“Special or Unique”: A new report from Disability Rights UK and LKMco

Education ministers should boost the disability-specific elements of anti-bullying guidelines and personal, social and health education (PSHE), a new report urges today (2nd August 2019).

Based on focus groups with 12-14 year old children, the report suggests there is widespread ignorance of disability issues among schoolchildren, even those who have special educational needs or who are disabled (SEND).

Researchers found widespread frustration amongst SEND pupils in both mainstream and special schools at the failure of teachers and school leaders to deal with bullying and to promote inclusive classroom environments.

Special or Unique – Young People’s Attitudes to Disability, which is based on 11 focus groups with a mix of SEND pupils and non-SEND pupils in mainstream and special schools,  is published by the DRILL programme (Disability Research on Living and Learning).

DRILL is a 5 year programme funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, the biggest funder of community activity in the UK, and is led by disabled people. It aims to build better evidence about approaches to enable disabled people to achieve independent living, which is used to inform future policy and service provision, as well as give a greater voice to disabled people in decisions which affect them.

As well as uncovering widespread unhappiness at schools’ response to bullying behaviour, the research suggests that young disabled people are often excluded from social networks and have few friends.

Lead researcher Evan Odell from Disability Rights UK said: “These findings show that, in some areas, little has changed for disabled children in the last 40 years or so.

“Schools, special educational needs coordinators and teachers have understandably emphasised the need for reasonable adjustments and classroom support for pupils with SEND. Now they need to deal with bullying and ensure disabled children have the same chance to develop social skills and share in the experiences that mark out the teenage years.”

The Department for Education should support teachers and schools by developing SEND-specific anti-bullying guidance and establishing a minimum inclusion standard for disability awareness in the PHSE curriculum, the report says.

The disability component of that curriculum, the report suggests, should be co-developed and co-delivered by disabled people’s organisations working with schools and councils.

The focus groups suggest:

  • Many young disabled people don’t see themselves as disabled – with disability most frequently linked by SEND and non-SEND pupils to use of a wheelchair – or understand why they received extra support or ‘reasonable adjustments’
  • Researchers felt this could be because of a wish to keep a degree of privacy and control
  • Asked to describe themselves many SEND children used self-deprecatory terms such as annoying or lazy – something the researchers suggest could reflect ‘gallows humour’ or a defensiveness that might affect them asking for help or support
  • Pupils with SEND want their schools to be more proactive in facilitating their social and educational inclusion and reducing bullying
  • Despite that, many SEND pupils spoke positively about the subjects or activities they enjoyed – suggesting that other demographic factors are more important than disability for disabled children in an accessible environment that provides sufficient support.

The report argues that supporting pupils with SEND to better understand their disability and the reasonable adjustments and support they can access, could improve academic outcomes and better prepare them for life with disability.

Kate Bowen-Viner, Senior Associate at LKMco, who provided support with the design of the research, said:

“We hope this research will help teachers, school leaders and policymakers better understand how they can support young disabled people. The research also highlights the value of creating forums for young people to reflect critically on the perceptions they have of their peers with special educational needs and disabilities.

The report’s other recommendations include:

  • School leaders should foster greater openness about SEND and disability in the school, and support pupils with SEND to understand their own disability.
  • Local disabled people’s organisations should be involved in planning and delivering PSHE lessons on disability.

A copy of the full report is available here.

Research & Pilot Projects

What we have funded so far

DRILL funded more than 35 projects. These are innovative research and pilot projects led by disabled people and focused on finding solutions to some of the challenges disabled people face. You can find out more below.

Projects: 2018

Understanding and overcoming negative attitudes towards disabled people: What works in practice?

The four DRILL partners are carrying out a piece of research to explore innovative ways of challenging negative attitudes towards disabled people with each partner focussing on understanding and overcoming negative attitudes towards disabled people.

Disability Action Northern Ireland – See me as a human being: How do attitudes within the social care system impact on the independent living choices of disabled people?
Examining the ways in which attitudes in the adult social care system impact on disabled people’s independent living choices.

Inclusion Scotland – Services for who? Changing attitudes of service designers and deliverers which underpin discrimination experienced by disabled people with other protected characteristics.
Focussing on the attitudes of service providers to disabled people who also identify with any of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

Disability Rights UK – Young people’s attitudes to disability
Examining children’s attitudes to disability at both mainstream and special schools.

Disability Wales – Coproduction in disability research: developing future strategies
Exploring the benefits and challenges associated in working with peer researchers.

Getting our voices heard – Safeguarding you, safeguarding me

Exploring the different approaches to exerting influence taken by people with a learning disability and their organisations around the specific policy and procedural area of adult safeguarding.

Missing voices

Exploring why the voices of disabled people in the UK’s Gypsy Roma Traveller communities are missing from policy and practice debates about independent living.

Reasonable adjustments in the education sector – are they happening?

Identifying emerging gaps or trends between what is set out in law regarding Accessibility Plans and the practice of education providers.

