The Equality Act (2010) requires services to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to promote equal access for disabled people, such as providing them with accessible information. However, reports continue to highlight that people with learning disabilities face many barriers to health and die prematurely when compared with their non-disabled peers.
Such barriers are numerous and are encountered by people with learning disabilities across many aspects of their life; with communication presenting one of the biggest problems. When someone has access to information in a format they can understand it enables them to make more informed choices. Where information is not available in an accessible format, this can have a significant impact on people’s health and well-being. For example, think about someone who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, but who doesn’t know how to adapt their lifestyle to prevent long-term complications developing.
Student learning disability nurses at the University of South Wales learn how to address such issues as part of a module that focuses on identifying and meeting the health needs of people with learning disabilities across the lifespan. Part of their assessment for this module requires them to develop a bespoke health promotion tool to address a particular health issue. This needs to provide information for the person with learning disabilities (or their family/carers) in an accessible way: an example of a ‘reasonable adjustment’.
The health promotion tools that the students develop, aim to promote equitable access to health information with the aim of reducing health inequalities. This work enables them to develop the specialist creative skills needed to make these sorely needed ‘reasonable adjustments’ and the quality of the work produced by many of the students is outstanding. Some students have received recognition locally and nationally for their pioneering, innovative tools.
One such example was Tyler Payne’s dental desensitisation kit, which was developed for people with learning disabilities who are anxious about going to the dentist. The desensitisation kit is comprised of simple dental implements; a cup, latex gloves and dental tools. Tyler also filmed the journey through the dental practice, from the reception area through to sitting in the dentist’s chair. The film was stored on a USB stick which was shaped like a tooth, which when coupled with the dental instruments, were the core components of her desensitisation kit. Her work was pivotal in her being awarded the RCN Wales Student Nurse of the Year 2017.
Another student, Sarah Wildblood, developed an innovative tool for patients with learning disabilities in Intensive Care. Whereas, Sharon Duffin’s work focussed on the management of constipation as she knew that that this has been a contributory factor in the deaths of many people with learning disabilities. Both Sarah and Sharon’s work was recently given national recognition, when they became finalists in the Student Nursing Times Awards 2018 – Sarah for ‘Student Innovation in Practice’ and Sharon for ‘Student Nurse of the Year: Learning Disabilities’.
These prestigious awards not only help to raise the profile of learning disability nurses and the fantastic work our students are doing, but more importantly raise the profile of the unique needs of people with learning disabilities. They highlight that with just a little extra thought and care, people with learning disabilities can access equitable health care, we just need to make those all-important ‘reasonable adjustments’.
Rachel Morgan – Specialist Lead (Learning Disabilities)
Equality Act (2010) (Accessed: 27 April 2018)
If you are interested in a career in learning disability nursing then places are available at USW for a September 2018 start. NHS Bursary available.