Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Shaw Trust Disability Power List 2018

From improving access to education to social enterprise, The Shaw Trust seeks to transform the lives of people across the UK and internationally.

Compiled by an independent judging panel comprised of people who all have personal experience of disability, the Disability Power List accepts nominations from across all different industries; over 700 people were nominated this year. 

The list showcases the message that – regardless of one’s disability or impairment – goals, aspirations, and ambitions can be fulfilled. The Shaw Trust works with local authorities, the government, and employers to facilitate the needs of disabled people to enable them to reach their full potential. 

Whilst every single person on the Disability Power List 2018 is worthy of being mentioned as a pioneer for the disabled, here are a few individuals whose work particularly relates to what we do here at Learning Disability Today:

Jen Blackwell – Founder and Director of DanceSyndrome

Having both a passion for dance and being born with Down’s syndrome meant that Jen Blackwell struggled to find opportunities within community dance.

So, she founded DanceSyndrome, an inclusive dance charity for – but not exclusively – people with learning disabilities. DanceSyndrome offers workshops and leadership training to people of all ages and abilities, and they have even taken their show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

“Dancing is my life”, says Blackwell. “I am passionate about dance and about supporting people like me to have opportunities in the dance world. Getting this recognition shows that people with learning disabilities can do amazing things with their lives if given a chance”.

As well as helping participants to improve their dance skills in a supportive and inclusive environment, DanceSyndrome gives them the confidence to be themselves. With the charity having a focus on ability rather than disability, Jen Blackwell is showcasing the power of dance to promote unity and create change. 

Nancy Doyle – CEO of Genius Within CIC

Imparting her expertise in many different fields, Nancy Doyle is a champion for the neurodiverse. 

Perhaps best known for working on the BBC series ‘Employable Me’, she assists neurodiverse people with realising their potential in the world of work. 

A Chartered Psychologist, Doyle wrote a guide to neurodiversity in the workplace for the British Psychological Society, and has contributed to a number of other publications.

Doyle, who lives with ADHD, is CEO of Genius Within: a Community Interest Company that seeks to maximise the strengths of the neurodiverse community by reinvesting a minimum of 65% of their profit back into it. As well as coaching and workshops, the company provides and facilitates appropriate assessments to diagnose conditions such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Tourette’s Syndrome. 

Her advice to “find the right environment for you and stick with your tribe: life can be wonderful when you stop trying to meet everyone else’s expectations” crystallises the message at the core of all her work.

A difference in your neurological profile is not something to hold you back: and Nancy Doyle will make sure of it. 

Ciara Lawrence – Learning disability campaigner

Described as “a tireless advocate and spokesperson”, Ciara Lawrence is one of the UK’s most well-known learning disability campaigners.

Having being diagnosed with a learning disability aged ten, Lawrence is well aware of the stigma that people like herself face: so she’s tackling it head on. 

Lawrence, Campaign Support Officer for Mencap, was behind the charity’s #NotOkayCupid campaign, which successfully challenged online dating site Okay Cupid to remove a discriminatory question concerning whether “the world [would] be a better place if people with low IQs were not allowed to reproduce”. 

Impressively, she is a trustee of not one but two organisations that strive to enrich the lives of the learning disabled: Head2Head, a theatre company specialising in multi-sensory performances, and the Sunnybank Trust, which runs inclusion and advocacy programmes. 

“I want to prove that with the right support [the learning disabled] can do anything like anyone else”, says Lawrence, and she is certainly a testament to this. 

Be it consulting with Coronation Street’s production team on learning disability representation, or in her homelife in which she is happily married, Ciara Lawrence defies ableist presumptions about the learning disabled. 

Jonathan Andrews – Ambitious About Autism, Mind, and Stonewall

Jonathan Andrews has an extraordinary number of achievements to his name.

He is training as a solicitor, sits on a number of government boards, co-founded the London Bisexual Network, is a trustee of two national charities (Ambitious about Autism and Stonewall), and was the first autistic LGBTQ+ person to address the UN: and that’s just a handful of them. 

 “If you don’t engage with decision-makers, your voice is unlikely to make the most difference”, says Andrews. “I chose to work internally within organisations to help them better represent and understand the communities who are affected by their policies.”  

Informed by his experience of being an autistic LGBTQ+ person born to a mother who grew up on a council estate, Andrews’ advocacy is truly intersectional.

Once upon a time, Jonathan Andrews may have been advised to hide his autism from prospective employers, but he certainly won’t be doing that now. In his words, being autistic is “an opportunity, not a weakness.” 


See the Shaw Trust Disability Power List 2018 in its entirety here. Nominations for 2019 will open on 3rd December.

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