Medal for Sheffield disability campaigner

A student who has campaigned tirelessly for disability awareness has been awarded the Chancellor’s Medal from the University of Sheffield in recognition of her academic excellence and advocacy.

By Kate Mason
Wednesday, 24 July, 2019, 14:34
Ellen Mae Watson has been awarded the Chancellor’s Medal from the University of Sheffield in recognition of her academic excellence and advocacy, pictured with with guide dog Skipp

Ellen Mae Watson, a graduating student of history and politics, will receive the award during the University’s summer graduation ceremony to celebrate her excellent grades and advocacy for young people with disabilities.

Ellen has Usher syndrome, and has worked hard to encourage disability awareness. In 2015, she was named runner up ‘Young Deafblind Person of the Year’ by the charity Sense, and has worked with the University’s Disability and Dyslexia Support Service to ensure that the campus is accessible for those in need of guide dogs. Ellen was also shortlisted for the charity Guide Dogs’ Young Person Achievement Award in 2017.Her academic achievements include becoming the top-ranked student on several occasions in her cohort. Ellen also took part in a 12-month placement at the Houses of Parliament in the Work and Pensions Committee, playing an important role in the publication of a highly influential series of reports.Anne-Marie Griffiths, a clerk at the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “Had I not known that she was a student on placement, I would have thought that she was a high-performing committee specialist or clerk with at least a year or two of experience.”Dr Felicity Matthews, senior lecturer in the University of Sheffield’s Department of Politics, who nominated Ellen, said: “Throughout her time at the University of Sheffield, Ellen has maximised all opportunities to immerse herself in her field of study and to apply this knowledge in the real world.“She has been a powerful advocate for disability awareness and for young people with disabilities, undertaking media activities, public speaking, fundraising and campaigning on the national stage. In her characteristic way, which is both trailblazing and unwaveringly professional, Ellen has made both her departments and the wider University a better place to be a student with hearing and/or visual impairments.“Ellen is an outstanding student, whose manifold achievements have been deservedly recognised with the Chancellor’s Medal.”After her placement, Ellen undertook a civil service internship with Ofsted. In March this year, she was successful in her application to the Parliamentary Fast Stream, where there were fewer than five places available. She has also been offered the opportunity to undergo a Master of Studies degree at the University of Oxford once she completes her undergraduate degree.Ellen said: “I am absolutely delighted and honoured to have been awarded the Chancellor's Medal.

“It feels like a great way to end a fantastic few years in Sheffield.“I am thrilled to have contributed in some small way to the work of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, and to raising awareness and challenging the barriers that students with disabilities encounter.

“I came to Sheffield with two A-Levels after being diagnosed with Usher syndrome, so to have been awarded this medal because of my academic achievements is an incredible feeling and a real personal marker for me in terms of how far I have come.

“I am so grateful to my tutors in the Departments of History and Politics for equipping me with the skills to make all of this possible.”

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.