A disabled campaigner has described how he was “knocked for six” after learning that he had been recognised with an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours.
Shaun Webster becomes one of a select group of people with learning difficulties who have been recognised with such an honour.
Among his achievements are his work with the human rights organisations Change, including a project working with children and young people with learning difficulties in eastern Europe as the long-stay institutions they had been living in were closed down.
He said: “I was teaching them how to speak up for themselves, to believe in themselves, how to talk to other people, to be confident.
“I gave them confidence and belief in themselves to train to be a professional like me. Every time I came over and trained them, they got more confidence.”
Webster also co-authored a book, Leaving Institutions. Voices for Change – published by Change, Enable Housing Association and the children’s charity Lumos – which aimed to help social workers involved in the de-institutionalisation process.
He said he hoped that his MBE would “open doors” for him, and help other people with learning difficulties secure a “proper paid job, with proper respect, and be treated equal like we do at Change, not tokenistic”.
One of his proudest moments, he said, was speaking at a conference in Austria earlier this year, and being told by a Bulgarian woman with learning difficulties: “I want to be a role model like you.”
He said: “People tell me I speak from my heart and I do. I am passionate about giving people and children with learning disabilities a real voice.
“Giving someone with learning disabilities an award from the government will make a big difference to adults and children with learning disabilities.
“They will think, ‘If he can get an MBE and he is making a difference, why can’t I?’”
He added: “I just couldn’t believe it, it knocked me for six. I felt really happy. I felt very proud.”
He said he believed he was awarded the MBE because he was a “hard worker”.
He said: “I am very passionate about what I believe in, because I work nationally and internationally, because I am a role model.
“I give people with learning disabilities a real voice and confidence and belief in themselves because they see what I can do.”
Helen Dolphin (pictured), director of policy and campaigns for Disabled Motoring UK, was another disabled campaigner to receive an MBE.
She has campaigned for more than 10 years to improve the blue badge parking scheme, and on other motoring and mobility issues for disabled people.
She said: “Maybe people have realised I have had quite a big impact in how disabled people can park. I hope that’s what it’s for.”
She has also been a member of the government’s advisory body, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, and has volunteered for many years for the charity Meningitis Now, speaking to and visiting other people who have lost limbs through meningitis.
Dolphin is also studying for a law degree, and is one of the fastest swimmers in the country in her S5 category.
She said she was delighted and surprised by the MBE, but she added: “To a degree as well, life is really difficult for me and it would be easy not to work and it would be easy not to get up at five o’clock in the morning.
“I can’t get up quickly, I’ve got to have the carers come in. I have to be home at a certain time.
“Life is considerably harder and I don’t think people know what I have even gone through before I have got to the office that day sometimes.”
She pointed to the more than six per cent of people recognised in this year’s birthday honours who said they were disabled people, which she said was “on the up, and that too is a good thing”.
Another disabled person to be recognised was Paralympian Jordanne Whiley, who said she had to read the letter informing her of her MBE five times before it sunk in.
The wheelchair-tennis star said: “I didn’t understand at first what it was and then I was like, ‘Surely not me! It’s the wrong person!’ When it sank in, it was an amazing feeling.”
Whiley said she hoped to use her MBE to raise her profile, with the long-term aim of setting up her own charity after she retires from sport.
She said: “I want to get my status as high as I possibly can so that I can influence other people to play sport, and be a role model to young children, especially [girls and]women.
“I have had a lot of fan mail from children with the same disability as me, saying that I am their idol and because of me they are now playing sport. It is such an amazing feeling to have helped just a few people.”
Whiley said she liked to take a one-to-one approach with many of the fans who contact her, often calling them or meeting up with them when she is at home.
She said: “I just like it when it’s one-to-one. You can make such a difference in one person’s life if you take one hour out of your day to make them see the person you really are.”
The tennis star, who has now won five Grand Slam doubles titles, will be competing in the women’s wheelchair doubles at Wimbledon from 10 to 12 July, with her focus also on next year’s Paralympic Games in Rio.
She said that the MBE had “relit a spark” with her training and confidence, and that she was “feeling really good going into Wimbledon”.
Other disabled people recognised in the birthday honours include Lorraine Mercer, for services to the community and to charity in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, who said she was “very honoured and excited” by her MBE.
She has been a volunteer at The Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath for 18 years, and visits patients on the rehabilitation wards, who are often “coming to terms with losing their mobility and having to use a wheelchair, so I can understand what that is like”.
She said: “I like to think that me going in and chatting and having time to spend with people helps them to stay positive.”
A former patient who wrote a reference for her described how he had been lying in bed feeling depressed after a stroke, when Mercer arrived in her electric wheelchair with “a very positive attitude – so positive that it was infectious; so infectious that I caught it, and having caught it from then on I began to fight”.
Another disabled campaigner awarded an MBE was Mikey Argy, a member of the Thalidomide Trust’s National Advisory Council, who was recognised for services to thalidomide survivors.
About 70 recipients of awards in the Queen’s birthday honours considered themselves to be disabled under the Equality Act 2010, about one in 16 of all successful candidates.