Care co-operatives – an answer to the social care crisis?

Piloting the concept of a care cooperative social enterprise model with disabled people in receipt of a personal social care budget or a personal health budget.

Going out and about: finding accessible toilets

Working with people with a range of impairments to consider their top priorities and solutions for designing inclusive, accessible and findable toilets that enable travel and participation.

The right to a relationship for people with learning disabilities

Addressing the barriers that people with learning disabilities face in developing and sustaining sexual relationships.

Barriers to employment for people with sickle cell disease

Coproducing evidence with black and minority ethic people living with SCD about the barriers and enablers to employment with the goal of producing guides for employers and employees.

The potential of disabled people as foster carers

Exploring the barriers that prevents the inclusion of disabled people from being part of the foster carer workforce.

Improving access to the justice system for people who are deaf

Investigating the barriers to deaf people accessing the justice system in Northern Ireland and reviewing what best practice exists.

Empowering people with mental health problems to undertake or increase physical activity

Producing an evidence-based exercise programme that maximises participation amongst those with psycho-social disabilities.

Ways to earn money for self-advocates and their organisations

Finding solutions and specific routes into sustainable income generation and employment for people with learning difficulties.

Getting the right support: people with learning disabilities who are victims of sexual violence

Increasing the knowledge of people with a learning disability about their rights in relation to the justice system process and how to access appropriate support.

Projects: 2017

Rate it! Consumer product reviews by disabled people

Developing a product review website to assist disabled consumers to make informed choices about products that support independent living.

Upholding the independence of disabled parents: Re-imagining Children’s Services in co-production with disabled parents and professionals

Developing  solutions that aim to keep families together through independent living and challenging previous studies that assume a correlation between parental impairment and a negative impact on a child’s well-being.

ImaYDiT (“I Made It”): Imagining Young Disabled People’s Transitions in a time of major societal change

Exploring the transition from childhood to adulthood for disabled young people and helping contribute to the knowledge base of what is expected of adult life.

Q-PLANS:  Defining quality and rights-based Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) for disabled young people

Producing a quality and rights based framework to benchmark the delivery of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) in Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire.

Learning by doing together

Creating opportunities for people with learning disabilities to be employed and contribute their talents to shaping learning disability services.

Examining the barriers faced by autistic people

Examining the barriers faced by autistic people by producing robust evidence to use to influence strategies, interventions and provision of services to autistic people.

The costs and benefits of ‘good’ self-directed support

Exploring what changes are needed in the way Self Directed Support is resourced and delivered in order to support disabled people to participate fully in the life of the community, including work and education.

Match me – what works for adapted social housing lettings?

Demonstrating what works for disabled housing applicants and what needs to change to achieve effective allocations, in quicker timeframes and with greater equality in terms of the  range of housing options offered.

Supported Decision Making – experiences, approaches and preferences

Researching the experiences of disabled people with mental health problems and learning difficulties of decision making processes; and looking for solutions to empower them to directly influence decisions about their daily life.

Legally disabled? The career experiences of disabled people in the legal profession in England & Wales: developing future strategies

Looking at the barriers encountered by disabled people trying to gain professional employment and career advancement in the legal profession and the ways in which these barriers can be addressed.

Projects: 2016

Does it matter? Decision-making by people with learning disabilities 

Exploring how supported decision making can be designed to replace substitute decision making.

Increasing participation in civic and public life: coproducing solutions

Understanding what stops people with lived experience of mental health problems engaging in civic and public life.

Young people and friendships – what matters to us?

Exploring how patterns of friendship change and what helps and hinders friendships forming amongst young disabled people.

Developing a toolkit that self – advocates can use to check if projects deliver what they promise

Creating a toolkit that self-advocates can use to check if projects deliver what they promise.

A translational case study of empowerment in practice: an evaluation of the Dementia NI Service

Evaluating the impact of involvement with the Dementia NI Service at individual, dementia community and society levels.

Tackling violence and abuse against disabled women in coproduction with mental health, social care and housing services

Establishing what disabled women want from services to help them stay safe in the medium and longer term after violence and abuse and how services can work together to create safer and more inclusive communities for disabled women.

Peer support in progress: what works best to make peer support projects successful

Researching how peer support workers experience their work within organisations, identifying both good practice and opportunities for improvement.

Chronic Illness Inclusion Project – mobilising a collective voice for social change

Promoting the framework of independent living among the chronic illness community and providing them with tools for greater autonomy and dignity.

Co-producing an inclusively designed exhibition with partially sighted, blind and elderly participants

Focusing on ‘intellectual access’ for people with sight loss visiting local galleries and museums through the inclusive design and curatorship of exhibitions.

Humare Avaaz (Our Voice) – exploring the experiences and barriers faced by disabled Asian Women

Documenting positive outcomes and successful stories where Asian women have overcome barriers and whose knowledge offers suggestions for changes to social policy.