Professor Jan Burns


Professor Burns is Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology and Academic Lead of the Centre for Sport, Physical Education and Activity Research (Spear) at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU), UK. Previously, she was Director of the Salomons Institute for Applied Psychology, and Head of the School of Psychology, Politics and Sociology. Prof Burns has been a researcher focussing on the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, throughout her career, and in the last decade specifically on sport as a vehicle to increase the quality for life and opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. Prof Burns worked with an international team to develop Paralympic classification processes to re-allow athletes with intellectual disabilities to compete in the Paralympics which was achieved for the London 2012 Games. This research received the Gold Award for Exceptional Research contribution to the Olympic/Paralympics, awarded by the Research Councils UK, and Prof Burns was featured as Paralympic scientist in Nature. Prof Burns is an Non Executive Board member of both Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport and Special Olympics Great Britain. Prof Burns remains very active in research related to sport and people with intellectual disabilities, and is currently working with the International Paralympic Committee on developing classification. 

Prof Burns completed a BSc in Psychology in Manchester, a PhD at the University of Cardiff and then trained as a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Leeds. She then worked for the National Health Service, as a clinician and service manager in services for people with intellectual disabilities, before becoming a researcher and academic first at the University of Leeds, and subsequently CCCU. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the British Empire (MBE) medal by the Queen for her service to people with intellectual disabilities.  

enlightenedInvited Symposium Title

Make room on the podium! The pathway to becoming an elite athlete with intellectual disabilities

enlightenedInvited Symposium Description

“Don’t think about the start of the race, think about the ending.” – Usain Bolt

For elite athletes like Usain Bolt the ending of the race is to be standing on a podium, holding the world record for sprinting 100m and receiving a gold medal at the Olympics. It is also about placing a marker in history, becoming a role model, and inspiring a whole generation of youth, encouraging them to believe that they too can achieve this success, no matter where they started this race. All elite athletes will tell you that success is not just about athletic talent, but having the mind-set, determination, support and opportunity to turn this talent into the best in the world. For people with intellectual disabilities to become elite athletes the same applies, but the race might be more challenging, beset with inequalities, low expectations and less opportunities, in addition to compensating for what having intellectual disabilities actually means for sporting performance. However, athletes with intellectual disabilities do compete, albeit as a minority, and stand on the Paralympic podium to receive their medals. The Tokyo Paralympics was estimated to have been watched by 4.25 billion people, presenting a unique opportunity to highlight to the public the extraordinary accomplishments of these athletes with intellectual disabilities. This presentation will examine this journey in more detail, both considering the personal characteristics of these unique athletes and the contexts they need to thrive. The significance of the need to share the space on these elite podiums will be discussed in relation to not only the impact on their lives, but also for others who do not share such opportunities.