Australia

What you can’t see in this painting of Ameera

When Ameera Lee began falling during her archery sessions, she knew something had to change.
“I knew I had multiple sclerosis when I started shooting as a standing archer, but as time went on I found myself flat on my back collecting arrows,” says the 48-year-old who lives in Sydney.

Her coach suggested she instead take up seated archery, and she hasn’t looked back since.

Ameera Lee is a national champion in archery. Source: Supplied / Wheelchair Sports NSW/ACT

The 2021 Australian Open champion says her first international para-archery competition was an empowering experience, and she now has dreams to compete at the Paralympic Games in Paris in 2024.

“It just opened my world to a whole new realm of possibilities, and you can do anything you want.”
Lee is one of seven female wheelchair athletes featured in the How I Roll portrait exhibition, unveiled by Wheelchair Sports NSW/ACT last month.

The seven women and girls are from different sporting backgrounds and are of different ages and ethnicities, but they are all involved for one main purpose – increasing female participation in wheelchair sports.

A group of people, some using wheelchairs, gathered around a series of paintings

The How I Roll exhibition launch in Sydney last month. Source: Twitter / Wheelchair Sports NSW/ACT

CEO of state sport organisation Wheelchair Sports NSW/ACT, Mick Garnett says fewer than 30 per cent of athletes in his organisation identify as female, a number which he calls “unacceptable”.

“The research is very clear that the drop-off for teenage girls in sport is absolutely too high,” he said.

He hopes the exhibition will create role models for other women and girls with disability, with plans to take the portraits to secondary schools around NSW and the ACT.

Person-first portraits

Three-time Archibald finalist Kirsty Neilson was commissioned to complete the project.

“It was really important to do live sittings … I really wanted to meet with the girls,” she said.

“I did a lot of sketches of them, quick 10-minute drawings, and then I had those as references to do the portraits.”

A notable omission from the portraits is the athletes’ wheelchairs. Neilson says that decision was made in order to focus on the individual.

A group of people smiling and looking at a portrait

Ameera Lee with her son and artist Kirsty Neilson at the exhibition launch. Source: SBS News / Tys Occhiuzzi

“People judge people in wheelchairs really quickly with their first impression. The girls are so much more than that. I think that’s why it was important to not show them in their wheelchairs.”

People judge people in wheelchairs really quickly … The girls are so much more than that.

– Kirsty Neilson, Artist

Garnett says it was “really intentional” for the portraits not to feature the wheelchairs.
“We wanted to see the person first,” he said.

“Below the pieces there would be a bit about them as sportswomen, but primarily it was about seeing them without the wheelchair.”

This week, the launch of an International Day of People with Disability campaign calling on Australians to “look beyond” disability, drew mixed reactions.
Some positive support for the campaign, launched by the Department of Social Services, came from people with disability online, while others, including Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John, criticised it for being ableist.

“To our allies and supporters, see us, don’t look past us,” Senator Steele-John said in a speech on Thursday.

Kokoberra and Kunjen woman Geneva Colin travelled from far-north Queensland to Sydney to see her portrait in the How I Roll exhibition last month.

The 20-year-old wheelchair basketballer has spina bifida and says she has faced challenges all her life.

A woman smiling next to a portrait of her.

Geneva Colin with her portrait. Source: SBS News / Tys Occhiuzzi

“Racism, my disability is a big thing for me, and just being a female in a mixed team [are all challenges], so it’s really hard for me to get involved,” she said.

But Colin has found her place in wheelchair basketball, with dreams of making it into the national team.

A woman in a sports vest holding a basketball

Geneva Colin encourages others to dream big. Source: Supplied / Karen Watson

Her message for other women with disability is one of self-belief.

“Anything is possible if you just believe in yourself, no matter what disability you have,” she said.

Wheelchair archer Lee is just as encouraging.
“Never be defined by other people, go for it, give it your all,” she said.
“I have a saying: be creative, get inspired and never give up.”
International Day of People with Disability is held on 3 December to recognise the contributions and achievements of the 4.4 million Australians with disability, both visible and invisible.
Schools and organisations interested in exhibiting the How I Roll portrait series in 2023 are encouraged to email
If you would like to share your story with SBS News, email
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