We are delighted to announce that actor Samantha Renke has become an Ambassador for ADD International! We recently caught up with her about her work as a disability activist.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am an actress and disability campaigner. Born with the rare genetic condition Osteogenesis Imperfecta type 3 or more commonly known as Brittle Bone condition, I am a full-time wheelchair user, and have undergone 10 operations including complete spinal fusion and has had an estimated 200 fractures stemming back from within the womb.
My parents insisted on a fully inclusive upbringing and sent me to mainstream school. After university, I completed a P.G.C.E in secondary education and became a language teacher. Simultaneously to my studies, I became trustee for the Brittle Bone Society for 6 years. Always intrigued by city life, I took the brave decision to leave my life as a teacher in Blackburn behind and pursue my dream career as an actress.
Best known for my role in the Malteasers advert, my debut lead role in indie film Little Devil saw me winning best actress at the LA diversity film festival. I have recently been part of an online series for the Huffington Post called the New Activists, appeared on Loose Women and have many exciting projects lined up in 2018. I love fashion and would love my own petite fashion line in the future.
Q. Do you consider yourself as a disability activist? Why?
Activist, disability campaigner, proactive, feminist, standing up for what you believe in, wanting to change the world for the better, making change happen. No matter what terminology you feel comfortable with - I would say I am and practice all of the above.
I was once told ‘you’ve changed Samantha’! as though that was a bad thing. One thing that 100% certain in life other than death is change and change can be for the better or worse. With that in mind I strive to make change for the better so if that makes me an ‘activist’ then yes that what I am.
Q. How did you become a disability activist?
I have two passions in life, acting and performing, and my charity work. I became a trustee for the Brittle Bone Society (the condition I have myself) years back and knew I had the strength and ability to help others in a similar situation as mine. As a former teacher, I knew the importance of sharing information, the more we share the more we grow, develop and become stronger. I never knew anyone ‘like me’ growing up which made my younger years sometimes very lonely and challenging. If only I had someone with my disability guiding me and at times simply assuring me that you will get through this or you can do it. So as I grew I knew what I had to do, I could be that mentor I had longed for as a child / teenager.
As I became an actress, it struck me that in order for me to sustain my dream job I would have to also change the minds and hearts of society. Break down attitudes towards disabled people and dispel those stereotypes. 13.3 million people living in the U.K. that identify as having a disability / additional needs yet we are only represented by 3% on our T.V screens and in our magazines. For selfish reasons and wanting to put food on my table and not live off of beans on toast for the rest of my life, I became an activist for the acting world. I want to encourage more budding disabled actors to follow in my tyre prints and I also want the media industry to understand that inclusion is key and that disabled people deserve to be represented in an authentic way.
Q. Do you think inclusion of disabled people is important? Why?
Bullying, discrimination, prejudices, abuse all comes from fear of the unknown. We make fun of things that we are unsure of as a way to cope with the uncertainty. As a society we would rather judge, or isolate those who don’t fit into our own beliefs or ideal - how do we change this, well by inclusion. When people realise that there is nothing to fear or feel uncomfortable about they embrace rather than exclude.
Out of all the minorities ‘disabilities’ seems to be the one that is still not embraced and thought or talked about. We don’t want to offend or put our foot in it are reasons I am often told for not including those with disabilities. However, I say put your own ‘awkwardness and sense of feeling uncomfortable to one side and show compassion and empathy. How do you think that disabled person feels being left out? How would you feel? Do you honestly believe someone would rather you didn't talk to them then perhaps say something a little silly or politically incorrect? I know what I’d rather.
Q. What do you think about ADD International’s work?
What strikes me most about the work of ADD international is that its gives people autonomy. It gives them the tools to make change happen. Western society has a way of being over bearing and insisting that our way is the right way and our western values are the only values. ADD trains activists to continue work the way they want to for the good of their own community and country.
Q. Why did you decide to become our ambassador?
It’s easy to become focused on your own experience in the U.K. believe me we have much work to be done and it is all consuming at times. However, even as a young child I have often thought how my life would be if I were to have been born and raised in a less affluent country and to be honest that thought is often hard to bare. I am not ever going to feel guilty or grateful for my circumstances or make too many comparisons however, I want to be mindful that regardless of wealth, class, privilege, my life as a disabled woman most certainly has parallels to those in other countries and I can share my wisdom with others no matter where in the world.