International Day of People With Disabilities: Our everyday heroes | UK | News

November 28, 2023

A picture of Yasmin Roper

Yasmin Roper was a baby when cancer left her with a serious spinal injury (Image: Express)

With an estimated 16 million Britons – 24 per cent of the population – said to have a disability of some kind, according to official figures, getting them into jobs, education and housing is crucial for everyone. We launch our mini campaign representing those 24 per cent today, with four incredible individuals who have defied expectations…

There’s a reason Vicky Silk’s family and friends nicknamed her Queen Vee. With her big smile and appetite for life, Vicky, born with Down syndrome, is on a mission to make the world a happier place.

“Everywhere she goes, her sense of humour lights up a room, and people fall in love with her,” says her stepmum Gerry, 63. When Vicky was born, her parents were told she was unlikely to live past her teens, due to lung and heart problems.

But she has defied the odds, ­continuing to thrive and recently celebrating her 30th birthday doing what she loves, volunteering as a cabin crew with her favourite airline.

Dad John, 63 explains: “We’ve always loved holidays. Each year we save up, and then I ask Vicky, ‘Shall we go on holiday or do some decorating?’ She always chooses the holiday! It means we’ve done many flights, and Vicky started saying she wanted to be a stewardess. I contacted multiple airlines, asking for work experience.

“But to no avail, until Virgin Atlantic agreed. Now, with support from Ryan Johnstone, a manager for the airline, she has helped on several flights and even has her own ­uniform. The first time, the crew was shocked that she knew the safety talk by heart. Now, when flying with them, she’s allowed to join the ­pre-flight briefing, help serve food and collect rubbish. After her most recent flight, passengers gave her a round of applause!”

Petite Vicky – 4ft 9in tall – explains her charisma by saying: “People like me because I’m hilarious.” “Modest too!” quips John.

At home, this extraordinary young lady has a busy life. She has a job upcycling furniture with a social enterprise called Nickel Support, and many hobbies, including art and photography. She’s also open to any adventure coming her way – in the past even acting as an apprentice chimney sweep!

Together with her parents, she has tackled countless charity challenges (including three London Marathons, being pushed round the course in her wheelchair) to raise at least £15,000 for The Genie’s Wish, ­making memories for critically or terminally ill people. Vicky says: “I care about everyone. It’s nice to see them smiling.”

The Silks also decorate their Croydon house with extravagant Christmas lights every year, for the charity. Vicky has regular checkups, and doctors are mystified by her continued relative good health, ­but her parents point to the Queen Vee effect.

“We’re convinced her joie de vivre triggers adrenaline, preventing her condition from following the route of other patients,” says Gerry.

She hopes her daughter’s success in the skies might encourage other employers to give disabled people a chance: “So many bosses think it’s too complicated to give work experience to anyone who’s different.

“But there are many like Vicky who can contribute even more than people who don’t have such difficulties. There is a huge pool of undervalued and overlooked talent among these young adults.”

John adds: “We could all take a leaf out of Vicky’s book because she has such faith in people and nothing ever gets her down. Our family believe in karma. Be nice to people, then they’ll be nice to you. We believe ­
the universe has a way of making things happen.”

Yasmin Roper was a baby when cancer left her with a serious spinal injury, and doctors warned her mum she’d never walk. But they reckoned without the brave little girl – now five and looking forward to showing Father Christmas what she can do.

Her mother Jess, 34, from Worthing, West Sussex, says: “Yasmin’s annual visit to Santa has become a milestone of her progress. In 2021, she was still in a wheelchair; in 2022 she could stand up in ankle supports and totter a few steps; this year she’s able to walk properly for minutes at a time.”

Born seemingly healthy in September 2018, aged three months Yasmin was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare bone and soft tissue cancer. Doctors found a massive tumour on her spine. Jess recalls: “The disease was so advanced, ­doctors gave her just a five per cent chance of survival.” Thankfully, a new drug protocol and surgery worked a miracle. But once in cancer remission, Yasmin was left with a serious spinal injury. She remained unable to feel her body below the waist, and her single mum was told she’d need a wheelchair forever.

