Danielle: Advocate, Filmmaker, Researcher

Danielle works as an employee at Brighton and Hove Speak Out, an advocacy charity for people with learning disabilities. Being surrounded by individuals passionate about giving people with learning disabilities a greater voice in society has led Danielle to become a self-advocate, and a rather successful one at that.

“I’m getting the confidence to speak up, I feel proud of myself. I would not have done this before. I can’t believe I would be training people at an international conference on inclusive research, and I never thought I would be involved in writing an article or a book that will be published.” – Danielle

As someone with learning disabilities herself, Danielle relates to the struggles that people with disabilities face in their everyday lives. Seeing first-hand the importance of representation amongst people with learning disabilities in society has only motivated Danielle to use her voice to advocate for change. Living in Brighton, Danielle decided to start off in her own back yard by doing awareness training at Brighton and Hove Speak Out in order to help improve local services. Seeing the need for greater representation on her local council, Danielle took on the role of project worker on the Learning Disability Voices Network, an initiative to get more people with learning disabilities involved in local policy groups and campaigns.

While her journey only started in 2019, Danielle has since gone from strength to strength with her advocacy work.

This is not to say that the journey has always been smooth. Prior to the pandemic, Danielle had a support worker to help her in her role. However, lockdown rules soon meant that the Speak Out team had to work from home and Danielle could not have the same level of support as before. Undaunted by the sudden change, Danielle adapted brilliantly to the challenge. Seeing the need for greater online support for people in her community, Danielle took the initiative to set up virtual interviews to find out how other people with learning disabilities were coping with the pandemic. Danielle then taught herself how to edit these interviews to produce ‘Speak with Danielle’, a video series that took a look at how different people were handling sudden isolation.

The ‘Speak with Danielle’ series proved to be a hit and gave Danielle the opportunity to speak to people with learning disabilities all over the world, as well as other advocates like Jan Walmsley, Professor in the History of Learning Disabilities at the Open University, who was so impressed by Danielle’s skills that she invited her to be a collaborator on her research.

Having discovered an interest in film editing during the pandemic, Danielle spent time during lockdown honing her film making skills. Her newfound interest has proved an asset in her self-advocacy work, allowing her to campaign for better treatment and opportunities for people with learning disabilities. She was involved in making a film about the experience of people with learning disabilities during the pandemic called ‘We are here’.

She also worked on a project to record the stories of 25 local people during the pandemic: See them on Brighton and Hove Speak Out’s website.

In the face of enormous challenges during the pandemic, Danielle still managed to flourish in her role. With a positive can-do attitude, she taught herself new skills and managed to create a tight-knit community of people with learning disabilities.

Recently Danielle has been involved in making a film to celebrate the 50 year history of self advocacy…

Danielle’s journey is not stopping any time soon. Feeling enormously proud of her achievements, she can see the impact of one person’s advocacy work. Being recognised for her hard work has given Danielle a newfound confidence that she hopes will inspire others. Danielle’s achievements have only motivated her to strengthen the community that she has created, helping people with disabilities feel like “they are part of a team… to show them what they can achieve”. It is safe to say that Danielle is a leader and inspiration in every sense of the word.

But don’t just take our word for it, hear what her peers have to say too:

“I think Danielle is such a positive member of the team, she is so proactive and sets a good example of how to tackle her work and deal with challenges. She has real drive to learn and succeed and do things well, and support others to get involved.”

“Danielle is a superb advocate for people with learning disabilities, showing just how much can be achieved with a positive can-do attitude and gentle guidance. She hit the ground running when she worked with me on interviews with self-advocates and showed a great aptitude for empathetic interviewing”

“I love working with Danielle, she is so positive and creative. She has an idea and then gets on with doing things. She is doing such a great job of raising awareness about advocacy and the issues people with learning disabilities face and also what they can achieve."