Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham (28)
Tagline: “Just when you thought sitting was safe.”
“Your disability is in your head. If you change the way you think about your disability, anything is possible. I never cared what people said or thought about me, because I had positive thinking and, most importantly, I was having fun”
Aaron ‘Wheelz’ Fotheringham is an extreme sports athlete who uses his customised WCMX wheelchair to perform tricks adapted from skateboarding and BMX. Aaron was born with Spina Bifida, and started using a wheelchair as a teenager. Determined to push his body to the limits, he began practicing tricks in a skate park, pioneering a new sport he calls “extreme wheelchair riding”. In 2006, he made history by successfully landing a backflip while in his wheelchair. In 2011, he landed his first wheelchair front flip. He’s currently working on perfecting his double front flip. No jokes.
Torita Blake (nee Isaac, 24)
“I’ve always wanted to inspire and show my heritage off. I’d like to be a mentor to indigenous kids and also kids with disability in sports. I want to represent Australia, but also my community and my culture. If I can show young indigenous kids you can do something, that nothing can stop you, then that’s extra special for me.”
Torita Blake is a 19-year-old Indigenous Australian athlete who started competing in school sports when she was 15. At the age of 17, Torita was selected to represent Australia at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in the 100 metre, 200 metre and 4 x 100m events. She holds numerous Australian athletics records, and in 2015 she set a new World Record in the T38 800m. T38 is her classification for competition, which reflects Mild Cerebral Palsy. She is also legally blind (only 10% vision left eye/ right eye totally blind) and has epilepsy. Torita is an ambassador for the Raise the Bar Academy
, run by Athletics Australia and Melbourne University.
Madeline Stuart (23)
“Our dreams are what truly matter, we only have one life and we should live it to the fullest.”
Madeline Stuart. Image: Kelly Brown
Madeline Stuart is an Australian model who’s appeared on catwalks at the New York Fashion Week, Paris fashion week, London fashion week, Runway Dubai, Russian fashion week, Mercedes Benz fashion week China and many more (about 120 at last count!). She also has Down syndrome. Madeline decided to become a model in 2014, after attending a fashion show in Brisbane with her mother. Her career began in 2015, after signing two modelling contracts with fitness-wear brand Manifesta and handbag brand everMaya. She’s appeared in Vogue, too, and has inspired many young girls to follow their dreams.
Bridie McKim (21)
“A lot of people aren’t exposed to disability or even people with a disability sometimes don’t know other disabled people. So I’m really curious to see how people respond to a character who is disabled, but is also so coloured by every other part of her life and isn’t a disabled stereotype.
I still feel very lucky to be that person, but then there definitely needs to be more roles for disabled people because, you know, almost 20 per cent of our population is disabled, and I’m pretty sure only about 4 per cent of the characters on our screens are disabled. Those figures don’t really match up, in my opinion.”
Bridie McKim. Image: ABC TV, Bohdan Warchomij
Bridie McKim landed her first lead role playing the character of Sabine in TV show The Heights
– one of the first characters with a disability to feature in a lead role on Australian screens. The Heights
is set around the lives, scandals and romances of a housing commission and the people who work and live in the surrounding neighbourhood. Sabine has mild cerebral palsy – and so does Bridie. Read more about Bridie here
Dylan Alcott (28)
“I don’t preach or yell at people to do things, I just want everyone to be able to be a bit more normal about it so we can all enjoy the things we all enjoy.”
Talk about a multi-tasker: Dylan Alcott is an Australian wheelchair basketballer, wheelchair tennis player, radio host on Triple J, and
motivational speaker! And if you see a guy in a wheelchair crowdsurfing at a music festival, that’s probably Dylan – he’s become famed for it!
Dylan became the youngest member of the Australian “Rollers” (Australia’s men’s national wheelchair basketball team) when he was chosen to play for them at age 17. At the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Dylan won gold medals in the Men’s Quad Singles and Doubles. He was named the 2016 Australian Paralympian of the Year for his achievements. In 2017, Dylan established the Dylan Alcott Foundation "with the core purpose of helping young Australians with disabilities gain self-esteem and respect through sport and study". In September 2017, Alcott was appointed Australian Patron for International Day of People with Disability
. He’s also managed to pick up a commerce degree at uni, in between all the festival madness and band interviews!
Jordon Steele-John (25)
Read exerpts from Jordon's powerful March 2019 speech here.
“In the word of the great poet: y’all better get on board, because times, they are a changing.”
In 2017, 23-year-old Jordon became the youngest sitting member elected to the Australian parliament, and its youngest senator. He represents Western Australia for the Australian Greens, and in March 2019 he was named the McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year for his leadership as a disability rights advocate. He uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy.
Drisana Levitzke-Gray (26)
“We need the support of the Australian government to ensure that deaf children and their families have access to Auslan. It’s a human right that they have that access. Auslan is my language, but it’s an Australian language and that makes it yours.”
Drisana is a deaf rights advocate from Perth, Western Australia. She was awarded the 2015 Young Australian of the Year title for her dedication to raising awareness for Auslan (Australian sign language) and the rights of all deaf children in Australia to access Auslan. Drisana was also selected to attend the Frontrunners international deaf youth leadership course in 2012 and 2013, and has worked with communities in Europe and Samoa to expand leadership capacity and human rights understanding of deaf youth. Drisana is currently working for the National Relay Service as well as a columnist for PrimoLIFE Magazine.
Check out Drisana’s TED Talk:
Having a disability is not something that restricts dreams and ambitions. Nor is it the core of what defines someone. While these seven young people are known for their work, there are thousands of "regular" people living with different kinds of disabilities every day and dealing with it in their own, unique ways. Keep on striving, no matter who you are!
Main image: Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham, pic taken by Travis Kelly.