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Disability rights Trailblazer

373. Michaela Hollywood

A 25 year old campaigner who created the first Trailblazers campaign group for young disabled people, inspiring a nationwide network of over 600 people across the UK.

Michaela Hollywood from Crossgar, County Down, was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a progressive muscle-wasting condition. Michaela founded Trailblazers in Northern Ireland in 2008 when she encountered difficulties accessing a music concert in Belfast. Starting with a group of 20 young people in her local area, Muscular Dystrophy UK then managed to secure £250,000 to expand the network to the rest of the UK, helping hundreds of young disabled people to campaign on issues that are important to them.

Michaela has also helped to secure £200,000 investment in an adult specialist neuromuscular nurse and a neuromuscular consultant in Belfast which will provide support for people affected by muscle wasting conditions across Northern Ireland. Michaela has raised over £10,000 for Muscular Dystrophy UK since she was 17, including completing a marathon in her wheelchair this year, and has also encouraged hundreds of volunteers to help with her fundraising. Michaela has also volunteered thousands of hours of her own time to Muscular Dystrophy UK, speaking regularly in Parliament on issues affecting people with muscle-wasting and contributing to each of the Trailblazers’ 19 reports highlighting issues facing young disabled people.

The wider Trailblazers network has also achieved real change for young people. In 2012 they successfully lobbied Easyjet to change their policy on wheelchairs so that the airline no longer retains a wheelchair weight limit that excludes motorised wheelchairs. The group also works together with transport providers, the property industry and entertainment businesses to tackle problems uncovered by their reports.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“Michaela has shown the incredible impact people can have when they work together to make a difference. By harnessing the power of over 600 disabled young people around the UK, Trailblazers has successfully campaigned for changes that will help thousands. I’m delighted to recognise Michaela as the UK’s 373rd Point of Light.”

Michaela said:

“I’m honoured to have received this recognition from Prime Minister David Cameron. I’ve worked hard to improve the situation for all of us living with disabilities both in terms of accessing medical care, but also in ensuring we can live fuller, more active lives among our peers. This Point of Light award shows how far we’ve come and I look forward to continuing my work with the realisation of the real impact it has had, and the encouragement to continue due to the Prime Minister’s recognition.”

Nic Bungay, Director of Campaigns, Care and Information for Muscular Dystrophy UK, said:

“It is wonderful that Michaela’s efforts have been recognised by the Prime Minister. She has had a positive impact on almost every area of the work that we do, playing a vital role in helping us to transform the power of young disabled campaigners across the UK. Michaela is an incredible force for change, both at home in Northern Ireland and far beyond. She is wholly deserving of this award.”

Local MP, Margaret Ritchie, said:

“I am delighted the Point of Light Award has been presented to Michaela Hollywood.

“I have known Michaela, a young constituent from the town of Crossgar in South Down, and her family for a number of years. Since her teenage years Michaela has become an advocate for people with muscle wasting conditions. She has raised not only thousands of pounds for Muscular Dystrophy but also awareness for this condition and challenges people face.

“Her voluntary work is truly inspiring. It is made even more incredible as it was carried out while Michaela was undertaking university studies and exams. I am so pleased that her hard work and dedication will be honoured by this award.”

The daily Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers - people who are making a change in their community.

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