'Disabled models aren't one-offs'

Gemma Flanagan on the catwalk

"Being in a wheelchair doesn't mean that I can't do it or anyone else can't do it - we're just as capable as any other models."

Gemma Flanagan rolled herself down the catwalk for the first time at a London fashion event on Wednesday.

"It was so amazing to do it and not fall off. My biggest worry was I'd roll off the end or the side," she said.

Before an illness left her unable to walk, she worked as an air hostess and part-time model.

Gemma Flanagan on the catwalk

"I surprisingly felt just as confident as I have done in the past which, considering it was the first one in my chair, I wasn't sure how I'd cope with.

"When you're walking you can kind of have a little strut and do your thing. That's what I was worried about - not being able to show the clothes off as well.

"The designer's just so pleased with how I showcased their items and at the end of the day that's what modelling's about."

The fashion show was planned by the group Models of Diversity which campaigns for the fashion and beauty industries to represent diversity, and took place at the Ideal Home Show in London's Olympia.

Gemma Flanagan

Gemma, who is celebrating her 32nd birthday this week, wants using disabled models to be the norm.

"The more people that are open to using models with disabilities then the more people will see it as normal.

"We've all been in campaigns that have been a one-off for companies and a lot of them aren't paid either.

"It would be good to use models with disabilities just as models, not as one-offs - we're better than that," she says.

Gemma Flanagan

As for her future, she says: "I've got a hair show in May and a couple of shoots lined up with local photographers.

"I want to do a lot more using my chair. I'm in it near enough all of the time now. Part of me doing this show was to embrace myself and embrace the fact that the chair isn't the enemy anymore.

"It's basically seeing past the metal and the wheels and just saying, 'that's a gorgeous model' rather than 'a girl in a chair'."

Gemma Flanagan

In 2011 Gemma was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a serious condition which affects the nervous system.

She spent seven months in rehab trying to learn to speak, write and walk again.

Recently though she says she's found it harder to walk with crutches and has become increasingly reliant on her wheelchair.

Gemma Flanagan
Image caption Gemma before her illness

"When I got ill they were hoping I'd make a full recovery," she said.

"But I've started getting worse again and the consultant thinks this may be the best I'm ever going to be.

"I've been a bit up and down, but now I feel OK mostly.

"I want to show other people they don't need to be defined by their disabilities."

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