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Deborah Lawson | Congleton, UK

As a multi-award-winning Disability Advocate, Deborah’s pioneering efforts to create a more accessible and inclusive society over the past two decades have made a significant impact in the UK. Recognised as one of the most influential disabled changemakers in the UK, her work has spanned various sectors, including healthcare, retail, fashion, housing, community involvement, disability rights, policy reform, accessibility improvements, addressing attitudinal barriers, and providing peer support.

Some of Deborah’s achievements since her teens include playing a pivotal role in making thousands of buildings, businesses and events across the UK more accessible and inclusive for tens of thousands of disabled people. She developed a comprehensive staff training program implemented in over 600 large stores nationwide. This initiative has benefited thousands of disabled individuals by increasing disability awareness, enhancing customer service, and fostering a more inclusive workplace culture. Deborah plans to further expand the reach of this program in 2025 by offering an updated version as a downloadable PDF. She has supported and advocated for thousands of disabled individuals and their families, and her website has a range of resources aimed at businesses, organisations and individuals seeking to enhance their understanding of disability-related issues. These resources, including downloadable material written by Deborah, are widely used, including by local government. Furthermore, she has authored a children’s book, ‘Damson’s Friendship Wish,’ promoting self-acceptance, kindness and inclusion. Damson’s Friendship Wish will be released later this year.

Deborah regularly features in the local and national media where she is described as a ‘trailblazer,’ an ‘extraordinary woman who has done amazing things,’ and a ‘kind, strong, exceptional role model.’ Her expertise also extends to the fashion industry, where her previous work as a fashion and editorial makeup artist and stylist gave her firsthand experience of the industry’s lack of diversity and inclusion. Drawing on this experience, Deborah developed professional, accessible fashion guidance implemented in over 500 major stores, making fashion more accessible for thousands of disabled people. She also provided extensive and in-depth resources to individuals and fashion retailers, ensuring the widespread adoption of her pioneering approach. Her efforts filled a significant gap in the industry and set new standards for accessibility and inclusion.

To ensure change is made at a policy level, Deborah is a member of The Regional Stakeholder Network, which reports to the government on various policies affecting disabled people, including transport, housing, and employment. Deborah also works with and advises local government on all aspects of disability awareness and chairs a council advisory group focused on improving accessibility for thousands of disabled residents. She collaborates with the Chief Executive at Oxford University’s Centre for Research Equity to address health inequalities through more inclusive practices. Additionally, Deborah serves as a member of the Trial Steering Committee for the largest and most successful trials of therapeutics for SARS-CoV-2 infection worldwide, aiming to improve the outcomes for thousands of disabled individuals. She is also a committee member and co-applicant for an upcoming major study seeking treatments for individuals at a higher risk of respiratory illness complications. Deborah is a member of various panels, including the Housing Ombudsman, and she also serves on the Governance Board for Oxford University’s Centre for Research Equity.

Just before she began her five years at university, Deborah experienced an accident that exacerbated her pre-existing disabilities and left her unable to sit or use her wheelchair for a considerable length of time. Instead of deferring her studies, she persevered in extreme pain, lying flat on her back in bed with a screen suspended above her head. Deborah graduated at the top of her class. However, her resilience was tested again when she lost her home and all her belongings in a devastating non-fault house fire just weeks before graduating. Despite being homeless, she still attended her graduation to receive her First-Class Honours degree. This experience is just one of many significant personal challenges that Deborah has faced throughout her life.

Since her teens, Deborah’s advocacy work has benefited hundreds of thousands of disabled people. Despite being a powered wheelchair user and having multiple complex and severe physical and neurological disabilities that require a significant amount of care and support and leave her in daily debilitating pain, she remains passionate about advocating for a more accessible and inclusive world where everyone is valued and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.