Every year the University of Bath confers a number of honorary degrees to “individuals of conspicuous merit”. Some are sporting heroes who have won at the highest level of competition. Some are inspirational role models who show what successes are possible for those affected by disability. Some are alumni of Bath who have left an indelible impression on our institution and changed it for the better. Kelly Gallagher is unique in being all of these things.
Kelly was born in London but moved at a young age to Belfast. She has a condition called oculocutaneous albinism – a rare genetic disorder resulting in a lack of pigmentation and severely impaired eyesight. Despite this, with the support of her parents and teachers, she was able to attend mainstream school and showed considerable academic promise. In 2003 she left Northern Ireland to accept at place at the University of Bath to studying mathematics.
Many students find the transition from school to university challenging. For Kelly the challenge was at times almost overwhelming due to the difficulty she found in engaging with lectures. Sixteen years ago, the University was not so well-prepared to support students with impaired vision. Unable to read the board, Kelly had to rely on enlarged photocopies of handwritten notes, and had to try to imagine for herself the graphs and diagrams other students could see drawn in the lecture. Kelly’s experience – and her persistence in challenging the University to improve – prompted a major change in practice that is still benefitting students today. Our large print notes team produces accessible typed lecture notes for students with visual impairment and other conditions that limit their ability to take their own handwritten notes. It is a credit to Kelly that she helped to kick-start this hugely positive change. After graduating from Bath, Kelly returned to Northern Ireland to work as a statistician in the civil service. Around this time, she began to take seriously her hobby of para alpine
skiing, and in 2008 she obtained a place on the Team GB development squad. She made her international competitive debut in 2009, and the following year in Vancouver became the first athlete from Northern Ireland to compete at the Paralympic Winter Games. During the Sochi Winter games of 2014, Kelly and her guide Charlotte Evans became the first ever British winners of a Winter Paralympic gold medal in the Super Giant Slalom event.
Kelly competes in the B3 category for participants with less that 10% functional vision. This is in a sport that involves skiing downhill at speeds of up to 100kph. Her courage, commitment and competitive spirit is inspirational. In 2017 Kelly was airlifted to hospital following a high-speed accident in training in which she sustained a dislocated elbow and three fractured ribs. She battled back from these injuries to again represent Great Britain in the 2018 Winter Paralympics, and at 2019 World Para Alpine Skiing Championships where she won a silver medal in Downhill Skiing and bronzes in the Super G and Combined disciplines. In 2014 Kelly received an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours for services to visually impaired sport, and was shortlisted for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. In her free time, she supports the work of charities including the Royal National Institute for Blind People and Sightsavers, campaigning for inclusion of young people with visual impairment in education and sports clubs.
For her sporting success, her inspirational attitude, and her positive impact on our University, Vice-Chancellor I present to you Kelly Gallagher MBE, an individual of conspicuous merit, who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.