals worldwide.
4th July – Dorothy Hodgkin
Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin was a highly esteemed British chemist who made significant contributions in the field of X-ray crystallography. Her groundbreaking work in determining the structure of biomolecules paved the way for advancements in structural biology.
One of Hodgkin’s notable achievements was confirming the structure of penicillin, a discovery that had been previously hypothesised by Edward Abraham and Ernst Boris Chain. Additionally, she played a crucial role in mapping the structure of vitamin B12, an accomplishment that earned her the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964, making her the third woman to receive this prestigious honour. After 35 years of dedicated research, Hodgkin also elucidated the structure of insulin in 1969.
In 1934, Dorothy began to experience hand pain that caused swelling and deformity. Following an infection after giving birth to her first child, a doctor diagnosed her with chronic rheumatoid arthritis. In an effort to manage a severe rheumatoid arthritis attack resulting from the infection, Dorothy sought treatment at a clinic in Buxton, which included thermal baths and gold treatments.
After completing the treatment, she returned to the laboratory but faced challenges using the main switch on the x-ray equipment due to the condition of her hands. To address this, she ingeniously adapted this occupation by created a lever of her own to operate the switch. Over time, her condition worsened, resulting in debilitating deformities and chronic pain in her hands and feet. In her final years, Dorothy relied on a wheelchair for mobility but maintained active involvement in her scientific career.
3rd of July – David Blunkett
A retired labour politician and government cabinet member. He was born blind in 1947, living most of his life in Sheffield he was a local councillor for 18 years before entering parliament in 1987 as Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough. Within 15 months he had been appointed Shadow Local Government Minister before becoming Shadow Health Secretary and then Shadow Education Secretary.
With Labour’s election victory in 1997 he became Education and Employment Secretary. In 2001 David became Home Secretary where he dealt with the changes in society that followed the September 11 attacks. David Cameron, recalled his first impression of David: ‘As a new back bencher, I will never forget coming to this place in 2001 and, in light of the appalling terrorist attacks that had taken place across the world, seeing the strong leadership he gave on the importance of keeping our country safe. He is a remarkable politician, a remarkable man.’
After the 2005 general election he became Work and Pensions Secretary, retiring for public life in 2015. David now is an associate governor of The Royal National College for the Blind providing advice and great support, enabling them to lobbied the government over reforms to education for young people with special educational needs and the need for specialist programmes to help people with a visual impairment in to employment.
2nd July – Henri Matisse
was an artist known primarily for his accomplishments in painting, although he also excelled as a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor. Matisse played a pivotal role in defining the groundbreaking developments in the visual arts during the early years of the twentieth century. His contributions to the fields of painting and sculpture were particularly notable.
In the later years of his career, Matisse encountered ill health that, meant a reduction in his physical strength spending lots of time in bed and needed the use of a wheelchair, he adapted his artistic approach and continued to create a series of works known as gouaches découpées. This technique involved cutting or tearing painted paper into various shapes, which were then arranged and affixed to a surface under the guidance of Matisse himself. Notably, some of these works, such as “The Snail,” boasted considerable dimensions.
The exploration of this technique, which Matisse also delved into in his picture book “Jazz” (published in 1947) and other artistic endeavours, presented him with new possibilities. He described this technique as allowing him to “draw in the colour,” simplifying the process for him. Rather than outlining the shape and then filling it with colour, he directly incorporated the colour into the creation, with one aspect influencing the other.
Overall, Henri Matisse’s significant contributions to the arts and his innovative approach, particularly through the use of gouaches découpées, have solidified his legacy as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, but his ability to adapt to physical changes in his body and still engage in the meaningful occupation of creating art is lesser known.