Celebrate Learning Disabilities & Autism Real Lives

Changing hearts and minds during Covid

Katie Matthews

Each month we feature an inspirational individual or team who overcome barriers to make a real difference in their communities.  This month we feature Katie Matthews who’s mission to change hearts and minds during Covid landed her a place on the Dimensions Coronavirus Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List.

Katie is a Social Media Lead for the Learning Disability and Autism Engagement Team at NHS England. Also known as @NHSAbility on Twitter. Katie has been working tirelessly to make sure people with learning disabilities and autism, and families, can access as much information as possible.

She’s on a mission to change hearts and minds. She uses her own experiences – as someone who has Down’s Syndrome and as a young carer – to speak up for others.

Katie kick started the idea of providing information about coronavirus on social media, saying it was an important way of getting information for people who have a learning disability like her.

Explains Katie, “I’ve come from voluntary work with other charities and I found through that a lot of people with learning disabilities, particularly people with mild learning disabilities and family carers, go on Facebook and Twitter a lot.

“I used that knowledge and said to my boss, Jo Whaley, ‘we have all these people on social media (6000 on Twitter, 2000 on Facebook), we need to reach them.’”

She has managed to keep track of the many guides produced by the government and the NHS, as well as other people and organisations, and made sure they’re reaching the people who need them.

She has also worked hard to co-produce easy read guidance and identified a gap for this during the pandemic.

But she has faced her own challenges too. She shielded alongside her mum and helped keep them both safe.

Katie is using her experiences of shielding to help improve things for others. She runs an NHS Learning Disability and Autism Advisory group which met last summer to shape the future of shielding. The group comprises 15 experts by experience, all with a learning disability, family carers or autistic people.

Explains Katie, “We shaped a meeting around shielding and our experiences of lockdown. We got quite a lot of feedback from that, which we fed back to the Cabinet Office.”

Katie has also led a webinar on experiences of shielding, covering all aspects of it. The feedback from this has been shared with the Cabinet Office.

Katie recently made a really powerful video about how coronavirus has affected some people more than others and about how it is impacting on people’s mental health. She also made a video about face coverings and exemptions.

Says Jo Whaley, Public Engagement Manager, “Katie has risen to the challenges of coronavirus in a phenomenal way, using her skills and compassion to make sure that everyone is included. She has continued to work incredibly hard, despite difficult personal circumstances, to make sure that people have the information they need in ways that are accessible to them. She has been a true role model during the pandemic.”

Follow @NHSAbility on Twitter to see some of Katie’s brilliant work.

The Coronavirus Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List is produced by Dimensions in partnership with Learning Disability England and VODG. It is an adapted version of the annual Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List.


Follow @DimensionsUK and #CovidLeadersList to stay up to date.

Edel Harris





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