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The Power of Role Models

20 May 2017
Wednesday saw the celebration of the Power 100 list 2017 (opens in a new tab or window), a list of the most influential people in the UK with a disability or impairment.
It was a celebration of diversity and difference.

 Now in its third year, the list plays a vital role in providing encouragement and inspiration to the young and talented leaders of tomorrow, allowing them to see that aspiration and ambition can be fulfilled regardless of disability or impairment.

Among the high profile guests were Martin Sibley (opens in a new window or tab), (no. 3 on the list), who runs Disability Horizons (opens in a new window or tab) , an author and co-founder of Accomable. Billed as the “Airbnb for people with disabilities” With a degree in economics and a masters in Marketing, Martyn has a mission to inspire, inform and change the world around disability issues.

Other guests included inspirational leaders such as Caroline Waters OBE (opens in a new window or tab), Vice Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE (opens in a new window or tab) , a former British swimmer and life peer in the House of Lords and Hannah Ensor, founder of Stickman Communications (opens in a new window or tab) whose quirky but accurate and humorous cartoons have become an internet sensation. Her “stickmen” are now being used by an increasing number of medical professionals as an aide to opening lines of communication, promoting understanding and acceptance.
Although the no. 1 Dame Sarah Storey (opens in a new window or tab), the most successful female British Parlaympian of all time,  was unable to attend in person she took a break from her training to send  a video message expressing her gratitude and delight at being voted no.1.

Francesa Martinez (opens in a new window or tab), comedian, actress and disability campaigner who was on this year’s list, delighted the audience with her warm and honest account of her battles against society, describing with beautiful candour the sense of liberation when she realised that it was OK to be different because everyone is different.  “Without diversity there would be no evolution. There would be no humans. The difference is normal and natural”.

Most of the people on the list would not have had many visible role models with a disability or impairment growing up. They wouldn’t have seen anyone “like them” in public roles. Francesca was one of the first mainstream actors on the BBC with a disability. Most of those on the list have forged their own very successful paths, often battling against a society still afraid of “being different”.

Future role models
We spoke to two of our trainees at Palmer Gardens (opens in a new window or tab), our social enterprise which provides training and employment to disabled to see what they thought of the Disability Power 100 list, their role models, and what they would like to do when they grow up.

Jess McConnell, 21 told us that she thought the list was important because it highlights our differences in a positive way and there is not anything you can’t do, if you’re determined. On her role model she said: “There is a boy I go to school with, he has special needs and no matter what happens he is always smiling”. Jess’ ultimate career ambition is to help young disabled children. 

We asked Luke Saxby, 18, why the list was important to him, he said: “It tells people that it doesn’t matter what disability you have because if you put your mind to it you can achieve whatever you like.” His role model is Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory and when he grows up he doesn’t mind what he does as long as it’s paid work.
We are encouraged by the positive impact the publication has had on society since its inception three years ago and the positive influence it is having on the younger generation, including Jess and Luke.
But we can’t be complacent, there is still a long way to go. We will continue to champion and celebrate diversity and difference, to help build a truly inclusive and accessible world for everyone, everywhere.  Please join us.
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