Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Meet the disabled influencers inspiring change through social media

From Aberdeen and Moray to Shetland, we meet three incredible social media influencers who are making real change in the world.
Rosemary Lowne
Karen Cox aka The Wobbly Cyclist is inspiring people across the world with her incredible cycling journey. Images by Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.
Karen Cox aka The Wobbly Cyclist is inspiring people across the world with her incredible cycling journey. Images by Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

Social media platforms such as Instagram can often feel like soulless places, saturated with attention-seeking influencers – usually celebrities or models – being paid to promote designer clothes, fancy cars and, in general, unattainable lifestyles.

But beneath its superficial and filtered surface, there are some genuinely extraordinary people who are eloquently influencing, inspiring and fighting for real change in the world.

Today Your Life shines a light on three incredible disabled influencers from across the north and north-east who are using Instagram to have their voices heard.

Karen Cox

Karen Cox is inspiring people across the world to not let their disabilities hold them back. Images by Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

When Karen Cox tried out her specially adapted electric bike for the first time, it gave her a life-changing sense of freedom.

Crippled by Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a debilitating condition that affects the connective tissue in the body, as well as arthritis and fibromyalgia, the 56-year-old from Lossiemouth never imagined in a million years she could ever ride a bike.

But through adaptive cycling, Karen, a mum-of-three, has found a new lease of life.

The Wobbly Cyclist

And now, through her Instagram page – The Wobbly Cyclist – Karen is inspiring others to follow her lead.

“The goal of my Instagram page is not necessarily about encouraging people to cycle but for people to just get outside and to be brave enough to try something new,” says Karen.

“I want to get people to think differently about what they can do and what they can achieve and how they can achieve things to make them feel good.

Karen Cox shares her ups and downs on her inspiring Instagram page. Images by Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

“Instagram has been a positive platform for me as has Facebook. I’ve had a lot of positive interaction from people who can relate to me.

“I share the negatives and the positives.

“And even when I share the negatives, I try and do it in a positive way by explaining how I’m feeling and what I’ll maybe try and do to overcome that.”

Specially adapted bike

It was through her work at local charity Outfit Moray that led Karen to try out accessible cycling.

“One of the things we do a lot of at the charity is accessible cycling,” says Karen.

“So my colleagues kept encouraging me to have a go, but I was scared I would fall off and hurt myself.

“But the charity was hosting a bike festival in Elgin and that’s when I finally decided to give an electric bike a go.

“It was mind-blowing to be able to move so fast.”

Karen Cox says cycling has given her a new sense of freedom. Images by Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

Sharing the ups and downs

Borrowing a bike from work, Karen says cycling helped her to get through lockdown.

“It made me feel better, more confident and obviously it improved my overall health and wellbeing,” says Karen.

Keen to raise money for Outfit Moray, Karen set up her Instagram page, sharing her cycling stories plus the ups and downs of her life.

“I got lots of engagement from people who could relate to what I was going through with my health conditions,” says Karen.

“So I continued talking about my cycling journey and I’ve been really open about the struggles I’ve faced and the progress I’ve made.

“I want to share the ups and downs.”

Karen Cox is pictured taking part in wheelchair race with Able2Adventure last October. Photo supplied by Karen Cox.

Outfit Moray

Taking her love of cycling to new heights, Karen and her colleagues from Outfit Moray scaled Ben Rinnes, the highest free-standing mountain in Moray.

“I got an electric mountain bike made for me so I started training with my Outfit Moray colleagues.

“On the day, I was pushed and pulled up there, it was a real team effort.

“When I got to the top, it was an incredible feeling, it absolutely blew my mind.

“To be able to stand at the top of that hill and see Lossiemouth gave me such a huge boost.”

Karen never imagined she could ever ride a bike. Images by Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

As well as encouraging others to try out new challenges, Karen has also used her Instagram page to raise awareness of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and the other health conditions she suffers from which include ADHD and autism.

“I’ve got hypermobility Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and the way I would describe it is that my body just wants to flop, so I have to work very hard to keep it upright,” says Karen.

