Look at us: we're beautiful too, say disabled models

THEY are the faces chosen to challenge the stigma of disability in Britain: 16 men and women who today will enter the final stages of a unique modelling competition which aims to raise the profile of disabled people and show their power as a consumer group.

Aged between 16 and 42, and with disabilities ranging from kidney disease to multiple sclerosis, deafness and spina bifida, the finalists were chosen for their looks and their independent attitudes.

The competition, at London's Riverside Studios, is a joint initiative between the VisABLE modelling agency and the Leonard Cheshire foundation for disabled people, and is part of a campaign to improve the representation of people with disabilities in television and advertising.

It's a far cry from the pathos and kitsch of the Miss World event, which returns to British television next month after a 10-year gap. But as one VisABLE finalist, 23-year-old Ben Ashwell, put it: "I thought this was a good way of showing that disabled people can be independent and look good.

"A lot of people hear the word `disabled' and lump us all together. That sort of instant labelling doesn't really change until they get to know or work with someone who has a disability. But even photographs and television portrayals can help give a sense of the individuals behind the label."

With disabled people making up 14 per cent of the UK population and representing pounds 40bn of spending power, the VisABLE campaigners are also concerned at the narrow range of images portraying such a diverse group.

While the demand for disabled models has increased following the success of Heather Mills, who lost a leg in a road accident, and Amy Mullins, who modelled for Alexander McQueen, there is still a problem of under- representation.

"In 1999, it should be unremarkable that somebody appearing in an advert also happens to be in a wheelchair," said Louise Dyson, who set up the VisABLE agency six years ago to specialise in disabled models. "Yet even when this happens, which is rare, it is still common to use models who are not actually disabled."

Miss Dyson now has clients including Ford, P&O, Thistle Hotels, the AA and the BBC on her books, while Marks & Spencer, One2One, B&Q and BT are backing the campaign. In addition, she is currently working on a project with a major airline.

A survey of consumer attitudes conducted for the campaign showed that where advertisers demonstrate a positive stance on disability, they sell more products, while 80 per cent of those polled said that they would welcome disabled people in ads.

An exception to generally slow uptake is the Co-op Bank, which says using disabled people in its advertising "is a business decision in line with our ethical stance".

For the competition finalists, that is an important statement. They do not want sympathy, but neither do they want to be ignored. Having carved out active and interesting lives for themselves, they now want greater recognition of their existence by the media and advertising industries.

Ben Ashwell, who has spina bifida and is paralysed from the waist down, is about to start a new job with a stockbroking company and says he has always been upfront about his disability.

"The last thing I want to do is to work for someone who doesn't like me because I am disabled," said the England swimmer and wheelchair basketball player.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Engineers / Senior Electronics Engineers

£25000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in Henley-on-Thames, this...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project