I was born in New Zealand (hence the Kiwi in my logo and my accent).  The daughter of Irish immigrants, I grew up and went to school with the sons and daughters of other immigrants.  Overnight I lost much of my sight when I was twenty-one, which put paid to the career in nursing that I had begun to establish.  With the loss of my sight came the opportunity to fulfil the Australasian desire for an ‘overseas experience’ so I moved to Belfast and got to know my extended family.  I went backpacking thinking I needed to see the world while I could still see and learnt that you don’t need sight to get something out of travel.

When it was time to think about a career again I moved to London, trained as a computer programmer, and did a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science.  My first I.T. job was with Wessex Regional Health Authority at Odstock Hospital, Salisbury.  (How the NHS has changed as has the hospital.) I had a very successful fourteen years in computing, culminating in a dream job as a Delivery Manager on a $4 million project in Dublin.  What my I.T. career gave me was a strong analytical background along with a drive for detail.  I can identify problems, research solutions, gather, extract and use data – a problem-solver who is able to apply “out of the box” thinking to generate viable solutions.

On my return to the UK I decided it was time for a change – a new direction and a guide dog. Two years later I trained with my first dog Yancy.  Tamara, who is now thirteen and retired, was my second dog and I’ve been working with Deano for over two years.

As a guide dog owner I became a volunteer speaker for Guide Dogs.  I also started to campaign for the rights of disabled people, initially as a volunteer campaign co-ordinator for the RNIB.  Subsequently I co-founded two user-led organisations for disabled people.  I served as a disability representative on the Hampshire Independent Equality Forum and went on to co-ordinate the HIEF.  I’ve appeared on radio and television and given evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee.

Many new organisations came into being as a result of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and I was the first member of staff appointed to one such organisation – Healthwatch Hampshire – as Community and Voluntary Sector and Diverse Communities Officer.

Last year I was privileged to work with a charity which supports transgender adults.  In order to do this work I had to gain the trust of this organisation and their beneficiaries.  Similarly, I worked with adult survivors of sexual abuse.  I was humbled by what sixty people with learning disabilities shared with me about their experiences of health and social care, while producing the most amazing self-portraits.  Recently I conducted discovery interviews and ran focus groups as part of a wheelchair service review.  Some of the patient stories I have listened to while working for Healthwatch were very emotional.  You have to develop rapport in order for people to tell you about their experiences and be respectful of what they tell you.  If someone trusts you enough to tell you their story, then you need to honour that trust.  Twice I have had the opportunity to present my work at NHS England.

I have been involved in producing easy-read material.  I’ve also worked on accessible information for a visual impairment research project.  I’ve worked with BME groups, which often means working through a translator, and I have also worked with lip readers.  I have written all types of documents expressing, transmitting and interpreting knowledge and ideas including reports, scope documents, proposals, bids, policies, user guides, and training material. I have produced press releases, marketing material, blogs, newsletters and articles for magazines.  In addition, I’ve developed campaign plans and written campaign reports, briefings and submissions for a variety of audiences.

I’m looking for opportunities to use my substantial experience, skills and proven abilities to undertake a wide range of engagement, to provide innovative and creative approaches to training, to capture feedback and undertake qualitative research and to organise or sspeak at events that influence service delivery.