“You don’t need to be tall or large to be a hero.”

Lola Olson is Scope’s Interim Digital Content Manager. For our End the Awkward campaign, Lola got to interview film star Warwick Davis. Lola tells us what it was like meeting a childhood hero.

I stopped growing when I was three. Medically this is called a “failure to thrive”.

My parents could not afford health insurance, so since I was three I’ve taken injections of growth hormone given to me as a charity donation.

My disabled childhood film heroes

Films and television shows meant a lot to me as a kid, and they still do. I’d often watch them over and over to memorise every word. Seeing people with the same conditions or situations as me made me feel less worried about my disorder.

Lola Olson wearing a Willow t-shirt.
Lola Olson wearing a Willow t-shirt.

Last year, I got to meet a big hero of mine at the Destination Star Trek convention. LeVar Burton plays Geordi La Forge, a blind engineer who wears a “Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement” or VISOR allowing him to “see” using electromagnetic signals.

I was born blind in my left eye but when I was about ten, my vision rapidly decreased and my eye doctor said I was going to be completely blind very soon.

Seeing Geordi La Forge in Star Trek made that a lot less scary for me because, even though he isn’t “blind” with his VISOR, I still felt like if Geordi La Forge was blind, it wasn’t such a bad thing to be. I was glad to be able to tell LeVar Burton what it meant to me to see a disabled character play a prominent role on the starship Enterprise.

Meeting and interviewing Warwick Davis

This year, as part of Scope’s End the Awkward campaign, I had the privilege to interview Warwick Davis, another one of my childhood heroes. Davis is the star of Willow, a 1980s fantasy film where Willow saves a special baby from an evil queen. There are a lot of things I like about Willow. It contains strong female characters, for one.

Davis, along with other actors with dwarfism, play a race called the “Nelwyns” who are a diverse bunch of nice and not so nice people. Average sized people, such as Mad Martigan played by Val Kilmer, aren’t called “humans”, thankfully. Instead, they’re called “Daikinis”. In most films, average sizes folk play “humans” while actors with dwarfism play other worldly creatures. Being like a Nelwyn was a compliment, not something that would make me inhuman.

I often used films and television shows to understand myself better. I understood that Willow, and all of the Nelwyns, had something like I had. Warwick Davis playing a hero in his own right sent the message to me as a kid that I had nothing to worry about. Even if I ended up being shorter than most of my peers, you don’t need to be tall or large to be a hero.

I met Warwick while he was being filmed for our awkward moments film. The filming day was a bit hectic, with Warwick popping in between a speaking engagement, but it was also slightly surreal. I nearly had to pinch myself as I sat in the background as an extra.

My interview with Warwick lasted for 15 minutes, but it passed by as quick as 15 seconds. I didn’t have much time to be nervous. But I did have time to laugh at  his jokes and absorb him talking about how important it is for people to  approach life with a fair amount of humour.

Shortly after my interview, I got an extra 30 seconds to exclaim my love for Willow before Warwick went to talk to a packed room of Oxford students about End the Awkward and some of his upcoming film work.

I want more heroes in films

Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood by 20th Century Fox.
Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood by 20th Century Fox.

Today, because of my growth hormone treatments, I’m 5’1″ (and proud to be short!). I don’t really say I have dwarfism because there are clearly a huge set of obstacles I don’t have to face and that I could never really speak about.

I do know how important it was to see someone like Willow in a feature film not hidden behind a costume. Many actors with dwarfism end up in roles where they wear full body costumes or heavy makeup. The fact that seeing Warwick be in a film more or less as himself was important to me leads me to believe that it must also be important to others with conditions like mine.

I can only hope that in the future more varieties of roles with depth will be offered to disabled actors so that more disabled people can see themselves represented in positive ways.

For more information about our End the Awkward campaign please visit the End the Awkward page. Do you have an awkward story? We’d love to hear it. Share your awkward story with us or tweet us your experiences of awkward using #EndTheAwkward.

“Oliver sees details the rest of us miss” – a young photographer’s story

Oliver is a young nature photographer who happens to have Down’s syndrome. Here, Oliver and his mum tell us what photography means to him.  

Q&A with Oliver

Scope: When did you first start taking photos?

Oliver: I was little – I was about 10 years old.

