Disabled looks like me

Erin O'Reilly

This International Women’s Day (IWD), we've teamed up with artist and illustrator Mimi Butlin. We're working together to breakdown disability stereotypes and show solidarity with disabled people.

I think the biggest thing would be that I know it can be very isolating but I promise you, you are not alone! Keep fighting for answers, but there is also a lot of power and peace in acceptance.

Mimi Butlin

Disabled women can be regularly left out of the conversation. So this IWD, we wanted to shine a light on the female disabled community in particular and the unique difficulties they often face in society. 

Last year, one of our Change 100 interns, Miriam Jones, had the idea of designing a t-shirt to start a conversation on what disability looks like. Miriam, who has a non-visible disability, felt like she wasn’t always taken seriously by her peers, the government and society as a whole. Because she didn’t fit the ‘disabled’ stereotype. So, she wanted to help create something that would challenge these perceptions. And artist Mimi was the perfect person to design a slogan that would do just that.

Meet Mimi

Mimi's illustrations and unique typography help raise awareness about non-visible disabilities. After becoming sick she realised how people treated people with chronic illnesses. She first began sharing her illustrations on Instagram (@cantgoout_imsick) in February 2019.

Her celebrity portraits of women with different chronic illnesses led to her looking at the complexities women deal with when navigating the medical industry. For some women, like Mimi, it can be a struggle trying to get a correct diagnosis and treatment. Especially for people with non-visible disabilities. 

‘I felt so alone and ignored in what I was going through,’ Mimi explained. ‘Every time I saw a celebrity speaking candidly about their illness, I clung to it and took so much validation in it. We are so often belittled and seen to be over exaggerating our symptoms. So, when a celebrity who is respected for their craft comes out it, it is easier for people to then take other sick people’s word seriously.’

‘Believe Us’ campaign

Other celebrities with chronic illnesses, like Selma Blair, Jameela Jamil and Lena Dunham, were part of the driving force behind Mimi’s artwork and inspired her ‘Believe Us’ campaign.

Talking about the campaign, Mimi explained that all the women she had drawn had gone through experiences of not being taken seriously.

‘I thought that if celebrities weren’t being believed then there are most likely thousands of women who are also going through similar struggles to get care.’

Being diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome

Mimi herself has had experience of this. They put her symptoms down to depression or all in her head. ‘It was the first time I had felt like I was experiencing discrimination due to my gender. I felt like everyone was treating me like an attention seeking, confused little girl.’

Mimi was finally diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. But it took her a long time to get any answers. And she knew she wasn’t alone. 

‘There seemed to be a common theme when chatting to other women. We just weren’t getting the treatment we deserve,’ Mimi explained. ‘There is still this out of date theory that women aren’t reliable sources when it comes to knowing what’s going on in their own bodies.

‘We are still deemed as "hysterical". The "crazy woman" trope that has been going on for centuries is still very much keeping us from getting the correct care. For example, endometriosis takes on average 10 years to diagnose.’

Mimi began reaching out to other women with illnesses and disabilities. As soon as she started to illustrate their experiences on her Instagram page, she was flooded with other stories of women going through similar ordeals.

Why we're focusing on invisible disabilities

Mimi knew she wanted to do more to raise awareness about disability in general. ‘Disabled people are so often marginalised and not included in society. Yet it feels like we are excluded from mainstream activism. I also feel like people don’t really know what to do when confronted with disability. Because disabled people are separated so much of the time.’

Talking about the concept behind the ‘Disabled Looks Like Me’ t-shirt campaign, Mimi said:

‘I was particularly thrilled that Leonard Cheshire wanted to focus a campaign around invisible disabilities. The slogan came from my frustrations in how people believe that to be disabled you have to have a certain look.

‘You need to be in a wheelchair and you most likely should be in the later stages of life. For example, me, a woman at 26 which no visible signs of disability can’t be disabled surely? WRONG! I very much am, and there are thousands of people like me out there.

‘But we are all different. We all have different gender identities, different styles. We are different sizes, colours, from different backgrounds, some of us are rich and some are poor. Yet we are all disabled. I really wanted to break down the stereotype and I think this slogan does that in an inclusive way.‘

Our t-shirt campaign

As the campaign kicked off on International Women’s Day, the project aims to highlight the intersectionality between discrimination of both disabled people and women. We asked Mimi what her message would be to other women with disabilities or health conditions who are going through similar experiences:

‘I think the biggest thing would be that I know it can be very isolating but I promise you, you are not alone! Keep fighting for answers, but there is also a lot of power and peace in acceptance.

‘There is an amazing supportive community online who are always welcoming to anyone. They are fighting every day for all of us and are determined to continue doing so. I do think it’s going to be a long journey to getting what we all deserve, but it will get better.’

A woman and man looking at the camera laughing wearing white tshirts with orange writing saying "Disabled looks like me"

Order your t-shirt

Our limited edition ’Disabled looks like me’ t-shirts are available to pre-order until 5 April 2020.

T-shirts are £20 each, with 100% of the profits going towards helping us to continue to support disabled people to live, learn and work as independently as they choose.

Order your ‘Disabled looks like me’ t-shirt