For me, school wasn’t particularly successful. I was pushed to go to college but told I wouldn’t amount to much. I've worked within education for over 20 years but was always told that that university wasn't for me. Fortunately, my foster father disagreed, and with his support and guidance, I slowly began to believe in myself again. Living with a disability myself, I have always been motivated to learn and understand more about disabilities and I went on to secure a place at college to study for a BTEC Diploma in Social Care, where my passion for social equality was ignited.
I was working in the University of Suffolk’s Operations Team when the BA (Hons) Special Educational Needs and Disability degree was first advertised. A colleague left a promotional postcard on my desk, with a post-it note reading 'it's right up your street'. Aware that studying for a Degree as a mature student while also working at the University and raising a child would be difficult, I was determined to progress my career and needed formal qualifications to do this. I spoke to the course leader, my line manager and my family before making the decision to start my journey studying a degree.
Using my years of experience with disability I really enjoyed the degree content and challenges. Undertaking the course part time meant I was part of many cohorts and made many new lifelong friendships along the way. I enjoyed our lunch and break time chats, were we often helped each other with personal problems, we were all so supportive of each other.
Studying at the university opened opportunities to me, I was successfully able to obtain a research assistant post on some new research involving adults with learning disabilities and art therapy. This collaboration resulted in us writing a research paper, which was published in December 2017.
I was nominated for an award in 2018 at the Suffolk Adult Learners' Awards, where I was delighted to win not just one award but two! I was awarded ‘Inspirational Learner of the Year’ and then chosen by the panel in the final award of the evening being named the ‘Outstanding Learning of the Year’. As well as these awards I was then selected as the winner of the Festival of Learning Patron’s Award for my exceptional achievement in adult learning. I was selected as the recipient of the special award by the Learning and Work Institute’s Patron, HRH The Princess Royal. The award recognises individuals who, through learning, have transformed their own lives and the lives of their families, friends, their communities, and the places they work. This led to me giving a speech at the Houses of Parliament on the inequalities that people with disabilities and special educational needs face daily, with recommendations on changing legalisation.
My husband and daughter were in the audience, seeing me collect my awards. It is very important for my daughter to see the importance of learning, and that you can keep learning at any age. She enjoys coming to the University for events and I’m hoping that as she gets older and continues her learning that one day she will make the decision to come this way too.
I have always had a passion that everyone should be able to learn British Sign Language and having this as a recognised GCSE. Using the results of my work I was further able to provide the academic argument for a proposal of a GCSE in British Sign Language. After years of work and joining forces with another inspirational young man, we were both pleased to hear that the originally rejected proposal in Parliament was overturned for a GCSE in British Sign Language. The government is now working with other organisations to put together a GCSE. After completing my degree, I have offered an 'Introduction to British Sign Language' course to students at the university, the first year was successful, showing students how some basic knowledge can remove communication barriers. I hope that more students can learn from the basics of this language and, when a GCSE is available, there will be plenty of interest in undertaking the course.
I would advise any mature applicants on the many benefits of learning later in life. It was my foster Dad who said ‘you can’t listen to one side of the story’, and he pushed me to continue with my sign language and with college. He said ‘one way or another you will get to your target and your dream just not necessarily through the conventional route’. And that is what has happened. I always hoped to achieve this degree and make valuable changes to other peoples' lives. My foster dad has always believed in me and it’s this belief that motivated me to go on.