Abi Chapman was diagnosed with Ehler-Danlos Syndrome when she was 23:
“Essentially it’s a DNA fault, affecting my body’s connective tissue and leaving me with many medical issues. The late diagnosis is pretty normal: it’s a rare, misunderstood condition, and one that has no official test. You have to wait until you develop enough of the symptoms for it to be recognised.”
She has used her experience of disability to inform her academic studies, beginning a BA in Graphic and Media Design at Croydon School of Art, before transferring to University of the Arts London (UAL) to complete it.
“I worked on social design projects within my degree, and I knew then that I wanted to create a social enterprise that supports disability. I believe there are four elements – healthcare, education, employment and lifestyle – that everyone needs at optimum levels for a fulfilling life, but barriers prevent many disabled people from achieving this. Going on to do a Masters in Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futures, also at UAL, gave me time to research how these barriers can be removed, and The Accessibility Project developed from there.”
Abi began by focusing on the isolation experienced by those with disabilities, something which was further emphasised by the pandemic:
“The difficulties that everybody experienced in lockdown, ie shopping, socialising and accessing services, highlighted issues regularly faced by disabled people. Communities really stepped up to help the vulnerable during this time, and it’s that spirit I want to instill on a permanent basis.”
The Accessibility Project’s aim is to ‘establish inclusive, open and creative communities for everybody, by researching, challenging and enabling change towards accessibility barriers in our local areas and wider communities’. As part of this, Abi has run workshops with the project’s creative partner, muralist Nicki Deux, including one called Paint Your Story, where participants shared their personal narratives on a mobile mural.
Abi, who lives in Oxted, is getting ready to launch The Accessibility Project across Tandridge, offering talks and workshops on subjects such as designing for accessibility, and enabling individuals to become disability and accessibility advocates, as well as working with organisations to assess and improve their accessibility.
“We’ll be working with youth centres, medical facilities, and care, education and employment institutions. We’ve got some exciting activities coming up!”
To get involved, follow @accessibilityprojectuk on Instagram.