Looking for help, Jess discovered the pioneering rehabilitation work by the not-for-profit organisation Neurokinex at their Gatwick Centre.

Now after three years of weekly therapy, harnessed to machines that support her while physios move her along a treadmill, the inspirational tot can stand for six minutes without holding onto anything, walk short distances and play independently.

Jess says: “Yasmin’s results come from hard work and perseverance, but are nothing short of miraculous. She has defied what specialists once told her.”

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A picture of Harley Salter on a bike with female companion

Harley Salter was born with autism, Tourettes and OCD (Image: Express)

Harley Salter was born with autism, Tourettes and OCD. Five years ago he had his right foot amputated. But that hasn’t stopped the remarkable 29-year-old becoming a world record-setting athlete and raising more than £10,000 for charities supporting research into Huntington’s Disease, which claimed the life of his father. Harley’s mum Vanessa, 54, says: “Having been born with one club foot, Harley endured years of pain, surgery, splints, casts and callipers.

By adulthood, he still couldn’t put his foot flat to the floor, struggled to walk short distances and used a wheelchair. Even so, the prospect of having his foot amputated at the ankle was terrifying.” After surgery in 2018, Harley was given a prosthetic foot, ­
but found it uncomfortable.

In June 2019, Vanessa was planning a trip to Canada when she read about Hollywood actress and MS patient Selma Blair, and her Alinker walking bike. It has no pedals but bears the body’s weight, so users can walk or run without muscle strain and pain. Vanessa spent £1,600 saved for her dream trip on an Alinker for Harley. “Within days of taking delivery, his life had been transformed. He could now walk for miles, although he couldn’t go out alone, so I had to start walking miles to accompany him,” she says. “Within weeks, he’d taken up running – now I had to run, too!”

In 2019, the pair, from Portsmouth, completed their first 10-mile race. In October 2020, during lockdown, they tackled the virtual London Marathon.

“A few miles from the end, I was ready to quit. But then Harley’d have to quit too. So we pushed through.” Since Harley has exercised, his autism has improved and his mood has lifted. This year he knocked 10 minutes off his own Guinness World Record for the fastest 10km on a seated tri-wheeled walking bike. Vanessa adds: “Harley ­
is an inspiration to able-bodied and disabled people.”

Aderonke Joseph playing tennis

Tennis-loving Aderonke Joseph suffered life-changing injuries in a road accident (Image: Express)

When tennis-loving Aderonke Joseph ­suffered life-changing injuries in a road accident, leaving her in a wheelchair, ­­
she might have been expected to quit sport forever. Instead she vowed to return to her hobby – and today plays tennis wearing her prosthetic leg. Ronke, 56, who has retired from her job as a training manager, was injured at a pedestrian crossing as she walked to work in January 2015.

She recalls: “Suddenly a car came off the road, mounting the pavement. It slammed into me and I flew backwards into an upright metal pole. Some railings took the initial impact, then buckled under the force, striking my right leg. I looked down, to see my coat spattered with blood and bone fragments.

“Because I was severely injured, London’s Air Ambulance was summoned. I was anaesthetised at the roadside and rushed to hospital, where my leg was amputated above the knee.”

Ronke later discovered the motorist had suffered an epileptic fit behind the wheel. Courageous Ronke had seven more painful surgeries to revise her stump. While recovering, she received a ­visitor from the London Air Ambulance and going to the helipad, in east London, became her goal. “Months later, I did visit the helipad. I was so grateful for the air ambulance. It’s such a vital service, it’s hard to believe it’s funded by charity.”

Ronke from Purley, Surrey, had to relearn how to walk, then how to run, before she could even think about sport. But with the support of husband Gbenga, family and church, just 18 months after her accident, she was able to start playing tennis again.

“I don’t play as often as before, but I’m thankful I can play at all,” she adds. “I get pain but it’s worth it, to enjoy the game I love. People tell me I’m inspirational – but I don’t think of myself that way. I just refuse to be defined by my disability.”

  • To support London’s ­Air Ambulance, visit londonsairambulance.­

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