Alternative Futures: Disability and Community

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Sch of Education and Lifelong Learning


'Alternative Futures' will investigate the ways in which disabled people express, perform, experience and practice 'community'. It will question the ways in which disability and disabled communities are constructed and positioned by mainstream culture, by themselves and by research practice.

The research will contest more entrenched approaches to disability (as critiqued in Shakespeare 2006). The project will challenge persistent models of disability (medical, clinical, applied), drawing on the lived experience of disabled people. The project will be innovative through carrying out inquiry across the full spectrum of disability.

The research team recognise the risk in working across such broad communities, but feel emboldened in that decision through the encouragement of prominent academics in the field: Tom Shakespeare, (UEA) and Lennard Davis (University of Illinois), who have expressed the view that there is a need to initiate new thinking around Disability community. Shakespeare and Davis have agreed to be on an international advisory group during the initial development phase.

A strong inquiry strand will be in seeking wider cultural perspectives around disability. There is a need for 'mutual engagement' between Anthropology and Disability Studies (Kasnitz, 2001), and for more knowledge across cultural settings (Warren & Manderson, 2013). We intend to investigate the ways in which disabled people are positioned across different societies, and to suggest alternative possibilities. Our purpose is to shift perceptions among members of disabled communities as well as the wider public.

A particular interest will be in the ways in which future membership of communities is envisaged. This will include inquiry into new technologies and digital media. There is a history of problematic relations between disability and technology (Swain et al, 2013; Branson & Miller, 2002), and the ongoing debate around cochlear implants among the Deaf shows that technologies are not universally welcomed, and again, we need to know more about implications for community membership. The application of new technologies and genetic screening has the potential to change and divide communities, providing new and seemingly clean versions of eugenics (Garland-Thomson, 2012).

In order to work towards this wider project, the development stage will be based around identifying the themes of importance to the research team and to community members. The first event will be a workshop involving people from disability communities, representatives from support groups, disabled artists and performers, and academics selected from a range of fields. The themes for future inquiry will be shaped during this first workshop, and also during the subsequent phase, when the team will explore issues further through interviews / focus group meetings.

This will lead to a second workshop, during which there will be further refinement of focus, the emergence of key research questions, and the construction of a methodological framework. The advisory group will then be invited to consider and comment on the emerging project.

The nature of the inquiry, and the diverse backgrounds of the academic team team - Critical Disability Studies, Media Studies and Anthropology - will result in inter-disciplinary inquiry that will be of relevance to other disciplines, such as History and Psychology.

Other members of the team bring diverse experience across the arts, and they also bring close connections to disability communities.

The research will contribute to the wider AHRC Connected Communities Programme, and specifically, to the themes developed at the workshop in Sheffield, around Disconnection, Division and Exclusion. The research will seek to highlight the ways in which disabled people situate themselves in communities. The intention is that this will provide new insights for practitioners, support groups and policy-makers.

Planned Impact

There will be a range of beneficiaries across both disabled and non-disabled "communities". The co-designed approach will ensure that this investigation does not only have the potential to impact on academic discourses and current ideology around disability issues, but will also have scope to influence policy and cultural provision and increase a wider understanding within "mainstream" society, challenging preconceived perceptions of disability and ideas of what is meant by the "disabled community".
The impact of the Development project is limited by its nature and scope, but even during this short period we anticipate that some useful pathways to impact will emerge. We envisage that the literature review, website/blog and the benefits of participation in the workshops can potentially benefit many of the same organisations and individuals.
Our beneficiaries are likely to include:
Those community groups and organisations who participate directly in the development stage of the project
Policy Influencers (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Disability Rights UK, DEMOS, RSA, New Economics Foundation, Action for Disability and Work UK)
MPs and Ministers with an interest in or remit around Disability and/or Culture (including All Party Political Groups)
Department for Culture Media and Sport; Department for Work and Pensions; Office for Disability Matters and the Department of Health
The Charity Sector (Scope, Mencap, The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, The MS Society and other impairment/syndrome specific charities)
Disability activists and Disability rights groups: DRUK, Disability Wales, Disability Scotland, plus more local campaigning groups with a concern for the profile of Disabled people and those who offer support to Disabled people
Health and Wellbeing Boards/Organisations including The National Alliance For Arts, Health and Wellbeing.
Deaf and Disabled People/Artists, Performers/Filmmakers/Creative Practitioners
Deaf and Disabled Young People
Practitioners working with Disabled people, including medics, professions allied to medicine, e.g. OTs, Physiotherapists (PAMS), Social workers, Personal Assistants/Support workers, Hospice and other nursing staff, teachers and Educational psychologists
The wider public - through creative interventions
Manufacturers and developers of digital games, who will have a better understanding of this segment of their market.