Scope: What is it about nature that you find so interesting?

Oliver: I like wildlife, I like birds and I like the landscape and taking pictures of the trees. I like water and I like going for walks out into ‘the wild’ and the countryside.

Close up photo of an eagleScope: Do you have a favourite animal?

Oliver: I like birds of prey and I really like long tailed tits.

Scope: How did you feel when you sold your first photograph?

Oliver: We had an exhibition and lots of people came to see my pictures. I gave a speech and we sold lots of pictures and with the money I bought a Chinese takeaway for us on the Sunday night when we finished, and bought a holiday in a cottage in Wales in the middle of nowhere! I’m very proud when I have an exhibition.

Scope: If you weren’t taking photos in your spare time, what do you think you’d be doing?

Oliver: I play football and snooker, and I don’t do so much skateboarding so much anymore. I read my books and my magazines and I like to watch TV. I still do bird-watching and walking in the countryside even if I don’t take pictures with my camera.green forest and woodland

Scope: What would you say to other young disabled people who don’t have much confidence?

Oliver: Just do it. Just go out there and do what you want!

Scope: How have your followers on Facebook and the publicity around your photos made you feel?

Oliver: It’s good. I like it. My fans say ‘that’s amazing!’ about my pictures and write messages to me. Yeah it’s good. I like it when we get more places to put on the map!

Wendy, Oliver’s mum

Oliver was born with Down’s syndrome, and severe cardiac issues requiring open heart surgery at three months old. During his early years he was also diagnosed with severe hypotonia (poor muscle tone) and verbal dyspraxia. I was told he wouldn’t be able to take part in sporting activities, and that his speech would probably never reach a point where he could be understood by an unfamiliar lA baby photograph of Oliver with blonde hairistener. However with belief, determination and input from myself and Oliver’s big sister Anna (who was eight when he was born)  by the time he was eight years old he was skateboarding as well as playing football, basketball and snooker, and at 10 years old was asking perfectly clearly for a Subaru Imprezza with a spoiler on the back and a Bugatti Veyron for his birthday!

Oliver is testament to the fact that anyone can achieve and prove negative predictions to be wrong, when they are surrounded by optimism, belief, determination and encouragement. My partner Mike has been best mate and stepfather all rolled into one for Oliver – they both love wildlife, the countryside, and bird-watching. Mike came into Oliver’s life when Oliver was nine. When Oliver was about 10 or 11 he started to want to take photos “like Mike”.

A close-up of some green ivy leavesMike’s targeted tuition and guidance has helped Oliver to use the world of photography as both a tool for him to record what he sees in the way he sees it, and as something which brings Oliver a great sense of pride and self-esteem. He takes pictures of everything and anything which ‘catches’ his eye and will spend as much time and effort on a torn and ragged leaf or some broken sticks as he will on a beautiful bloom. He loves the light catching anything and particularly water. He will spend ages capturing splashes at the bottom of a waterfall or in a rocky river. Birds are probably his greatest love and his knowledge and ability to identify any bird at a glance and even from a distance is astounding. Oliver takes pictures of things other people walk past because he notices the detail the rest of us miss. He sees beauty where we do not, and to a certain extent his having Down’s syndrome ‘releases’ him from the ‘rules’ and expectations of what is perceived to be worthy of a picture, which the rest of us adhere to without even realising. Oliver makes weeds look brilliant!

He is a truly inspirational young man who loves life and loves what he does, and seeks to be a ‘professional’ earning a proper income from his talent. His achievements are changing and improving the expectations A robin standing on some grassof others, championing disability, and helping to banish outdated and negative stereotypes associated with Down’s syndrome. We receive so many heart-warming messages from parents of disabled children explaining the huge difference Oliver has made to their lives by restoring hopes, dreams and aspirations for their children. He illustrates just how important it is that we value and enjoy diversity in society, and spreads the news that ‘difference’ can be something to be truly celebrated.

Oliver was recently featured in a lovely film piece on the One Show, and on BBC news worldwide. He’s currently crowdfunding for his first coffee table book to be published – so get in quick and bag yourself a copy of the first edition. 

You can visit Oliver’s website to see and purchase his photographs as prints or greetings cards. You can also like Oliver’s Facebook page and get up to date news from his sightings in your newsfeed. Feeling inspired?