Interview with Shona Louise on her Photography & Ableism Activism


How have you coped with the Pandemic and do you think that there has been enough support for you during this time?

In terms of coping with the extended periods of time stuck at home, I’ve coped better than most thanks to my disability. Being isolated at home is something I’m familiar with due to my disability and previous surgeries leaving me at home for long lengths of time, but it’s been tough being separated from my girlfriend. I’m lucky that I live with family who can shop for me, collect prescriptions etc but I worry for other disabled people who don’t have that support network. A lot of my regular medical appointments and care have been delayed as well, and that’s one area in which I definitely haven’t received enough support.


Do you feel that the Arts are inclusive and what can they do to make the space more inclusive?

I think that accessibility, inclusivity and diversity within the arts are always improving, but disabled people are still often left behind. As a theatre photographer, I am really limited within the industry because of poor physical access in our UK theatres. Disabled people need a seat at the table at the top of the industry to make the impact we need, our voices are missing across the board and until that changes I can’t see us making any significant progress.

Do you feel that labels within society are helpful?

As disabled lesbian labels are incredibly important to me. Disabled is not a bad word and I don’t like that a lot of society seems set on making it one, we need to fight the idea that disability is inherently negative, and by using the label I can show people that disability is not this awful thing that ruins a person’s life. I am a proud and successful disabled woman. Disability is a huge part of my identity, just as much as my identity as a woman and a lesbian, it’s just that society doesn’t quite accept that it’s a positive thing in my life yet.


What would you say has been your greatest achievement?

For me, it’s quite simply my career as a freelance writer and photographer. Growing up I imagined myself going off to university to become a doctor but when my genetic condition started impacting my life more the plan was disrupted and it took me years to figure out what I actually wanted to do with my life. I’m really proud now that I can sit here today and say that this is my job, it’s taken years of hard work to get to this point and I love what I do.


Is it ok to call someone disabled or should we be using other terms?

Disabled is not a dirty word. You’ll often find that most of the time it’s non-disabled people suggesting alternatives such as ‘differently abled’, not disabled people. People use other terms because they’ve decided that disability has negative connotations. We shouldn’t stop using the word because of this, we should fight to show society that disability isn’t negative. Without my disability I wouldn’t have my career, I wouldn’t be a published author and I likely wouldn’t have met my girlfriend. When people use other words I often find it’s as a result of the idea of disability making them feel uncomfortable, but I won’t change how I identify because a stranger does not want to educate themselves.  

What advice would you give to a disabled person wanting to get into fashion photography?

I think when it comes to any kind of photography it’s all about practice and experience, so get your friends involved and shoot with them to build up your skills! After that it’s all about networking and getting your name out there, so build yourself a website to showcase your work and make an Instagram too. 


Disabled people make up 15% of the world’s population. What can businesses do to reflect this in the workforce?

Businesses simply need to hire us and give us a chance. Society has so many preconceived ideas of what disabled people can and can’t do, but we’re all different and just like the rest of the population, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Don’t assume you know what we’re capable of just because we’re disabled, we’ll let you know what we can and can’t do. 


Has there been any improvement in the number of disabled people represented in the fashion industry?

In terms of disabled models things are really improving, but the featuring of disabled people is often limited to the singular campaign, often one marketed specifically as a diverse and inclusive one. Real progress would be using disabled models without it being a big deal, and making it a long term thing instead of a one-off. We are missing across the board though, you don’t see a lot of disabled designers, fashion magazines editors, photographers etc and it’s disabled people being missing from those roles that stalls progress as well. 


Are there any fashion brands that you feel are particularly disabled friendly?

I have to say there really aren’t enough I know of to mention here, again fashion isn’t my area of expertise. 


Who has been your inspiration?

For me, I look to fellow disabled activists for wisdom and guidance, particularly those who have fighting for our rights for many more years than myself. Their resilience really rubs off on me and keeps me motivated to continue speaking up about accessibility and inclusivity issues. 


What advice would you give your 10 year old self?

My advice would be, life isn’t going to follow the path you expected but the new one is so much better and you will make such a change in the world. And it’s okay that you don’t have a lot of friends because one day you’ll get to say that you have friends scattered all over the world!


How have you kept yourself busy during lockdown?

I feel very lucky that prior to the pandemic I was already self-employed and half of my job I was doing from home, so I’ve been able to throw myself into work. I’ve also enjoyed crafting though, picking up crochet again for the first time in a few years. 


How can able bodied people advocate for disabled people?

Listen to us and instead of speaking for us, use your platform to elevate our voices and let us be heard. Use social media to educate yourself as well, Google is free so never expect a disabled person to use their time and energy to teach you. It’s okay to ask questions but you need to put in the work yourself.