It’s fashionable to complain about how awful 2016 was but there were a lot of good news stories that flew under the radar this year, and it always pays to remind ourselves that we are capable of wonderful acts of strength, kindness, generosity and warmth. Heart warming, inspiring and life-affirming – here are 20 of our favourite stories from 2016.
1. Isaiah Bird plays American football with no legs
Eight-year-old Isaiah Bird was born with no legs, but this hasn’t stopped him from playing American football for his local team in New York – the very aptly named Gladiators.
Why we love it: We love Isaiah’s sass and optimism, and we’re particularly impressed with his moxie: “It’s not that hard. It’s pretty easy”.
2. Tyla Jones models for Target despite having cerebral palsy
Thirteen-year-old Tyla Jones has cerebral palsy. When she sent Target a feedback form thanking them for featuring people with disabilities in their catalogues, they flew her out for a photo shoot.
Why we love it: Target have been taking great strides over the last few years to feature more diverse representation in their catalogues. It matters.
3. Conjoined twins see each other after separation surgery
Anias and Jadon McDonald are 14 month old conjoined twins who were connected by the top of their skulls. They had never actually seen each other until they went through a 27 hour operation to successfully be separated.
Why we love it: The photograph of the two brothers when they see each other for the very first time is priceless.
4. Newcastle café teaches disabled people hospitality skills
Chars Cafe at Broadmeadow is expanding its services after high demand from people with a disability wanting to learn hospitality skills. It teaches them customer service, how to make coffee, clear tables and how keep the café clean.
Why we love it: It upskills people with disabilities, teaches them to do everyday jobs and embraces them as part of the community.
5. Doctors told Jett’s parents he would never walk – he proved them wrong
Jett, 3, suffers from a congenital disorder which left him without a lower spine, and just a week after he was born the doctors told his parents he would never walk. Three years later, Jett tears around the house like any other toddler.
Why we love it: He still has a long way to go, but we love Jett’s enthusiasm and tenacity in proving the doctors wrong.
6. Noelia Garella becomes Argentina’s first teacher with Down Syndrome
Noelia Garella dreamt of becoming a teacher ever since she was a child, but the unusual thing is that she has Down Syndrome. Despite being turned away from her own preschool and labelled a “monster”, Noelia finally achieved her dream.
Why we love it: Noelia’s self-belief and determination to succeed against the odds is impressive. She proves that dreams really can come true.
7. Ed Cheeseman walks for the first time – underwater
Ed Cheeseman spent the first 21 years of his life in a wheelchair, so badly afflicted by cerebral palsy that he had never walked. In a world first for someone of his level four disability, he has taken his first steps – underwater.
Why we love it: We love this quote from Ed: “It’s a feeling unlike any I have experienced. I feel my own muscles moving me, and the pain and tightness in my joints and muscles disappears”.
8. Macca’s employee with Down Syndrome celebrates 30 years
Russell O’Grady has Down Syndrome, and is just about to celebrate his 30 year anniversary working at the same Northmead McDonald’s. He is a local legend, and is one of the first people with disabilities to be placed in mainstream work.
Why we love it: Russell’s work at McDonalds has given him joy, independence, vocational skills, friendships and a sense of being part of the community.
9. Christopher Hills runs his own company despite being quadraplegic
Despite having cerebral palsy and being bound to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic, Christopher Hills has set up his own video editing company. He uses incredible technology that allows him to professionally edit video by tapping his head.
Why we love it: We love the way that new and exciting forms of technology create amazing opportunities for differently-abled people.
10. Thirteen athletes with disabilities tackle the Melbourne Marathon
A group of 13 adults with a range of physical, intellectual and complex disabilities completed the Melbourne Marathon. The goal was to challenge the stereotype of ‘fun run’ participants, and they certainly succeeded.
Why we love it: This goes to show that with hard work and tenacity you can achieve great things, and that we should never underestimate people.
