Back to The Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List 2018

Our Winner: Joanna Grace

Category: Advocacy, policy and media

As a public figure Joanna provides support for the many people who reach out to her.

Advocate, influencer and supporter

Growing up travelling on a concrete boat meant that neurodiverse Joanna began life quite differently to most.

Her differences led to her struggling to be included with her peers, giving her insight into the pain of exclusion.

Finding a niche

Joanna tried to be an aid worker but could not manage the difficult conversations required. She excelled as a teaching assistant and a specialist school teacher but ultimately realised each of these career paths was too costly in terms of her physical and mental health.

She was drawn to working with people with profound and multiple learning disabilities because of the creative challenge, the respect they have for non-verbal communication, and for pure, in the moment connection and joy.

The Sensory Projects

Joanna founded and runs The Sensory Projects, an organisation dedicated to creating effective sensory tools for inclusion.

It started with five sensory stories funded through a Kickstarter campaign, and has since grown into seven published books and three further projects, training for professionals and much more besides. It’s a place where her autism is an asset, not a disability.

Joanna has come to support people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, who are amongst the most vulnerable members of our society, to raise their voices.

Advocating for others

Last year, with a friend, Joanna co-delivered the first TEDx talk ever to include someone with profound and multiple learning disabilities.

The talk challenged the notion that inclusion should be based on pity and argued that society gains from including those who are different.

Advocacy LDA Leaders' List 2018

As a public figure Joanna provides support for the many people who reach out to her. For example, giving a mother the confidence to let her tube-fed child have taste experiences, supporting a woman working in an Eastern European institution that houses their residents with profound and multiple learning disabilities in the basement; working with people to help them to play with their children at a time when they are too busy being doctor, nurse and therapist.

Influencing policy

Joanna is one of the four leads of the team which created the New Core and Essential Service Standards for Supporting People with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities, a document which could change the face of care nationwide and is already influencing practice globally.

Amongst many testimonials to Joanna’s work, one from a Children’s hospice worker stands out…

“The lives of children I work with will be changed because I came to this today”

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