“I’m using up energy every day just by sitting up, it feels like I have weights attached to my hands and legs, so I’ve got chronic fatigue and a lot of joint and muscle pain because of the way my body reacts to things.

“I have a lot of different types of pain because my body doesn’t know how to handle pain.”

Karen loves the feeling she gets when she’s out on her bike. Images by Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

100k cycle

Determined to push herself again, Karen is set to complete the Cairngorm to Coast, a 100k hike and bike event.

“It’s an event I’ve been organising since 2015 but this year I’m going to take part by doing a 100k cycle,” says Karen.

“To be able to do this event means so much to me.”

Karen Cox, front, at the summit of Ben Rinnes with her husband Rob, far left, son Chris McNeill and his husband Ryan McNeill, back right. Supplied by Karen Cox.

Flying high

It’s not only on the ground where Karen likes to test herself though as her challenges have also taken her into the skies.

“Back in 2016 I was lucky enough to get a scholarship through Flying Scholarships for disabled people,” says Karen.

“The aim of that scholarship is to enable people with disabilities to re-focus, learn how to grab opportunities and rediscover who they are and get their lives back.

“It was an incredible experience.”

Karen Cox goes the extra mile. Images by Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

Looking to the future, Karen, who says her family including her husband Rob and her grown-up children Natalie, Charlotte and Christopher have been a huge support, has more challenges on the horizon.

“This summer I want to get to the top of the Cairngorms, that’s my plan,” says Karen.

“I also want to try something with the local surfing charity too and I’m going to go gliding again.”

Frankie Butler

Frankie Butler, who suffered a life-changing injury, says sharing her story through Instagram has been cathartic.<br />Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

Frankie Butler is tenacity in human form.

Left wheelchair-bound and in excruciating pain after a catastrophic hockey injury, the 24-year-old Aberdeen University student has faced more adversity than most.

But four years on from the life-changing ankle injury that left her unable to walk and suffering from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – a persistent, severe and debilitating pain – Frankie feels stronger than ever, determined not to let her disability define her.

“I feel that for me the only way to deal with something like this is to try and find the positives every day,” says Frankie.

“It has been incredibly hard and I’ve been through some periods of severe depression, but the only thing that actually got me out of it was exercise and getting outside.

“I’ve found that when you’re outside, you realise that there’s a lot more to life than just what you’re dealing with in your own bubble.

Catastrophic injury

Originally from Marlow, a town in Buckinghamshire, Frankie, whose mum is from Dundee, grew up spending her holidays in Scotland which inspired her to make the move up to the Granite City where she studies geology at Aberdeen University.

An elite hockey player, Frankie was only two years into her course when her world was turned upside down.

“I was an international hockey player but I suffered a very catastrophic injury while playing for the university which tore all the ligaments in my ankle,” says Frankie.

“Unfortunately it wasn’t caught early on so five weeks down the line I ended up having to have quite severe reconstructive surgery which didn’t go to plan.”

Frankie Butler suffers from Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome and has used her social media platform to raise awareness of the condition. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

Excruciating pain

Frankie was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a condition triggered by an injury where the skin of the affected body part can become so sensitive that a slight touch, bump or even a change in temperature can cause intense pain.

Despite being forced to put her studies on hold and move back home, Frankie refused to give up hope, gradually moving from a wheelchair to crutches which she now uses to get about.

“I was in so much pain that I couldn’t focus on work so I tried to focus on sport, getting outside and finding a new way to reconnect with what my new body was,” says Frankie.

“In a way I’ve been really lucky as I’ve been able to re-learn things that people don’t get to re-learn, like learning to walk again.

“I feel that for me the only way to deal with something like this is to try and find the positives every day.”

Frankie has remained remarkably positive throughout her ordeal. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

Positive attitude

Although Frankie suffers from chronic pain 24/7, she has returned to university and has since got back into sport by using specially adapted wheelchairs and crutches.

“I actually did a marathon in my wheelchair to raise money for the NHS team that had been looking after me,” says Frankie.