Reflective learning for development project participants, who will be exposed to new ideas and opportunities to contribute, debate and inform the 'thinking' in the project
Increasing effectiveness in service provision in meeting the needs of disabled people through a deeper understanding about the complexities of what is considered to be the "disabled community"
Influencing Policy relating to disabled people, through a deeper understanding about the complexities of what is considered to be the "disabled community", that both inform and go beyond the health and social care agendas
Increasing opportunities for disabled artists and creative practitioners to establish affinities "inside" or "outside" the Disability Arts/Mainstream "communities"
Increasing opportunities for disabled people more generally to establish affinities "inside" or "outside" the Disability /mainstream "communities"
Foster a freedom to consider what is possible in the future for disabled/non-disabled communities (real and virtual)
Increasing health and wellbeing of disabled people by enabling open discussion about the right to disconnect or connect to a variety of communities and not imposing a homogenous group identity
The project will also suggest future "open moments" beyond 2016, which may influence policy, cultural provision and public opinion
The community-university partnership expertise of the co-investigators in this project will itself contribute to the emerging impact agenda, and specifically explore how this might be shaped by the Connected Communities programme


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Description As a development grant, the purpose was to build partnerships and networks. One thing that emerged was the relative lack of dialogue across agencies involved with Disability work. There is a tendency to work in a vacuum. Alternative Futures succeeded in building a team of partners, and succeeded in initiating connections across and between them. It cemented the research team, something that was pivotal in the successful award of a large AHRC grant (the D4D project).
Exploitation Route The work is currently being developed with the D4D project, exploring issues around disability and technology, across various contexts. We are looking, for instance, at inclusion in the school and workplace, participation in youth groups and other social settings, involvement in virtual activities / gaming, uses of technology, the uses of medical and scientific advances, etc..
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description This award did not entail research as such, and was a development grant. However, there was an impact beyond facilitating a further award, in that it brought together organisations, building new networks in the process.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description AHRC Large Grant
Amount £1,296,407 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/N004108/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 03/2020
Description Alternative Futures - Accentuate 
Organisation Accentuate - South Screen
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The collaboration will provide Accentuate with gain in profile and access to academic expertise
Collaborator Contribution The collaboration provides the research team with access to Accentuate and Screen South networks and user groups, as well as to the strong relationships established by Accentuate with disability groups.
Impact Outputs and outcomes will emerge from the next phase of research
Start Year 2014
Description Alternative Futures - Bristol Robotics 
Organisation Bristol Robotics Laboratory
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Bristol Robotics gain from involvement in the opportunity to explore the uses of new technologies. They also gain from inter-disciplinary approaches that will make new technologies more responsive to social needs.
Collaborator Contribution Access to innovative technology through Bristol Robotics will enable the research team to explore the impact of such technology on the lived experience of participants.
Impact Output / outcomes will emerge during the forthcoming 4 year study
Start Year 2014
Description Alternative Futures - DAO 
Organisation Disability Arts Online (DAO)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution DAO will act as partners in the D4D project. DAO will gain access to the team's findings, and will share emerging understandings of their user community. Apart from the benefit of shared funding, DAO will benefit from increased profile for the organisation. DAO will also gain insights into the views of its members, and be able to support them more effectively as a consequence.
Collaborator Contribution DAO will be hosting the website for the four year D4D project. Exeter University will provide advice / support. The PI (Levinson) and Co Is (Porter and Sutherland) will liaise with Wheatley and Hambrook from DAO, supporting the site. DAO will be bringing an existing network of users to the D4D project. It will be improving dissemination outcomes / impact.
Impact As this was part of the development grant, the intention was simply to firm up the collaboration. This was successful.
Start Year 2015
Description Alternative Futures - Manchester Metropolitan 
Organisation Manchester Metropolitan University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Involvement in AHRC Connected Communities project.
Collaborator Contribution Expertise in cultural theory that will be applied across the project.
Impact Outputs / outcomes to emerge from next research phase
Start Year 2015
Description Alternative Futures - New Vic Theatre 
Organisation Arts Council England
Department New Vic Theatre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The New Vic gains through expertise of researchers. It will gain through involvement in a high-profile project that links both to its methods and social themes.
Collaborator Contribution During the development phase, the New Vic hosted a workshop. During this workshop, the research team was introduced to Cultural Animation approaches. The New Vic will continue to bring access to this research method. It will also provide support with performance activities over the coming 4 years, and offer a potential venue for a final performance.
Impact Outputs and outcomes will emerge in the coming D4D project.
Start Year 2014
Description Alternative Futures - University of Bristol 
Organisation University of Bristol
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Involvement in AHRC Connected Communities project.
Collaborator Contribution Leading on dissemination / impact.
Impact Outputs / outcomes to emerge in forthcoming collaborative research
Start Year 2014
Description Alternative Futures - University of London 
Organisation University of London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Involvement in AHRC Connected Communities project.
Collaborator Contribution Expertise in area of Media Studies / Cultural Studies
Impact Outputs / outcomes will emerge from the forthcoming study
Start Year 2015
Description Alternative Futures UWE 
Organisation University of the West of England
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Involvement in AHRC Connected Communities project.
Collaborator Contribution Expertise in technology - contacts with companies - ecological approaches
Impact Outputs / outcomes to emerge in next phase of research
Start Year 2015
Description Alternative Futures, Liverpool Hope 
Organisation Liverpool Hope University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Involvement in AHRC Connected Communities project.
Collaborator Contribution Expertise in Disability Studies, that will facilitate theoretical understandings in the filed, and also provide academic disability networks for dissemination.
Impact Outputs/outcomes to emerge in subsequent research phase
Start Year 2015