Deaf performer and inclusivity consultant, Jonny Cotsen, has been proving people wrong his whole life and now he has been honoured nationally for his efforts.

The Cardiff-born theatre enthusiast grew up lip reading and was taught how to speak, only learning British Sign Language aged 40, and has been defying those who told him he would never be able to act.

For his work with National Lottery funded Disability Arts Cymru, National Lottery funding distributor Arts Council of Wales and multiple other local and national initiatives, Cotsen has been recognised for his tireless enthusiasm and hard work, to become part of a campaign championing the individuals and projects who are supporting making the arts more accessible for all, with the help of National Lottery funding and players, who raise £30 million for good causes every week.

To celebrate his incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a digital piece of art that immortalises Jonny Cotsen’s story.

He said: "I'm a little bit overwhelmed when people say 'hero', I just do it because it's what I love to do.

Ealing Times:

"I've always believed that I could do anything, regardless of barriers I would face.

"I don't want any young deaf creative to go on that journey I did.”

"I feel like my role now it to support young deaf creatives in Wales because we need more."

Leaving his teaching position, Cotsen decided to pursue a career in the arts and was shocked by the lack of accessibility for deaf or hard of hearing audiences. He went on to write the Arts Council of Wales Toolkit to provide guidance on how to improve access for others whilst encouraging deaf people to take the step and get into theatre. He said: "I realised that there were no deaf people going to the theatre, so I set up the club with the hopes that deaf people would come.

"And when people came, they really enjoyed it, by having pre-talks and an interpreter at front of house, that was my biggest achievement.

"Ever since then I've been going on that journey of trying to have those conversations with the deaf community."

In 2017, Cotsen began his own performance journey with his autobiographical show 'Louder Is Not Always Clearer', an empathetic and vulnerable story about a deaf man trapped in a hearing world.

Told he could never act to performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and selling out shows across the UK, Cotsen's show resonates with deaf audiences whilst opening a new world for hearing audiences.

He said: "I've always wanted to be an actor, from the age of 10, I've always wanted to sing and dance and perform.

"When I was 10 or 11, I was told that I could never act by my drama teacher, so I always had this negative attitude towards performing.

"Originally, I wanted someone who was of hearing to play me, but the actor was like 'I'm not deaf, I don't know any of the barriers, why don't you do it? Have a go’.

"And I had a go and I'm really thankful and appreciative that this guy who pushed me to perform."

Breaking misconceptions about the deaf community, Cotsen gets the audience to lipread at one point in the show to highlight just how hard it is.

Most recently, Cotsen was nominated for a BAFTA Cymru award for the short film of his show.

He said: "I really want people to understand these barriers and that it's not just me, it's not just my story it's all of our stories.

"We're just a linguistic minority, it's just the language that is the problem, we can do anything.

"So, it's important to me to showcase that so what I love about the show is that it sticks in your head and brings that confrontation.

"It's kind of like a creative consultancy on stage. "

Three additional digital portraits have been created by artist Yoniest Chun, depicting the stories of other individuals and projects who are supporting making the arts more accessible for all as part of The National Lottery’s Peoples’ Portraits series. These include Kevin Walker (Signkid), a deaf rapper and producer from London, Dee Conaghan, founder of the Stage Beyond Theatre Company in Derry, Northern Ireland and Charlie Little a deafblind film enthusiast from the Matchbox Cine organisation in Scotland.