TODAY's WOMAN - Models who battled through disability

Style supremo Gok Wan is busily helping disabled women find a new image in his show and Paul McCartney's ex Heather Mills is gaining fans through her plucky performances on Dancing On Ice.

Top soaps Hollyoaks and EastEnders now have disabled actors in their casts.

And as the TV cameras focus on people with disabilities living out their dreams, a South Yorkshire model agency boss has decided the time is right to launch an agency especially for them.

She's determined to change the stereotypical view that only the perfect can make a living from their look.

But Kathy Holdsworth didn't take her lead from anyone famous... She looked to her son, her inspiration from the day he was born.

James, now 23, was born without the lower section of his left arm. His mother says: "I am so incredibly proud of James; he has made a great success of his life and I think his disability may actually have played a part in that. Of the children with disabilities I have met, they all seem to share this great determination."

Kathy has run the highly successful agency DK Model Management, based at Thorncliffe Park Estate, Chapeltown, for the last 12 years and it was to James she turned to last year with her idea of a specialist division for people with disabilities.

He was full of enthusiasm and as a result, Modability launched in December 2009.

There are currently a dozen models on the books. They range from a former contestant on Britain's Missing Top Model, last year's reality TV search to find a disabled model to join the world of the catwalk and shatter the stereotypical view of physical perfection, to a male actor with Downs and a hearing-impaired woman from Barnsley - and Kathy is searching for more.

"I am sure there is work out there for people with a wide range of disabilities. Companies employing models for advertising campaigns take care to reflect society's range of age and ethnicity.

"They are realising that they should represent the percentage of the population with disabilities and that it is totally unethical to use an able model to portray a disabled person. It is no longer acceptable to sit an able-bodied person in a wheelchair and ask them to pretend," says Kathy.

"Modabilty hopes to give people with disabilities new job opportunities - my son is going onto the books too," she adds proudly.

Kathy remembers with dismay the initial feelings of shock and self-recrimination she had when her only child, was born.

She says: "The nurse took him to the other side of the room and I saw him wave his arms in the air. I felt a moment of panic when I realised one was much shorter than the other.

"I was so worried his disability would make life difficult for him as he grew up."

Over the next few months, Kathy went through fits of blaming herself and quizzing doctors for explanations that never came. When James was just four months old, she followed up a paediatrician's suggestion and had her tiny baby fitted with an artificial limb.

"I needn't have bothered. As a baby he worked out to hold his own bottle without his prosthetic arm and followed suit with every other task. I was told he would probably reject the prosthetic around the age of eight, which he did. I'd pick him up from school and the teacher would hand me James's arm in a carrier bag."

She recalls the day when she realised just how much she had moved on as the mother of a child with a disability.

James had disappeared into the crowds during a family trip to the beach and, gripped by one of those panic-striken parent moments, Kathy ran to the beach lifeguard to ask for help. When he asked for a full description of the toddler, Kathy launched into detail.

"I told him James's height, the colour of his hair and eyes and listed the clothes he was wearing. And as the lifeguard bounded off, I realised my friend was staring at me in astonishment. "Why didn't you tell him James has only one arm?" she asked me.

Says Kathy: "Obviously that was the first thing a stranger would have noticed. But I simply never thought to say. I had accepted James's arm so totally, I simply didn't see it any more."

James arrived at her side just moments later and Kathy laughs at the memory of that day on the beach now. She well remembers the best piece of advice she was ever given. It came from Reach, the support group run by the Association for Children With Hand and Arm Deficiencies, for whom she became publicity officer.

"A mother of an older child told me that the vast majority of the pitfalls I could foresee for James would never happen. She was exactly right. James managed to do everything he ever wanted to do. He learned to play the piano and excelled at golf and squash.

"His attitude was: This is the way I am and if people don't like it, tough. He's now an accountant with leading firm KPMG, having sailed through a degree in politics, philosophy and economics. And his attitude is still the same.

"If I can help disabled people live out their dreams of modelling, and increase society's understanding toward those with disabilities, then I will be extremely happy."

Disabled people interested in joining the books of Modability can send their details, plus a few snapshots (professional photos not necessary), to'Hearing loss didn't stop my dream'

Stunning Carla Kay looks perfect from head to toe - the eye cannot see Carla's disability.

She was left without hearing after major surgery to remove slow-growing tumours.

"Everyone thinks models have to be absolutely perfect - well I'm not and I'm getting work," she says.

Her first job, in January, sees her as the poster girl for an employment training agency.

There have been many times in her life when she has wished her disability apparent, though.

"Once a customer I had told me I should wear a sign around my neck warning people I am deaf."

She turned to modelling after being made redundant.

"It's a great way for me to make some extra money doing something I enjoy - and with an agency and clients who want me for everything that I am."

TV star has changed public perception

Mobility model Rebecca Legon isn't out to make a name for herself - she's already known to millions across the nation.

She starred in the ground-breaking reality TV contest Britain's Missing Top Model, the show which attempted to change both the public and the modelling world's perception of disability and beauty.

Rebecca got down to the final seven from 800 entrants - and now hopes signing up to Modability will encourage other disabled people to consider modelling work.

Says the 29-year-old, who runs a magazine company in Manchester: "I was so surprised to get into the finals of the TV contest. I had never thought I could ever be a model before the show.

"But I've always been a outgoing person and never let my disability stop me from doing what I wanted to do. I think my surname actually helped - I learned to laugh off the jokes at a very early age.

"I was born with my disability. The bone from hip to knee didn't grow properly, but the knee to foot section did - I call it my little leg," she says.

"I walk with a stick and I can't run or ice-skate, unlike Heather Mills who has her own knee joint.

"But I can do pretty much everything else; I train in the gym every day and my next ambition is to learn to ski."

The TV show's first prize of a modelling contract went to Kelly Knox, who was born without a left forearm and is now one of Rebecca's closest friends.

"I think the idea of the show was very brave but I don't believe we will see disabled models on the fashion catwalk," she says.

"The industry is quite fickle; designers want to see their clothing on people who fit their idea of perfection."

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