Reporter 445, 24 January 1999
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Seen and Heard: disabled children have their say
It is not often that disabled children get the chance to talk directly with people who make decisions about the sort of services they receive. However, a pioneering conference in Leeds will help to change that. The conference, on 24 February at Elland Road (home of Leeds United), is being organised jointly by Leeds University’s Disability Research Unit, Leeds City Council, Leeds Centre for Integrated Living and the Leeds Children’s Rights Office.
Twenty local young disabled people will take part, alongside twenty adults who work for the education department, social services and the health authority. The aim of the day is to bring service planners and providers face to face, on equal terms, with the young people they serve.
The conference was inspired by research at Leeds and Edinburgh Universities, which showed just how much disabled children have to say about their lives, and how strongly they feel about the way things should change.
Dr Mark Priestley, Senior ESRC Research Fellow, will present key findings from the study. There will also be small group sessions on important topics to young disabled people, such as leaving school, going out and friends and relationships. Each of these workshops will be led by someone who experienced a disabled childhood themselves.
[A summary of the project and the key research findings is available]
‘Research is useful when it helps to change things in the real world, and this conference will certainly help to do that for disabled children in Leeds’, said Mark. ‘Disabled children have been left out of research and policy in the past, and that’s why this day is so important’.
‘Parents and professionals are usually the ones who get listened to. One of the aims of our research was to publicise what young disabled people really think, and to recognise that they are the real experts on their own lives’.
The children who were involved in the project decided what they wanted to talk about. This showed that were much less interested in the medical side of disability and much more concerned about their social lives, about disability access and about other people’s attitudes.
- The team of seven researchers, from Leeds and Edinburgh Universities, worked on a two-year research project called ‘Life as a Disabled Child’ (funded by the Economic and Social Research Council's Childhood 5-16 programme). They met children at home, at school and in youth clubs and leisure centres. Althogther, they met about 300 hundred children, and more than a hundred contributed their own stories and experiences (mainly through interviews).
- The Disability Research Unit at Leeds is widely recognised as a world leader in promoting this kind of co-participatory research with disabled adults and the project has allowed the team to apply this to similar work with children. Such an approach is also an important feature of the 1989 Children Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which both stress the need to consult children about the decisions that affect them.
Contact Mark Priestley, 0113 2334417
More stories on the Disability Research Unit web page - www.leeds.ac.uk/sociology/dru/dru.htm
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