Photo shows students holding Makaton healthcare cards

Pictured from left: Alice Waddington (24), Eve Hesketh (28) and Emily Kavanagh (26)

Nursing students from Edge Hill University have won a national award for their pioneering work in raising awareness for people with learning disabilities.

Alice Waddington (from Leyland), Emily Kavanagh (Lytham St Annes) and Eve Hesketh (Wigan) have won the  Student Innovation in Practice accolade in the 2019 Student Nursing Times Awards and received widespread attention for the creation of Makaton healthcare cards.

Image shows Makaton signs for healthcare terms

Makaton symbols and line drawings of signs are reproduced with permission from The Makaton Charity ( © 2019


“We were nominated by Amanda Glennon, a Makaton tutor whose daughter, Alice, is a Makaton user”, revealed Eve, whose background is in support work for adults with learning disabilities. “The Makaton Charity made them available and they are now their most downloaded resource.”

“We now have a bigger platform to raise awareness and we’re thrilled to have our work recognised,” added Alice.

The team have known each other since their course began in three years ago, “we became close friends during our first field-specific module” notes Emily, a former teaching assistant in a special needs school.

“We’re passionate about highlighting that everyone has a voice” said Alice, a Psychology undergraduate and ex-support worker for adults with learning disabilities. “Meeting Amanda in 2017 at a conference and listening to her and her daughter, Alice’s story highlighted that something further needed to be done to promote Makaton within healthcare.”

Their involvement with Learning Disability Awareness week in June 2018 saw the launch of the cards on the Makaton website. “We were invited to a University conference to teach people how to sign phrases in Makaton” said Alice. “We also uploaded a video of us and other students signing, ‘This is me’ in Makaton, which reached 50,000 views on Facebook.

“Our event, called, ‘Come and discover, think outside the box’ saw students and lecturers attend workshops around sensory awareness, communication and how to make reasonable adjustments. We then signed up students to become learning disability student champions and have trained 90 students from across the region, with plans to share with other universities.”

Their involvement with 13-year-old Alice has extended well beyond that initial conference.

“She has attended many healthcare appointments and not one professional has been able to communicate with her through Makaton”, notes Alice. “This is when we were inspired to create the cards.”

“The fact Alice’s paediatrician has pledged to learn using the cards for her next appointment will mean he’ll be the first healthcare professional that will have communicated with her using Makaton in her life – not through her Mum – which is a real highlight for us,” admit Emily and Eve, who are due to take up positions at Alder Hey and Royal Manchester Children’s Hospitals, respectively.

Alice, who plans to pursue community nursing on a learning disability team, takes pride in the positive feedback received from their learning disability student champions.

“We have been able to influence the approach to care, which is a major highlight. We knew nurses were not receiving sufficient learning disability training and have found that students want this training and have found it beneficial.”

To find out more about the Faculty of Health and Social Care, including recruitment details for Adult, Mental Health and Learning Disabilities degrees (September 2019 and January 2020), and Mental Health Nursing and Social Work (September 2019) click here.