An artist has transformed his wheelchair-user daughter into a crime fighting comic book superhero to inspire disabled children. Dan White has turned his daughter Emily, nine, into a super-strong character who takes on baddies in her flying wheelchair. Emily suffers from spina bifida – which affects the development of her spine – but her father hopes the comics will help people see that disabled children do not have to be held back by life-changing conditions. Despite the nine-year-old being partially paralysed from the waist down by her condition, she has never let her disability hold her back thanks to lessons learned from her father’s comics. In Mr White’s cartoons, Emily leads her crime-fighting team, The Department of Ability, using her strength and flying wheelchair. The doting father, 43, wanted to change the stigma surrounding people in wheelchairs after noticing there were no disabled role models for children on TV. Mr White, an illustrator, said: ‘I love my daughter to pieces and it’s been amazing to watch my creation help her have such a positive outlook on life.
I didn’t want her growing up thinking her disability would hold her back in any way. The damage on Emily’s spine means it restricts movement in her lower legs and as a result she can only stand for short periods of time. Mr White, from Portsmouth, added: ‘The rest of the gang all use their disabilities as their superpowers, which means it’s totally accessible for everyone. I wanted my comic books to break down the barriers so that instead of people staring at Emily they will come up and talk to her. I feel sorry for the children who stare at people like Emily rather than approach them because they’re really missing out on making some amazing friends. Emily, for example, has a wicked sense of humour and that’s what I want people to see rather than just noticing that she’s in a wheelchair – I’m glad I’m helping to change that. Two days before Emily was born in 2006, Dan and his wife Aimee, 40, were told that their daughter had water on the brain, despite having no previous complications.
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After further scans the couple were told their daughter would be born with spina bifida. Mr White said: ‘It was a real shock when we were told that Emily would have spina bifida as we didn’t have any medical problems before. Despite that I was determined to encourage Emily to explore life and not be held back by her condition. When Emily was two years old I noticed there weren’t any role models with disabilities on TV and wanted to make a difference. Since then I’ve been thinking about how to change things and I came up with the idea of producing a comic book. It is not the first comic book series to feature a disabled character, following Professor Xavier in X-Men, who was played in recent films by Sir Patrick Stewart. Mr White hopes to turn the comic book series, which will be released next year, into a TV cartoon so more young people with disabilities will be able to see characters who represent them.
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Celebrities including Star Wars and Harry Potter actor Warwick Davis, who was born with a rare form of dwarfism, and Paralympic swimmer Giles Long MBE have backed the campaign, as well as the charity Strongbones. Apart from Emily’s character having super-strength, she also has laser guns on her wheelchair, can fly and travel at lightning fast speeds. WHAT IS SPINA BIFIDA? Spina bifida is a fault in the development of the spine and spinal cord that leaves a gap in the spine. Every year around 365 pregnant women in England and Wales are told they are carrying a baby with the condition, with most cases detected at the 20-week scan. The most common and most serious form of the disease, called myelomeningocele, affects about one in every 2,000 UK babies. In myelomeningocele the spinal column remains open along the bones making up the spine. The membranes and spinal cord push out to create a sac in the baby’s back. This sometimes leaves the nervous system vulnerable to infections that may be fatal.