A Deafblind teen artist from Lancashire has created one of the first NFT collections of its kind to spread awareness about her disability.
The 15-year-old digital artist Ava Jolliffe has been doing art since she was three years old, when her condition took away her vision and her hearing.
She is now releasing her NFT (non-fungible token) collection ‘Spark’ during Deafblind awareness week, which begins on the anniversary of famous deafblind author and activist Helen Keller’s birthday.
Preston-based Ava has a rare degenerative condition she became ill with at three years old which severely affects her vision and has left her profoundly deaf and a wheelchair user.
Despite the challenges, Ava uses her art as a form of communication and escapism, to overcome her frustration, and advocate for the disabled community.
Her mother Laura Jolliffe shared how proud she is of Ava and everything she has achieved despite the barriers she faces on a daily basis.
She said: “She’s deafblind, she’s 15, she lives in the North West, and she’s a woman.
"So, trying to get any footholds into the artistic community is difficult.
“It’s difficult for her to be taken seriously so I get really frustrated but she has achieved so much for herself and society already.
"Life is frustrating for her but this is her love and her passion.”
Ava’s independence is difficult for her and she has someone sat with her all the time in school.
“Even the gossip in the classroom about who’s kissing who has to be fed back to her,” says her mum, Laura.
“This is the one thing she has control over in her life, the one thing where she’s independent and can go away in her room and do her own art.”
The 250-piece NFT connection titled Spark is run by Deafblind UK charity and Fungii Studios to spread awareness of deafblindess and raise funds for the cause.
NFTs are unique forms of digital data - often photos or other digital artworks - owned by one person which can then be sold or traded online.
Ava’s artwork is bright, vivid and cheerful and because her vision is so poor it has to be colourful.
She channels her frustration and anger about society's inequality and injustice into her artwork.
Laura continued: “It’s about the fire in your belly that you get when you have a moment of realisation. We want to spark passion in people and discussion. It’s all about that beginning bit of the spark that turns into activism and change.”
Deafblind Awareness Week runs from June 27 to July 3 and the charity Deafblind UK is encouraging us to get “in the know” about deafblindness, during the week so we can all be more deafblind aware.
However, Laura stressed that it’s important to “stay engaged” after awareness week because social media makes it is “easy to become like a trend” and then move on to the next movement.
“We’ve noticed there are a lot of people asking how to say please or nice to meet you, and it’s amazing. It brings that little spark of loveliness to Ava.
"People are becoming more comfortable with it, and that’s the thing we need to get to - people getting comfortable with people being disabled because we’re all the same just a little bit different.
“But this is about trying to send a consistent message about disability and getting away from fashionable trends. Even things like sign language - it isn’t a fashion for the deaf community.
"It’s trying to get away from faddism because it isn’t a phase, it’s her life. So, we’re just trying to say to people these people are out there, these people deserve equal respect.”
Deafblindness affects around 400,000 people in the UK, and it affects everyone differently, some people need to make small changes to the way they go about everyday life and some people will rely on others for communication and getting about.
Laura shared that Ava is blessed to have her talent because otherwise, “what else would she be doing?”
Life is extremely hard for deafblind people so Ava’s artwork “gives her a wonderful sense of challenge, ambition and worth.”
At 13, Ava became the youngest artist to hold an exhibition at the Garstang Arts Centre for her drawings that she created to communicate her feelings before she learned sign language.
Since then, she has designed Christmas cards, featured on BBC programmes, and is now currently working on a children’s book. Drawing takes Ava a long time so digital art gives her the right tools by allowing Ava to zoom in and focus on minute details.
Laura continued: “She’s sick of people talking down to her because she’s disabled. She really wants to show that people like her are a formidable force.
“Her work is impactful as it makes people challenge their own thoughts and opinions on how they perceive deafblind people and what they can offer.
"She proves stereotypes wrong, and she’s shown society that deafblind people can achieve great things.”
Shirley Scotcher, Director of Fundraising and Marketing for Deafblind UK said: “Ava is an extraordinary human being, and we love working with her.
"She is a shining example of how with the right support and determination, we can all achieve what we set out to.
"We hope that all those who may be struggling with sight and hearing loss, take the time to reach out to Deafblind UK on 0800 132 320 to learn about how we may be able to support them, to live a meaningful life, full of hope for each future.”