“Now I go out for runs on my crutches so I’ve done the parkrun in Edinburgh and at home in Marlow and I really want to do the one in Aberdeen.

“There’s always a way through whatever the difficulty.”

Through her Instagram page, Frankie is inspiring people from across the world. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.


Frankie’s positive take on her experiences has amassed her over 5,000 followers on her Instagram page and she is also an ambassador for the international running brand Salomon.

“I’m the first disabled ambassador for Salomon Running which is really exciting,” says Frankie.

“It’s really empowering to feel part of the trail running community.

“I love being out in the hills  being in nature, feeling your wheels on the ground and hearing the sounds and seeing the different scenery it’s all encompassing and calming as well as helping you work your way through difficult stuff.”

Source of hope

Being able to share her journey on Instagram has been cathartic for Frankie.

“I’ve had people contact me from all over the world which has been really nice,” says Frankie.

“I’ve had lots of great conversations with people who also have Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome which has been great.

“I just want to show people that there is hope in this recovery.”

Just last month Frankie won the Inspirational Award at Aberdeen’s Sports Awards.

“It was such honour, I still can’t quite believe it,” she said.

Asked what her plans are for the future, Frankie just wants to keep doing what she’s doing.

“I just want to keep being happy and keep doing things I enjoy,” says Frankie.

“We don’t have too long on this wee rock floating about space so if I can have the most fun I can while I’m here then I should try it.”

Brynn Hauxwell

Brynn Hauxwell’s Instagram page Breaking Down Barriers With Brynn has taken off. Photo supplied by Brynn Hauxwell.

As the first wheelchair user to complete the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall, Brynn Hauxwell is used to breaking down barriers.

The remarkable 17-year-old from Shetland, who has fixed ankle contractures, a condition that affects the motion in his ankles, as well as severe asthma, autism and ADHD, is on a mission to show people that wheelchair users can achieve things they might not have thought possible.

“To be the first wheelchair user to complete Hadrian’s Wall was amazing,” says Brynn.

“It gave me a massive boost and it proved that just because of your disability it doesn’t mean you can’t go and do anything outside.”

Sheer determination

Brynn’s never-give-up spirit shines through his Instagram page – Breaking Down Barriers with Brynn – where he inspires people from every corner of the world.

“I set my Instagram page up about three or four years ago as I was doing fundraising and I also wanted to show people the importance of getting outside to improve your mental health,” says Brynn.

“I also want to show that you can get outdoors no matter your ability.

“I get loads of messages from America, New Zealand and other parts of the world.

“It’s amazing to know that I’m inspiring so many people.”

Brynn is forever completing incredible challenges for charity. Photo supplied by Brynn Hauxwell.

10 Downing Street

In fact Brynn is so inspirational that earlier this year he was invited to Number 10 Downing Street.

“I was honoured to be invited to celebrate Burns Night and Scottish culture at the Prime Minister’s reception,” says Brynn.

“It was an amazing experience.”

Brynn’s number one cheerleaders though are his mum Kim and his sister Faith.

“Brynn just keeps going, he never seems to let anything get him down, he always picks himself back up,” says Kim.

“He struggled a bit when he was younger and it wasn’t until he got his adapted wheelchair that he realised he could do the same as everyone else and he found his freedom.

“Brynn also likes to help improve people’s mental health.

“He’s part of a lot of local groups trying to push the whole mental health message across.”

Brynn never gives up hope and is always finding new charity challenges to take on. Photo supplied by Brynn Hauxwell.

£36,000 for charity

So far Brynn has raised a staggering £36,000 for charity by completing various challenges.

“Brynn’s next challenge is to raise £20,000 by completing 2,000 miles for the charity Just for Children,” adds Kim.

“Our next door neighbour’s children have disabilities so he wants to raise money for them.”

While continuing his incredible feats, Brynn is also keen to bring wheelchair basketball to Shetland.

“I’m doing a coaching course as I want to see more sports over in the Shetland Isles, specifically wheelchair basketball,” says Brynn.

“I’m hoping to get into motorsports too.”