December 3, 2018, by Emma Thorne

Learning disabilities ambassador is named on inspirational leaders list

A learning disabilities ambassador in the University’s School of Health Sciences has spoken of her surprise and delight at being named among the UK’s top learning disability leaders.

Emily Smith who has Down’s syndrome, has been named in the top 15 of the first Dimensions Learning Disabilities and Autism Leaders List in the category of work and education.

The list was announced in The Guardian newspaper today, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which also coincides with the University’s Disabilities December initiative, a month-long programme of events to highlight and promote disability awareness among staff and students.

Emily said: “I was so surprised to win this award. I don’t really think what I am doing is special – but having Down’s syndrome has given me the chance to work with some amazing people and opportunities which I wouldn’t otherwise have had. I would say to other people with learning disabilities, if there is something you want to do, just go for it, don’t let your disability hold you back.”

The Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List 2018 is the UK’s first national listing of people with learning disabilities and/or autism who are helping make things better for themselves and others, created by not-for-profit support provider Dimensions, in association with Learning Disability England and VODG.

Emily was nominated for the Dimensions Leaders List by the University’s School of Health Sciences for her vital role in educating student nurses on the Person-Centred Nursing Practice strand of their course, offering valuable insight into living with Down’s syndrome and her own experiences of healthcare.

She is an integral part of the School’s Public and Patient Experience panel and is regularly involved in the interview process for new nursing and physiotherapy students. As a result, she has also been invited to speak at national learning disability events and to be a judge at the Student Nursing Times Awards. She is the only woman with Down’s Syndrome to have been published in the British Medical Journal.

Her involvement with University public engagement events such as Wonder and Discovery Days, has also led to her being recognised in the Changing Communities category of the list. She has been involved with coaching for the charity Riding for the Disabled and is a keen equestrian, having competed in both learning disability and able-bodied categories.

Helen Laverty, Professional Lead Learning Disability Nursing in the School of Health Sciences, said: “Emily is eloquent, funny and a real raconteur. She also has a true gift for delivering a powerful message with a very human element and her insights have been invaluable for our student nurses.”

Emily’s success was revealed on the same day that the University announced that it was to award an honorary doctorate to inspirational actor Sarah Gordy MBE. Sarah will be the first person with Down’s Syndrome to be recognised with an honorary degree by a UK university.

A campaigner for Mencap, she became the charity’s first official ambassador with a learning disability in 2013. In 2018, Sarah made history as the first woman with Down’s syndrome to be awarded an MBE, recognising her contributions to the arts and people with disabilities.

Sarah will become an honorary Doctor of Laws during the Faculty of Arts winter graduation ceremony at the University on Wednesday 12 December and will deliver her acceptance address to her fellow graduates and the University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Shearer West.

Posted in Awards and accoladesHealth & medicine