Actor Sally Phillips visited the University of East London (UEL) this week for a discussion of her acclaimed comedic acting career and advocacy of people with Down’s Syndrome.
Ms Phillips spoke to an audience of more than 100 students and staff at the University’s Docklands campus.
The event was chaired by Professor Andy Minnion, director of UEL’s RIX Research and Media centre, which specialises in media and communication technology for people with learning disabilities, with a special introduction by the UEL Chancellor, Shabir Randeree CBE.
Professor Minnion guided Ms Phillips through the highlights of her acting career, which includes hit shows I’m Alan Partridge, Bridget Jones, Miranda and, most recently, the Emmy award-winning Veep.
They also talked about Ms Phillips’ work around Down’s Syndrome after her son, Olly, was born with the condition.
Ms Phillips said, “Twelve years ago I gave birth to my son, Olly, and doctors told me the ‘bad news’, as it’s always portrayed, that he had Down’s.
“There were some readjustments to make, but it has been a joy in ways you wouldn’t expect. Olly is so relational and funny and enriches the lives of his brothers and friends.”
Ms Phillips produced and hosted the BBC documentary A World Without Down’s, which looked at the new Non-Invasive Pre-Natal Test (NIPT) for Down’s, which will be offered by the NHS this year.
In November 2017, she received an honorary doctorate from UEL in recognition of her advocacy work.
Ms Phillips said, “Making Veep was the most fun I’ve had, while my documentary about Down’s is most important to me – it has really made an impact and changed the debate.”
Following the discussion, Ms Phillips toured of RIX Research and Media, meeting with the centre’s clients and their families. This included Claire Watts, whose son Alfie has Down’s Syndrome.
Ms Watts said, “I went for my scan and the doctors told me I was having twins, which was a complete surprise. A bit later I went for another scan and that’s when a doctor told me one of the twins had unusual nuchal fluid, which can indicate Down’s syndrome.”
Now a healthy and happy 12-year old, Alfie goes to a mainstream school and just started boxing lessons.
Ms Watta said, “Alfie is a wonderful boy, and the bond between him and his twin sister is amazing. But I’ve had to fight every step of the way.”
At RIX, Alfie has learned how to build his own wiki – a personalised website with videos, photos, and audio which helps people with learning disabilities communicate, learn, and share their lives and interests in an interactive way.
RIX wikis are now used by around eight thousand individuals and local authorities across the country.