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Leadership is a journey

3 December 2019

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Leadership as a concept is an interesting one for me and one I have spent a long time thinking about over the past few years. Leadership comes in many shapes and forms; from the corporate model of business leadership, to pioneers in respective fields leading the way through cutting edge research and innovative ideas, to the grassroots leaders, guiding others through passion and practical expertise. It is this third ideal of leadership with which I have the most connection, and the style which best connects with me and my Autistic experience. I often find myself equating leadership by Autistic individuals with advocacy and I want to share a little of my journey working within Aspect to becoming the advocate (leader) I am today.

When I began working at Aspect I was still coming to terms with my Autistic identity and what this meant for me. I felt I had a lot of knowledge and experience to share but no avenues in which to do this. I have a passion for genuine inclusion gained through my teaching career and I really wanted to find a way to make a difference for my Autistic community. I began my journey as a volunteer research assistant, testing the waters to see if this was a career I would enjoy and was capable of pursuing. Volunteering led to a paid position and from there I was invited to be an autistic voice on a range of committees, consultations and planning meetings. I was shocked initially, I was finally being given a platform to share and I seized the opportunity with both hands. I used this platform to advocate for a wider range of avenues for other autistic voices to also be included in ways that suited their needs and this was taken up by the organisation with gusto. The confidence I developed from being supported to share and seeing my ideas adopted and developed led to me taking on my next challenge, speaking at a conference!

Three years on and I have spoken at several conferences, including a keynote presentation to 1,500 people, sharing my ideas and knowledge on a much bigger platform to a much broader audience. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support and genuine inclusion which developed my confidence.

Empowering people with a disability to have their voice heard in a way that is meaningful and right us is the first step towards a world in which the rights, needs and desires of the disability community are led and developed by the people themselves. There is a common phrase in the disability advocacy world “nothing about us without us” and only through the development of leadership skills can we truly achieve this.

Emma Gallagher

Emma began work at Aspect in 2016. As an autistic researcher and advocate, she provides valued insight and input into a wide range of Aspect research studies at all stages of a project. Emma is also a founding member of the Aspect Think Tank, a remunerated group of adults on the autism spectrum who provide advice for Aspect on day-to-day autism practice. Emma is a keen advocate for the rights and needs autistic people.

IDPwD is held on 3 December each year. It is a United Nations-sanctioned day that is celebrated internationally. It aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability and celebrate their achievements and contributions.

The theme for International Day of People with Disability for 2019 ‘Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda’.

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