East Belfast student nurse takes to TikTok to help improve healthcare accessibility

Meet the student nurse determined to make healthcare more accessible for patients with learning disabilities by teaching sign language online

Claire Stewart from East Belfast is a first year Learning Disability Nursing student at Queen’s University and has taken to TikTok to teach other students Makaton signs to use in work.

Makaton is a unique language programme that uses symbols, signs and speech to enable people to communicate.

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Speaking to Belfast Live, Claire said: “I was working in a special needs school and I was learning Makaton with them and thought to myself it’s so pointless teaching all of these kids this skill for when they go into hospitals and their doctors that no one knows how to communicate back.

“When I went on my first placement all the adults were using Makaton and I realised that loads of people were using it and how can we make them feel safe and comfortable in the hospital when none of the staff knows it.

“My whole dream is to try and change the world one Makaton sign at a time.”

Claire and Lewis who is non-verbal so use Makaton to communicate

Claire has started ‘Makaton Mondays’ where she records a short video of herself each week with a new sign that people can learn and take with them – whether in a healthcare setting or their daily life.

“I am putting up different signs to help nursing students like me or anyone wanting to learn Makaton to try and help make healthcare more accessible for everyone not just those who can communicate verbally – everyone has the right to their healthcare.

“In my first placement, I was in a learning centre for adults and they were teaching me loads and it showed how important it was.

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“In my current placement, I am in a children’s ward but actually the amount of Makaton that can be used has been amazing and the girls I’m working with at the moment have been asking me signs,” she explained.

Claire added: “I am not an expert and have been learning as I go but people have been really taking an interest in this and wanting to enhance the healthcare that these young people and adults get.”

She shares her weekly lessons on Tiktok, Instagram and Twitter so that a greater range of people can have access to Makaton and hopefully learn something with every video.

“I had never used TikTok before and thought it wasn’t for me but it’s such an easy way to put out a quick video and people are just scrolling and they could learn a Makaton sign in 10 seconds and you just don’t know how helpful that sign couldn’t be – Tiktok was the way forward for reading a more broad audience,” she said.

“I have a lot of people messaging me to say thank you, a few whose children have a learning disability or even themselves – one was half deaf and said they thought it was really important.

“Even the backing from Queen’s University as well has been incredible and they have been really pushing it as well.”

Claire has also been contacted by the Makaton charity and Mencap to say that they have been following along her work which she described as something that was “lovely to see”.

Claire’s Makaton Mondays logo

Going forward, she hopes that Makaton Mondays continues to grow and reach wider audiences across Northern Ireland and further afield.

She continued: “I am just hoping that healthcare is accessible to all and I might not be able to change the world for everyone but if I can change it for just one person and help their needs be communicated then it’s totally worthwhile.”

You can follow her Makaton Mondays here.

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