11. Dustin from Stranger Things speaks about his disability
Gaten Matarazzo stars as Dustin in the smash hit series “Stranger Things”. This year he spoke about his congenital disorder and the fact that it took hundreds of failed auditions before he landed his first job.
Why we love it: We love that the writers were able to include Gaten’s disability as part of Dustin’s character, and that it never defined him.
12. Dancers with disabilities perform in Hobart ballet
The Second Echo Ensemble are a performance group who believe anyone can dance, and have people with disabilities in their troupe. This year they made headlines after performing the classic Russian ballet The Rite of Spring in Hobart.
Why we love it: Dance brings joy to everyone, and we love that this acknowledges the diversity of performers who embrace this medium.
13. “Toys Like Us” make dolls that represent kids with disabilities
“Toys Like Us” have spearheaded a campaign to make toys that represent children with disabilities, so they don’t feel different to other kids. Hearing aids, birthmarks and devices to help the visually impaired are all featured in the range.
Why we love it: There is nothing more lovely (and a little bit tear-jerking) than seeing the kids playing with dolls that look just like them.
14. Best friends with cerebral palsy make cheerleading nationals
Bella Stokes and Gabby Rooks are best friends who competed in the Australian All Star Cheerleading Federation national competition. The twist? They both have cerebral palsy and are wheelchair users.
Why we love it: Cheerleading has increased their confidence and physical strength, and helped them make lots of new friendships.
15. Teenage athlete with cerebral palsy stars in active wear campaign
Kudos to Target again for including differently-abled people in their catalogues. This time they’ve featured 19 year old wheelchair racer Robyn Lambird modelling their activewear range, and breaking down stereotypes about athletes.
Why we love it: We are absolutely loving the way that major retailers are breaking ground and making representation count in their ad campaigns.
16. Quadriplegic farmer runs remote Queensland beef cattle venture
Rob Cook is passionate about cattle. Forced to leave his remote Northern Territory cattle station due to a lack of carers (he is quadriplegic), he has set up shop in central Queensland, running a 2,000-hectare property near Bundaberg.
Why we love it: Rob shows that having a disability is no obstacle to following your passions, even when a lack of support forces you to change up the plan.
17. The accessible home built for wheelchair triplets
The Read family of Canowindra built a house to accommodate not one, but three power wheelchairs, enabling their triplets with muscular dystrophy to learn to live independently. The “Miracle House” was built with the help of the entire community.
Why we love it: The community has rallied around, donating more than $300,000 via a group of residents who raised money by running the City to Surf.
18. Thousands of birthday cards sent to boy with autism
A boy with autism has received thousands of birthday cards from around the world, after his mother made an online appeal online after she saw him writing cards to himself. Her Facebook post led to an avalanche of mail for Ollie’s 15th birthday.
Why we love it: The kindness and generosity of strangers can be a wondrous thing to behold, and the outpouring of support is heartwarming.
19. Hugo Weaving teams up with his nephew to make a film about autism
Hugo Weaving teamed up with his 16 year old nephew Ky Greenwood for a short film about living with autism in ‘Ky’s Story’. Greenwood was born with autism, and the film thoughtfully documents some of his daily challenges.
Why we love it: Anything that raises awareness about the autism spectrum is wonderful, but we particularly love than an A-list actor has lent his support.
20. Pet pig makes positive change in autistic boys’s life
When mischevious pig Chester arrived Sam’s mum had no idea what an impact he would have. The two quickly became best friends, teaching Sam about empathy, calming his anxiety and to causing him to grow in confidence.
Why we love it: This is a true love story between best mates, and we love how this special bond encouraged Sam to come out of his shell.
When life gives you lemons it’s time to go out looking for some sugar to make lemonade. These wonderful feel good stories are just the right antidote to a seemingly endless media cycle of negative news stories, and they start to make you think that maybe 2016 wasn’t so bad after all.