Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Spiffy here! I’m back with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Niall Guite, an artist with Art with a Special Goal. Let’s see what he is doing to make a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Niall! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through your startup?
Niall: Glad to chat with you, Spiffy! Through my work, I aim to challenge society's perception of people with an intellectual disability. I started drawing images of football stadiums during the global pandemic to raise funds for Special Olympics Great Britain (SOGB) and found that I had engaged lots of people with my art. The idea for setting up a social enterprise came as a collaboration between myself and SOGB. This not only gave me the opportunity to work and earn money as an artist, but also to give voice to people like myself who are not seen as capable. People assume a lot about me without talking to me and getting to know who I really am. My business allows me to interact with lots of different people through social media with opportunities to challenge perceptions in a positive way.
Spiffy: How wonderful! You found a way to channel your individual creativity while also championing representation for others. Please tell me more about what motivated you to tackle this challenge.
Niall: Exactly! I wanted to work and earn my own money and also help other people see the possibilities for people like myself. There are 1.5 million people with an intellectual disability in the UK alone, yet we have very little workforce representation: only 6% of us are in paid employment. We are often ignored by society and, at worst, exploited and made fun of. Through inclusion efforts, I try to show that we are worth listening to, and that we matter. Society needs to see that we can all contribute given the right support and motivation. I want to continue to help show others that a good and positive life is possible for all.
Spiffy: Tell us more about how you and your organization are working towards a more equitable world.
Niall: SOGB and I work hard to promote my art and the message of inclusion. I speak at conferences sharing my experiences and helping people see that an intellectual disability should not be a barrier to employment or to a happy and fulfilling life—that someone’s disability should be accepted and acknowledged and not treated with ignorance or introduction of barriers. I find it difficult to talk, but I know that in doing so I will be helping people to see that positivity and acceptance are essential for equity. I use social media to constantly show my art and celebrate my accomplishments. You have to see it to be it. If there are no role models then people don’t believe there are possibilities.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organizational milestone or initiative. What impact does that make on your community or audience?
Niall: I exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London. The theme was climate, and I showed two pieces of art. This led to my art being featured nationally on both BBC News and BBC Sport, as well as across my social media pages. A crossover of art, sport, and disability awareness, it made headline news and was shared globally through the Special Olympics media channels. This gave people like myself and their families the opportunity to see a positive role model, uplift their own view of themselves, and expand the future possibilities they imagine for their own lives. I am always looking to share the message of inclusion.
Spiffy: Congratulations on that success! Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?
Niall: I have submitted artwork to competitions and received emails informing me they weren’t accepted. This didn’t stop me from trying. I kept submitting my artwork and eventually did get accepted by Grayson Perry in 2022 to the Royal Academy’s exhibition; I was the first person with intellectual disabilities to be accepted. This is also the oldest open exhibition in the world! I continue to submit artwork, because I know that if I don’t I definitely won’t get a place, while trying gives me a better chance of success. If you keep going and remain positive, then good things can happen.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Niall: I learned that sharing my story has given families hope for the future of their children. Someone came up to me, at an SOGB cycling event, having seen me with my art on the news and thanked me for showing them that people like myself can have a good life—one filled with positivity. It made them happy and less frightened for their son's future. I want to influence more people to be hopeful and inclusive.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Niall—it’s been an honor!
Niall Guite is an artist and a gold medal-winning Special Olympics Great Britain athlete. He has a dual diagnosis of autism and intellectual disability. He also has dyslexia, dyspraxia, and processing difficulties; talking is his biggest challenge. Niall loves everything about football. His art gives him a platform to share the message that having an intellectual disability should not bar you from a good life with respect and dignity: we are all human and all need kindness. Niall wants an inclusion revolution. (Nominated by Tom Casson of Special Olympics Great Britain. First published on the Ladderworks website on April 18, 2023.)
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.
© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.