SPRINGWOOD resident Sara Shams is an above-knee amputee from birth, but not having legs hasn’t stopped Sara from striding out and achieving her dreams.
Sara is passionate about increasing representation of people with disabilities and creating inclusive environments in Australia.
From the runway to the boardroom, she is committed to redefining perceptions about disability, and highlighting how much people with disability have to offer.
Born in Bangladesh, Sara had a congenital anomaly, which led to her becoming a bilateral above-knee amputee at the age of 6.
“I didn’t see anyone like me – a woman with disability, or a woman of colour – on screens or in the media when I was growing up,” she says.
Using her new stable legs, Sara achieved a top goal when she modelled on the catwalk at Designer Q and Brisbane Fashion Week in 2022.
“I am determined to increase representation of people with disability in the media and other industries, and one of my goals was to get on the runway, which was an incredible achievement for me,” Sara says.
“I spent many years wishing away my disability and I hope sharing my experience of self-acceptance will encourage others to learn to embrace themselves a little more,” she says.
“I don’t want children growing up today thinking it’s not okay to have a disability.”
Sara says as a child she hated her prosthetic legs, and she was happy to play on her knees.
‘In primary school years, I would run around on my knees and no amount of teasing bothered me,’ Sara says.
‘I had a supportive family and they always encouraged me to use the prosthetic limbs. However, I was quite prone to falls and it felt unnatural to wear them.
‘My self-esteem was low during my teenage years, and as a young adult in university.
‘I tried my best to hide my disability by wearing long pants and stockings. However, people could still tell I was unique from the way I walked, and they would come up to me to ask if I was okay.’
After completing a Bachelor of Biomedical Science and Master of Pharmacy, Sara worked as a pharmacist, but she continued to believe she wasn’t good enough until a suggestion from her husband, Toby, made her turn a corner.
Toby suggested she start an Instagram account to post about her life as an amputee using prosthetic legs, and it made her question why she was hiding her truth.
Through social media, she connected with others like herself, who were not only surviving, but thriving in life.
Sara says this empowered her to question her inner critic and start being the change she wanted to see in the world.
‘What am I hiding? What message am I sending to those who live with a disability?’ Sara says.
‘I then started to wear shorts for the first time in my life and embracing my differences, my disability. Being an amputee began to feel like my own superpower.
‘While the media and fashion industries are moving in the right direction, disability representation is still not where it should be, and often tokenistic.
‘I want to see people with a range of disabilities represented on the runway and other industries. I also want to see people with disability in leadership positions, and an increase in their employment rates.’
‘There is a lot of capability overlooked due to disability, which is guided by an inbuilt bias. However, disability is the world’s largest minority group, and something that can impact anyone at any point in their life.
Sara believes inclusive hiring practices and disability awareness training are important for organisations along with setting a quota to hire qualified, experienced staff with disability.
Sara now embraces her disability – and her legs.
She proudly struts her stuff on runways and steps onto stages to share her personal journey.