Big Society, Disability and Civil Society Research

Website for ESRC research project 'Big Society? Disabled People with Learning Disabilities and Civil Society'

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Every Vote Counts

On 25th November, 2014, Katherine, member of the Big Society research team, made her way to Westminster to attend the launch of United Response’s #EveryVoteCounts campaign, hosted in the Commons by Dame Anne Begg, MP . There are over 1.5 million people with learning disabilities in the UK and yet they are far less likely than the general population to vote. United Response wants to create greater awareness of the rights of people with a learning disability to vote and to make it easier for people to get hold of accessible information about politics, including easy read versions of political parties’ manifestos.
Katherine said: “As part of our current research project here at MMU, Big Society? Disabled people with learning disabilities and civil society” ( ), we have been working with our partner organisations in order to support people with learning disabilities to take part in the political process. It was great to see cross-party support for United Response’s campaign and we hope that we will see an increase in the availability of local, accessible manifestos and a rise in the number of people with a learning disability voting in 2015.”

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Disability, austerity and resistance: activism in the academy

On the 5th November, the Research Institute of Health and Social Change hosted “Disability and Austerity: the impact of the cuts”. This seminar event was one of a series of events being held nationally as part of the Economic and Social Research Council Festival of Social Science. The Festival aims to promote the importance of social science to general audiences.
The Disability and Austerity event was allied to an on-going research project being carried out by a research team here at MMU: “Big Society? Disabled people with learning disabilities and civil society”. The project is a collaboration between MMU, The University of Sheffield, The University of Bristol, Northumbria University, SpeakUp Self-Advocacy, The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, Mencap, Pathways Associates, Manchester Learning Disability Partnership and independent living advisors. The aim of the project is to explore how people with learning disabilities are participating in a time of “Big Society”.
Delegates were welcomed to the event by the organiser Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole, Senior Research Fellow in Disability Studies and Psychology in RIHSC.
First to present were Jodie Bradley and Vicky Farnsworth from SpeakUp Selfadvocacy. Jodie and Vicky spoke about the importance and benefits of self-advocacy in the lives of people with learning disabilities. Engagement with self-advocacy enables people to work, participate in their local communities and to lead happy lives.
Next were Max Neill, Pete Crane, Wendy Crane and Katherine Runswick-Cole talking about circles of support as a means of tackling social isolation and exclusion in the lives of people with learning disabilities. Pete talked about the power of the circle being like ‘nuclear energy’ to enable positive changes in people’s lives.
Finally Rebecca Lawthom, Professor of Community Psychology at MMU, and Keith Bates from the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities spoke about enabling practice to support people with learning disabilities into employment including: job coaching, business circles and social enterprises.

Katherine said: “We’d like to thank the attendees at this event for their interest and enthusiasm. We were delighted to hear them commit to take what they had learned from the day and to bring some of the learning to their communities and organisations. “

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Disability & Austerity: the impact of the cuts, Economic and Social Research Council Festival of Social Science.

We’re holding an event “Disability & Austerity: the impact of the cuts” this week on Wednesday 5th November, 4.00pm – 6.00pm at Birley Fields Campus, Manchester Metropolitan University. To find out about the event you can visit this link:

You can view the powerpoint information slides for this event here:



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Robin Meader, Conference Artist

As part of the project, we’ve been working with Robin Meader. Robin describes himself as a conference artist, this means that he draws pictures of the ideas that people talk about at conferences to make it easier for people to understand what is being said.

Robin worked with us at the Disability Studies Association Conference in Lancaster in 2014 to create these visual images of some of the key ideas at the conference:

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If you would like Robin to act as conference artist at your event you can contact him here: