Watching the way disabled people, particularly children, are portrayed on television and in the media, dad Dan White was becoming increasingly frustrated.
The 43-year-old illustrator knew from experience that disabled young people aren’t shy, retiring creatures who should be handled with kid gloves.
His nine-year-old daughter Emily was born with spina bifida, where there is a gap in the spine, and hydrocephalis – water on the brain.
Emily is in a wheelchair but nothing stops her from playing basketball and football and roaring round the home she shares with her father and mother, Aimee.
She is a real livewire and would be mortified if anyone pitied her for being in a wheelchair.
‘I’m good at basketball and football,’ says Emily.
My wheelchair can fly!Emily White
‘It’s really good fun and I get to meet lots of new people.
‘And I play guitar. I’m learning Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple and Under Pressure by Queen. I love rock music.
‘I do lots of art work which we put up on the wall.’
Emily, of Woodcote Lane, Fareham, has a packed diary and lives life to the full.
And to prove this point, Dan has created a comic called The Department of Ability, based on five disabled superheroes whose disabilities are actually their superpowers.
And, at the centre of the drama, is Emily.
‘My wheelchair can fly!’ she exclaims.
The colourful characters, which stem from Dan’s love of sci-fi, leap off the page.
The stories are packed full of fast-paced action and humour – much like Emily’s life.
Dan says: ‘We were blessed when Emily was born.
‘Like all the other kids in our circle of friends she is incredible and determined to seize life and shake it up.
‘I looked for a disabled icon for her and found none – so I came up with my own.
‘They all have special powers and are united to fight evil and prejudice by using their disabilities as powers.
‘But, again and again, when I approached animation companies, TV networks and famous authors, I was told the characters wouldn’t work because they only represent a minority of society, they’re not mainstream.
‘But we believe the concept and the characters are universal.’
After receiving several knock-backs, Dan uploaded his superheroes to Facebook and the response was incredible.
He now has fans all over the world and the charity Strongbones, which helps children with bone conditions, is publishing the comic at the beginning of next year.
Aimee says: ‘The comic is brilliant.
‘I’m so pleased that Dan is doing it because he loves it. He gives Emily the opportunity to join in too.
‘The public’s reaction has been really good.
‘Disabled people are not often shown in a positive light.
‘So it’s nice to see them doing something exciting.’
There is another comic book in the pipeline for next year and the couple also run a website promoting children’s art work.
Aimee, who is Emily’s full-time carer, taught herself how to build the website by watching YouTube videos.
Any child, of any ability, can upload their artwork absolutely free – and fans have been buying it.
Dan says: ‘It’s called Amazing Kids Art. Whether it’s animation, paint, pencil, clay, they can upload photos of it on to our site.
‘Kids’ artwork is massively important.
‘Their imaginations are on fire and we think what they create is more valuable and wonderful than any adult art. And it’s not a bit pretentious.’
At the end of 2014 Emily became very ill.
She has a shunt implanted in her skull to drain away the water from her brain.
Aimee says: ‘She was unwell for around a year before doctors realised the shunt was blocked and she underwent a major operation to repair it.
‘There were complications which meant she was poorly for longer. But the difference in her now that she is back to her usual self is amazing.
‘When she was ill she didn’t even want to go to basketball – which she loves. She is absolutely full of life again now.’
Emily is only too aware of how unwell she was and she finds it is too upsetting to talk about.
Her bladder and bowel are affected by spina bifida and she needs a ventilator at night because she has sleep apnoea. There are regular trips to hospital but Emily never complains.
The youngster, and her parents, who have a passion for Dr Who and Star Trek, grab life with both hands and enjoy every moment together.
Emily has taken part in four children’s Great South Runs to raise money for Southampton General Hospital, where she has spent so much her time over the years.
She says: ‘They help me a lot and I just like to thank them because they are amazing.’
The Department of Ability
Dan White, father to nine-year-old Emily, has created a comic book based on disabled young people.
Each of the characters has a superpower which is actually their disability.
The Department of Ability will be published by the charity Strongbones in the new year.
It features the following characters who are all united to fight evil and prejudice, using their disabilities as powers:
Emily – based on Dan’s daughter, who has fierce upper body strength and a flying wheelchair.
Azzazatz – a crash-landed alien who uses a strong mechanical arm.
Pawsy – a cheetah who moves like lightning with his artificial running limb.
Claypole – a blind ghost who uses his senses and white sticks, not just for finding his way.
Billy – the team mascot and dog who has rear wheels and a robotic tail.
Go to facebook.com/emilysdad2014,
facebook.com/groups/amazingkidsart and emilysdadsart.com