Each month we feature an inspirational individual or team who overcome barriers to make a real difference in their communities. This month we feature friends Francesca Dunn and Samir El-Ziftawy, who won an award for Advocacy, policy and the media, in the Dimensions Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List.
Samir and Francesca have a great sense of humour and laugh at funny jokes. They talk to each other and people around them through eye contact and facial expressions. Samir is the centre of attention with his radiant personality, and Francesca knows exactly what she wants and she gets it.
And they use their shining individual personalities and charismatic double act to campaign for change. Samir and Francesca are involved in what they feel passionate about – the campaign called “Changing Places”, which calls for community spaces such as shopping centres, cinemas, restaurants, parks etc. to have Changing Places toilets to make going out and staying out possible for people who have severe disabilities.
People with severe disabilities cannot use regular accessible toilets and need somewhere with more space and special facilities when they go to the toilet. Without a public place available, people with severe disabilities simply cannot stay out for long and enjoy themselves. Samir and Francesca feel this is really unfair and they want to have more fun and help to improve the lives of others with disabilities.
Having profound and multiple learning disabilities, Samir and Francesca cannot use words to communicate. But they communicate in other ways. For example, Francesca blinks once to say ‘yes’ and stares to say ‘no’. Samir shows that he agrees by smiling widely and making a ‘happy ’sound.
Through self-advocacy group “Campaign 4 Change” Samir and Francesca were supported to speak to several large shopping centres in Brighton about Changing Places toilets. Both have also been involved in the group’s presentations – Samir uses a specially designed button to change slides – and attended Pride events together.
They also raise awareness of their campaign by meeting people in the community on Changing Places Awareness Day, sporting their ‘Changing Places’ T-shirts and signs, and through photoshoots. As real stars they were able to follow the photographer’s directions brilliantly; the camera loved them.
Samir and Francesca’s achievements prove that people with profound and multiple learning disabilities can make their own choices, be involved and be dedicated to a cause. And that they have a lot to say and don’t want any everyday realities to stay in the way of them socialising, having fun with each other and crowds.
Samir and Frankie communicate using body language and sounds. When they found out that they have been named Leaders, both smiled widely and laughed, whilst making an ‘excited’ sound.
They are an inspiration, and an example to other people that having very severe disabilities does not stop one making a real difference and having a meaningful life and goals.
To read their Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List 2019 story, visit dimensions-uk.org and search for Francesca and Samir.