Sussex-born charity leader Su Sayer travelled to Buckingham Palace yesterday to be awarded the honour of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by Prince Charles. The award, announced as part of the New Year Honours List, recognises Su’s 40 years as founder and chief executive of the national disability charity United Response, which also started its life in Sussex.

Su - already the holder of an OBE - was awarded the CBE for her services to people with disabilities in the UK. This was the highest honour to be bestowed on any woman working in the voluntary sector this year.

Su founded United Response in 1973 to challenge the way people with learning disabilities were supported. At the time the charity began, most people with learning disabilities were living in long term institutions, with few rights and limited opportunities to live a full and active life. The first United Response house, based in Tillington, West Sussex, was a bold attempt to change that by offering a community-based way of living to a few young adults.

Today United Response works with more than 2,000 people at around 350 services across England and Wales, employs approximately 3,500 people and regularly wins awards for its creative and passionate approach to support.

Su’s CBE nomination placed particular emphasis on her role in challenging the status quo on behalf of disabled people, as well as creating an environment where staff are able to unlock their potential and creativity. As was reported on the day the honours were announced, Su is well known for her “campaigns to promote the rights of people with learning disabilities.”

In 2010, United Response launched its Every Vote Counts campaign, which was created to encourage people with learning disabilities to vote in elections. Many were not aware they had the right to vote while others found information on democracy and voting to be complex and inaccessible. The charity raised awareness of people’s democratic rights and created accessible guides to politics, which helped ensure that the number of people with learning disabilities who voted in 2010 was doubled from the previous general election.

Then, last month, the charity took the next step and launched Easy News, the first ever newspaper designed to be accessible to people with learning disabilities. It is written in an “easy read” format which uses simple words and visual cues to explain the news stories of the day. The launch was attended by the minister for disabled people, the Rt Hon Esther McVey, who called it “a wonderful initiative”.