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A year on: Lightyear continues to break down inclusion barriers in STEM

Thanks to the generous support of The Funding Network’s (TFN) members, the Lightyear Foundation is continuing to break down barriers to disabled children participating in STEMM. Their network of professional STEMM (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine) institutions has tripled in size and now boasts 140 members. 

Just over one year ago, Lightyear’s CEO, Katie Sparkes and Project Manager, Rhiannon Kearns successfully pitched the SEN (Special Educational Needs) in STEMM project at the 2019 TFN Autumn Funder.

Although they have been going since 2012, the SEN in STEMM project was a new focus for Lightyear, developed to support STEMM organisations who were struggling to do inclusion well, unsure of where to start or who to go to for help. To address this gap, Lightyear set up a network to upskill organisations in dismantling barriers to inclusion. 

From 30 members, that network has now grown to over 140, including influential organisations such as The Royal Society and the Natural History Museum, creating real momentum in the sector.

The Lightyear Foundation is tackling a most prevalent issue. Only 6% of people with a learning disability are in employment. And people with disabilities are three times as likely to have no qualifications. This is despite the advantages ‘disabilities’ offer in certain areas. Having the attention to detail common to those with autism, for example, are key skills in a successful coder. 

By offering signposting, practical advice and convening their network at twice-yearly roundtables, the Lightyear Foundation is hoping they can transform the science and employment landscapes. 

And their profile is growing. Last year they advised on a brand new SEN area at The Big Bang Fair, the UK’s largest Science Fair and were the go-to advisor for the Royal Institution when looking to adapt their science shows for a SEN audience. In February 2020, they assembled leading STEM employers including Airbus and the National Space Centre at the Home Office, and provided an introduction to the sign and symbol language, Makaton, as well as advice on assistive technology and disability terminology. 

By empowering leading institutions to shape their work around SEN, Lightyear is reaching a huge number of potential indirect beneficiaries. London’s Science Museum alone welcomes over 250,000 visitors who consider themselves disabled or having a long-term illness. 

Before joining the SEN in STEM network, inclusion within the Society was a broad ideal which lacked any deep consideration or process. The SEN in STEM sessions allowed us to have direct access to experts who provided fresh insight and specific ways of thinking.

Roundtable attendee

UPDATE: The Funding Network's members continue to support the Lightyear Foundation. At the 2020 Summer Funder we heard how the team is responding to the needs of parents during the Covid-19 pandemic through virtual Active Learning Workshops. You can watch their pitch here.

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