Portraits of Grit at the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

April Li presents Portraits of Grit to the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

This is the second video from the conference to be released.

The conference on the 26th February 2021, brought together disabled people, parents, disability organisations, schools and arts and culture organisations to explore access to culture and heritage. Given the events of the previous 12 months the conference also explored: How has COVID affected opportunities for the inclusion of disabled young people in arts & culture?

April is a mum, advocate and the creator of Portraits of Grit (a human library of stories and lived experiences of disability on Instagram). She also works as a lawyer at a business development bank and is the interim chairman of icandance, a charity that supports children and young people with disabilities through dance and movement.”

Portraits Of Grit (@portraitsofgrit) Instagram Page

See the conference programme and all speaker biogs here

An audio description of April Li's presentation

Full transcript

Audio description: A woman with long straight black hair wearing a plum jumper. She is sitting facing the camera with head and shoulders visible. Behind her is a large green and blue painting. At one minute and forty-five seconds, for approximately 30 seconds, the screen shows the Portraits of Grit Instagram page, before returning to the woman.


Hi everybody. My name is April.

I'm sorry I can't be with you today, but Paul and Anita have kindly invited me to tell you a little bit about Portraits of Grit.

First I'm going to tell you a little bit about myself and how I came to create Portraits of Grit and I'm going to end with a call to arms.

So I think we can all agree that the last year has been one of great turmoil. I think the whole world has had the taste of what isolation feels like.

Portraits of grit was founded a few years ago after that feeling of isolation. It's sadly something that families living with disability have felt long before this pandemic came along. I'm the parent of two wonderful girls. One of whom has complex needs. So I've experienced first hand what that isolation can feel like.

I was inspired to create Portraits of Grit because I realised that when I chatted to fellow parents, with kids with different needs, that I found a real connection each and every single time regardless of how little we may have in common.

Whether it was age or gender or race or background, regardless of how different our kids needs might've been. And not only was there connection but simply hearing about other people's stories made me feel so empowered and better able to face my own challenges. Also those amazing people didn't even realize how much they were helping me by sharing their experiences.

So I went about creating this platform on Instagram to feature stories of lived experiences of disability in the hope of raising disability awareness and connecting the disability community, breaking down isolation.

Here's some pictures of the feed on my account, through it I've had the privilege of meeting some incredible humans and I hope you will take some time to look at some of the stories captured to date.

They include stories from those living with disability themselves, to parents and siblings and they range from stories of joy to stories of loss, domestic abuse, bullying, struggling with public perceptions of disability as well as one's own struggles with coming to terms with the diagnosis.

But honestly every time I've walked away from an interview I've felt overwhelmed and astounded and humbled by the depth and strength of the human spirit.

I feel there's also been a shift in the last year in the diversity movement. I think now more than ever a light has been shone on the importance of listening to people whose lived experiences don't match our own, to not be fearful to ask questions on the importance of representation and media, in culture, in the corporate world, in leadership.

To me disability is simply another form of difference. And if you believe, as research has evidenced, that there's value in bringing together people with different lived experiences, different brains, different outlooks and perspectives, then I don't think you can truly say you're embracing diversity unless you also include the disability community in that conversation.

And that's where I hope Portraits of Grit can do its little bit to make a difference because I think there is no doubt that people with disabilities need more exposure. And if you don't have any exposure to a person with lived experiences of disability then you can't really understand it. You might think you do, but you can't rid yourself of any conscious or unconscious bias if you're thinking about it on your own.

The statistics around how this pandemic has affected disabled people and in particular those with learning difficulties like my daughter, is frankly horrifying, and it demonstrates that we are nowhere near even good enough in shifting public perceptions around disability.

Having said that I'm a cup half full type person and speaking with all the families I think good has also come out with the crisis and that it's given a lot of people access to things that they might've been excluded from or not been able to participate in for whatever reason before, from culture to work to school.

It's been noted lately that after the Spanish flu came the roaring twenties. Well, I say if there's going to be another roaring 2020s, let's work together to ensure that disabled people are not only not left behind but positively thought about and included in the conversation.

Let's not wait for another pandemic to realise that disability is just another form of difference and that people with the difference have more to give than they take. I think my Mia has so much more to give than people give her credit for.

Let's welcome the differences, learn from them and celebrate them. Last but not least a heartfelt thank you from my family, and I'm sure from all families out there living with disability, for the work that you do, it really matters. It's very important and we really appreciate it.

Thank you for listening.


Matt Overd
Matt Overd
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