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University Scholarship winner Laura Flanagan by a window overlooking the Eastern Campus.A dedicated Nursing student who used the skills she learned on her degree to improve life in her local community for those with learning disabilities or sensory issues has been awarded a University Scholarship.

Laura Flanagan, from Skelmersdale, learned the Makaton sign language which she was able to put to use in her part-time job in a shop in Winstanley, as well as using her knowledge to make the shopping environment more relaxed for customers who suffer with sensory issues.

Makaton uses signs, symbols and speech to help people communicate.

“I had a discussion with a customer who was asking about my course, and she said that she had never encountered a shop worker who spoke to her daughter who had a learning disability and profound autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and who communicates through Makaton and facial expressions,” said Laura.

“I spoke to my manager about printing off a crib sheet that showed staff how to sign welcome greetings. I used it when talking to shoppers with hearing impairments and they reacted positively, thanking me for using signs rather than purely speech.

“I also explained how larger supermarkets have a ‘quiet hour’ within the shop and how this would benefit shoppers with sensory disorders, or who have children who are hypersensitive. We trialled the idea on a Saturday between 9am-10am by turning lights off and putting relaxation music, as usually the only noise that could be heard was buzzing from the freezers and fridges – and the feedback we received was positive.”

Taught by Regional Tutor Amanda Glennon, Laura uses Makaton signing to converse with residents at a care home. Although its use of Makaton continues to grow, she feels more can be done to change perceptions about its everyday use. Laura added:

“There is a need for exposure in other areas aside from children’s TV channels such as CBeebies, as this has added to the suggestion that people with Learning Disabilities are ‘eternal children’. I enjoyed watching Dr Ranj Singh on Strictly Come Dancing, as each week he would teach his dance partner a sign which they would do before performing. I found this a great way to broadcast Makaton on a media platform and hope that more public figures will begin signing.”

Laura is also an enthusiastic advocate of encouraging more people into the Nursing profession. Keen to encourage others to follow her career path, she visited her former college to talk about her own application experience, and offer support to students looking to pursue a similar route to herself.

“I agreed to deliver a presentation about the application process, and the realities of university life. I also provided a contact for local students going through UCAS clearing, who could contact me if they wanted to talk to someone who had been in a similar situation to themselves; I would have found a similar service really helpful.

And the highpoints of her time studying Nursing at Edge Hill so far?

“I was awarded student learning disability nurse of the year for my cohort, which really made me realise the difference I have made to people’s lives during my time at university! Another highpoint included representing the university at the Positive Choices conference in Hull. Prior to attending I was questioning if I had chosen the right field for my skill set, but once I got to the conference, and started to talk to student nurses from other universities, I realised that I had made the best decision by coming into this field.”

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