Karolina Pakenaite, a deafblind woman from Southport in Merseyside, has been shortlisted for an award by the national disability charity, Sense. The nomination recognises Karolina’s efforts to raise awareness about face covering exemptions after she was subjected to verbal abuse earlier this year.
Karolina, 24, who is partially deaf and blind due to Usher Syndrome, has been shortlisted for the ‘Campaigner of the Year’ award at the 17th annual Sense Awards.
In July, Karolina was travelling by train with her 16-year-old sister, Saule, and her guide dog, when they were challenged by a member of the public – Saule had temporarily lifted her face covering so Karolina could read her lips.
Karoline bravely chose to share a video of the incident and gave interviews about her experience to highlight face covering exemptions. She wanted to promote greater understanding and patience amongst the wider public at a time of great uncertainty and anxiety. Her story gained widespread national media coverage, including on BBC Breakfast and ITV news.
Karolina Pakenaite said: “It has been a fragile few months, so I cannot describe how much it means to be nominated. Thinking back, I am so grateful that many others have been encouraged to share their own experiences, not only for lip speakers but also those with different disabilities and conditions.
“It was overwhelming to see how this has raised awareness and opened up discussions worldwide, with a little reminder to stay kind and patient during this difficult time. I am so thankful for all the support I received from my friends and family, local MP, and the charities and organisations that support me.”
Sense Chief Executive, Richard Kramer, said: “No one with a disability should ever have to experience any kind of abuse. Karolina’s bravery in sharing her experience and raising awareness to try and help others is truly admirable. We’re delighted to nominate Karolina as our ‘Campaigner of the Year’ and thank her for her work in raising public awareness of face covering exemptions for disabled people.”
The Sense Awards recognise the outstanding achievements of people with complex disabilities, as well as the staff, carers, family members, volunteers and fundraisers who support them. Winners will be announced on December 1. For more information about the Sense Awards visit: sense.org.uk/sense-awards/