St Albans disabled carer beats the odds for degree success

University of Hertfordshire graduate Graça Martins with her husband José, outside St Albans Abbey

University of Hertfordshire graduate Graça Martins with her husband José, outside St Albans Abbey - Credit: photo supplied

Despite her own disabilities, an interior designer who gave up her business to look after her disabled husband has graduated with a degree in education studies against the odds.

The inspirational tale of Graça Martins, of Windmill Avenue, has emerged following her graduation from the University of Hertfordshire at a ceremony held last month at St Albans Abbey.

Graça, 43, gave up her small curtains and soft furnishings business to have more time to look after her disabled husband, José, as he had chronic back pain and limited mobility after an accident at work.

She started working part time at a local primary school, which inspired her to further her knowledge in education and special needs education.

But Graça was then diagnosed with hypermobility syndrome, where joints move beyond the normal range of movement, and Ménière’s disease, a rare disorder which affects the inner ear.

That made her very ill for a long time and unable to physically do many of the things she used to do.

Despite her poor health, Graça decided to use the part of her body which was still ‘working well’ – her brain – to gain the qualifications needed to develop in education.

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The first step on that ladder was completing an access to higher education diploma at Oaklands College, where she later received a Celebration of Success Award.

Also, because of her success, Graça was given the Chancellor’s Gifted and Talented Scholarship from the University of Hertfordshire.

While studying for her degree she also received the annual Jenny Plastow Memorial Prize, a cash prize awarded to one student in education studies for proven commitment to the programme.

After her graduation Graça said: “My children and my husband have undoubtedly been my main motivation.

“I have dedicated myself and much of my free time and energy to this learning adventure and, although it hasn’t been easy, it has definitely been worthwhile taking.”

Graça is currently working in the university’s school of education and is responsible for the organisation and implementation of its peer mentoring scheme.