This year, Learning Disability Awareness Week took place between 18th and 24th June. To celebrate, my cohort of third year learning disability nursing students had arranged in a variety of activities to promote awareness.
We uploaded a video of us singing and signing along to ‘This Is Me’ from the film The Greatest Showman. We chose this song because we identified with the song’s powerful lyrics, as both our profession and the people we work alongside are often stigmatised against. Our feelings towards this song seemed to be mirrored by our family, friends and beyond, as our video has almost 50,000 views and was shared over 500 times on Facebook. We were immensely proud to see organisations such as Makaton and Mencap also share our video. The YouTube link can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1UeFFxsAL8
I attended Edge Hill University’s HEI Service Users and Carers Networking Forum as the student representative. It was attended by health and social care professional educators from across the country, to learn about the importance of service user involvement and how this is done in higher education establishments. During the breakout sessions in the afternoon, me and my fellow student nurses taught the attendees how to sign ‘hello my name is’ using Makaton, with a brief overview of why this is so important. When the groups came together at the end of the day, we filmed the whole group signing together. We had also arranged for Dance Syndrome – an inclusive dance company – to come and do a workshop during the break. This was great fun, and Jodie and Sophie definitely made us earn our sandwiches!
On this day, college students came to the university for a taster day in which they could choose a subject related to health and learn about this as an option for future studying. Three other student nurses and I spoke to approximately 100 students about what our branch of nursing was, as many people have not heard of it. We also spoke briefly about our journey to becoming a learning disability nurse and what we hope to do when we qualify. We also showed the whole group how to sign ‘hello my name is’. In the smaller groups led by one of our tutors, we completed an activity in which the students had to eat sweets and describe these to their peers. This enabled them to understand how some people within our client group can have communication difficulties, as well as the ways in which we can aid communication such as through sign and visual cues.
On Thursday afternoon, we organised a student-led, faculty supported event, in which we invited people to ‘come and discover – think outside the box’. Attendance was completely voluntary; however, we were so proud and thankful that over 50 students and lecturers attended! The stalls included a general information and statistics stall, which was mine. At this stall, I spoke about the shocking statistics from the LeDeR report, as well as the simple ways we, as health professionals, can help with communication, such as hospital passports, easy read documentation and visual timetables. Other stalls included information on one page profiles, reasonable adjustments, Mencap’s Treat Me Well campaign, a Makaton workshop, a sensory awareness tent, learning disability versus learning difficulty myth buster, quotes from learning disability nurses and student nurses about why they chose the profession, a lecturer’s journey from his time in India, and local trusts had stalls talking about their experiences as learning disability services. There was also information and the chance to sign up for an upcoming ‘learning disability student champions’ project in which over 40 students signed up for. We also gave everyone the chance to sign along with our ‘This Is Me’ video. We felt this day went extremely well because people seemed genuinely interested to learn about the health inequalities of people with a learning disability so that, together, we can make sure this is improved in the future.
We launched a social media campaign, #MakatonYou, in which we challenged people to sign ‘hello my name is’ and nominate three people to do the same. The idea of this was to promote Kate Granger and Chris Pointon’s #hellomynameis campaign in which they encourage healthcare professionals to always introduce themselves to patients. It is also to promote the fact that for many people, not just people with learning disabilities, communication is not always verbal. By learning the basic sign of ‘hello my name is’ along with their first initial of their first name, it will educate them and hopefully spark an interest in continuing to learn more signs.
Following from this, we were asked to organise some activities around the theme ‘This Is Me’ for a local primary school where the pupils have severe and complex learning difficulties and autistic spectrum disorders. We drew self-portraits with the children, then, on prints of our own hands, told each other what we liked about one another and where we thought our own strengths were. As the children were about to transition to high school, we thought it would be a good idea for them to think about what their hopes and aspirations for the future are. This was a lovely day which we all enjoyed, and it gave us all a chance to improve on our self-awareness as well as create some amazing artwork!
Not only do we feel we achieved the aim of raising awareness of learning disabilities in this week, but we also felt we learnt a lot about organising events, working together and highlighted how passionate we are about our field of nursing. Bring on Learning Disability Awareness Week 2019!
Alice Waddington @aliceLDnurse