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Disabilities no barrier to caring for pets and people in volunteer roles

An inspirational young woman refused to let multiple disabilities stop her from caring for both humans and animals in two important new placements.

Despite being both partially blind and deaf since birth, dyslexic and suffering with Labyrinthitis and chronic migraines throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Jess Watson continues to put others ahead of herself.

The 26 year-old travels weekly by bus with assistance dog Jingle to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan, where she spends time with patients on the stroke ward, playing games, listening and talking to them in her role as a support worker.

Jess, who grew up in Stoke, also gives her time as a volunteer at PetPlace’s Abergele dog play park.

After moving to Llandudno, where the family own St Hilary Guest House on the town’s promenade, she was put in touch with Conwy Employment Hub, who pointed her toward the Engage to Change, DFN Project Search one-year internship programme, encouraging people with a learning disability to gain vital skills and experience with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.

After six months of training at Rhyl’s ASK Centre, Jess is now enjoying her time at the hospital, and said: “I think given my disabilities a career in the NHS was something I never considered, I thought there would be too many barriers.

“But this programme has shown me there is a role for me, and it’s something I find really rewarding, being there emotionally for people who have had a stroke and are on the road to recovery. To be able to help them in some small way makes me happy.”

She added: “I am driven to help others, that’s what I want to do with my life and that includes animals, which is why I’m volunteering some time with PetPlace, who have also been very supportive.

“I am partially blind, partially deaf and face other challenges, but nothing can stop me from doing what I want to do, I won’t let it.”

Mentor Susan Tracey said the interview for the internship proved that.

“There were only eight people selected so Jess has done incredibly well and proven that having a disability is no barrier to success,” she said.

“When the interviews took place, she was on holiday in Cornwall, so it all had to take place online; despite this she did brilliantly and impressed with her positivity and empathetic nature.

“That’s what the Employment Hub is all about, breaking down walls to jobs and education, and Jess has shown how much she has to offer.”

Jess added: “Whatever my future brings, whether it’s people or animals I want to be able to support and care for them, that’s so important to me.

“I am lucky to have had a lot of backing from my family, Conwy Employment Hub, the health board and others, which has given me the confidence to look ahead and explore the opportunities out there.

“There are platforms and programmes that can help you achieve your dreams – you just have to go for it.”

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Jess Watson and mentor Susan Tracey

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