Each month we feature an inspirational individual or team who overcome barriers to make a real difference in their communities. This month we feature Joanna Grace, a 2018 Learning Disability and Autism Leader under the Advocacy, Policy and the Media category. She joined Dimensions, Learning Disability England and VODG as a judge for the 2020 Coronavirus Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List.
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 several published books and more projects, training for professionals and much more. It’s a place where her autism is an asset, not a disability.
I genuinely believe we all benefit from greater inclusion and greater understanding of difference.
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
With a friend, Joanna co-delivered the first TEDx talk (Inclusion: For Pity’s Sake?) ever to include someone with profound and multiple learning disabilities; Chloe Salfield.
The talk challenged the notion that inclusion should be based on pity and argued that society gains from including those who are different.
Youngest published author
Joanna has two children and her eldest – her son – recently became the UK’s youngest published author with his book ‘My Mummy Is Autistic’.
Judge for the Coronavirus Leaders’ List
Joanna joined our judging panel for the Coronavirus Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List. This List celebrates the wonderful things people with learning disabilities and/or autism have been doing to help themselves and others get through lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic.
The List launches on 3rd December at dimensions-uk.org/covidleaderslist and on Twitter under #CovidLeadersList
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