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Talking to Emma Cooper-Williams, singer-songwriter and disability mentor

Grace Stratton talks to singer-songwriter Emma Cooper-Williams, a finalist at last night’s Attitude Awards which celebrate the achievements of people who live with disabilities.

Emma Cooper-Williams is no stranger to obstacles, but, through music, she is turning them into opportunities. Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, the 19-year-old University of Auckland student has already racked up an impressive amount of musical accolades. In 2016 she won the SmokeFree Rockquest APRA Lyric Writers Award for songwriting and has also been awarded for her lyrics by Live For Tomorrow and Play it Strange.

Emma says her motivation is to “make a difference to someone’s life” through music and lyrics. This dedication is also something which Emma is living out through her actions within the disability community. Emma, who mostly uses a wheelchair, is a tutor at StarJam, an organisation designed to give young people with disabilities confidence through musical exploration. Multi-instrumentalist Emma works with a group of StarJam students to help them develop a passion for music, from which they can draw strength when facing life’s challenges.

“We all have our own struggles and insecurities that are a part of being a human, not just a part of being a human with a disability,” she says. However, disability does provide extra challenges to daily life and for Emma and her students, music is a “shoulder to lean on” in order to conquer them.

Emma’s dedication toward sharing her passion for music has made her a leader within the disability community. Her infectious determination to succeed as a community leader and musician shows those around her that passion can be bigger than what might stand in your way. It’s an important message for everyone, but it is especially powerful for the near 2,500 New Zealanders under the age of 21 who live with some degree of Cerebral Palsy and for those youths who otherwise identify with the disability community. “My leadership in the disability community allows me to share in the experiences of others, much like performing does, because when I perform I hope to give the audience a message and make a difference in their lives.”

Cooper-Williams’ work has lead her to be a finalist for the Attitude Youth Spirit Award. The Attitude Awards are a yearly ceremony which recognises achievements within and for the disability community, and the Youth Spirit Award recognises young people like Emma who are committed to being a voice for their community. As co-vice chair on the Cerebral Palsy Society Youth Alliance Board and the youngest member of this year’s Be Accessible, Be Leadership programme – and plans to release an EP in the near future – the talented folk singer is certainly the embodiment of Attitude’s, ‘youth spirit’ and an example of New Zealand’s musical future.

Emma Cooper-Williams (Photo: Supplied)

Emma Cooper-Williams has the opportunity to one day stand among the greats of New Zealand music not only because she has a fierce determination and the support of organisations like Attitude, but because, like the best musicians, Emma turns her obstacles and difficulties into opportunities and those opportunities into words to inspire others. This is the mark of not only a great musician, but of a truly impactful spirit who can transform both communities and audiences.


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