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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Intimate Citizenship and Learning Disability

Man in yellow shirt holding an Easy Read sign  In this blog post I want to speak about something called ‘intimate citizenship’ and people with learning disabilities. This article is written in Easy Read, so that lots of people can read it. You can access this article as a PDF, here: Intimate Citizenship and Learning Disability

What is “intimate citizenship”?

Lots of couples/people in relationships standing together.  Intimacy, and being intimate, is about touch, love, affection, privacy, bodies, care and being close.

A big grey ballot/voting box. Citizenship is about our rights and access to equality, fairness and justice.


A happy family, two adults with their children. Intimate citizenship brings these together to refer to our rights and access to equality within our intimate lives – the spaces in our lives where we love and care for others, ourselves and our bodies.

A lesbian couple: a white woman and a black woman arm in arm. Whether we are single, in a relationship, want to have a family, or be part of a family, we should have access to intimate rights which include things like who we love; where we live; and our sexual health.


A man with his head in his hands looking sad.However, for people with learning disabilities intimate rights and citizenship can often be denied, ignored, or overlooked. This is wrong.

 Why does intimate citizenship matter?

A man smiling, looking very happy, with the word 'happy' above his head. For most people, intimacy is important to happiness and well-being. Many of us enjoy intimacy and closeness in our private and personal lives, whether it comes from friends, family members or romantic and/or sexual partners.

A woman in a green jumper holding a 'thumbs up'. It matters because being with others feels nice, can be pleasurable and make us feel good about ourselves, and feel safe and secure in our lives.

A man in a yellow jumper, looking happy, with a hand beneath his feet to indicate that he is supported. We all have the right to have relationships with others and be supported to find and/or maintain our relationships if we need it.

A man looking very angry, sad and distressed. But, intimate citizenship also relates to our rights to say no to intimacy if we don’t want it, and our rights to not be sexually abused, raped or exploited. Women with learning disabilities experience greater rates of sexual violence than women without learning disabilities.

Our intimate citizenship can also include things like:


The contraceptive pill, and some condoms: contraception.Accessing contraception and sexual health care.

A man checking his testicles for lumps.Learning about our bodies.

A baby in a yellow blanket, with the word 'baby' written above. The right to parent and start a family.


A checkbox with 'yes' and 'no' written next to a tick symbol and a cross symbol. Learning about consent (saying yes or no to a sexual act).

A man teaching a class of people.  Receiving good quality sex education.

A man in a green number doing the 'thumbs up' sign, with the words 'feel good about yourself' written above. Building sexual confidence.

A man's face making a "sshh" face and holding a finger to his mouth. The word 'quiet' is written above. Rights to privacy.

Some clothes: pants/jeans, a shirt, socks, shoes and the word 'clothes' written above. Choosing what to wear and expressing ourselves with our bodies (e.g. tattoos and body piercings).

A nurse standing with her arms open, ready to embrace/help. Support to end a pregnancy.

A man's face with two thought bubbles which show is is thinking about where to live. Where we live: who we want to make a home with.

Researching intimate citizenship?

A plane in the sky, with two suitcases and the word 'holiday' written above. In September 2015, researchers Katherine Runswick-Cole, Dan Goodley, Kirsty Liddiard, Jen Slater and Jodie Bradley and Vicky Farnsworth from Speak Up Self-Advocacy are going to Toronto, Canada, to speak with other researchers and self-advocates from all around the world about intimate citizenship.

Lots of people across three tables, sitting having a meeting. The aim of the trip is to think about how researchers and self-advocates can work together in future research to explore how people with learning disabilities can be better supported within their intimate lives.


To learn more, check out some of these free Easy Read resources (click on the title or the picture):


A man and a women talking.  Talking about sex and relationships: the views of young people with learning disabilities. 

A man with a love heart symbol on his chest, surrounded by "ticks" to show that he is in good health. Easy Health

A glass of beer, a martini cocktail and a glass of red wine with the words 'beer, wine, and spirits' written above. Stay Up Late

A lesbian couple: a white woman and a black woman arm in arm. Dating and Relationships


A man laying in bed at nighttime looking scared/distressed.Surviving Sexual Abuse

Two people, a man and a woman. The man is raising his hand (as if to hit) the woman, who looks scared.Surviving Rape 



Written by Kirsty Liddiard, School of Education, University of Sheffield

Images by Easy on the i, NHS UK


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60% of MPs believe that learning disabled people can’t work: Big Society research shows that they can

 A recent report by Dimensions, a care provider, revealed that a poll of one hundred MPs found that 60% believe that people with learning disabilities can’t work . Our research project Big Society? Disabled people with learning disabilities and civil society, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant Ref: ES/K004883/1)[i], clearly shows that people with learning disabilities can and do work.

Take for example, Charlie, a learning disabled man in his fifties. Charlie works five days a week for the city council meals service. He has a range of jobs there from marking up the boards for the drivers, to being responsible for the recycling as well as a host of office tasks. When Charlie got the job at the meals service, he went for a ‘working interview’; this meant he had a work trial, trying out the tasks in order to secure the post. Charlie was also supported by a job coach: a person who specializes in supporting people with learning disabilities into employment.  Charlie’s job coach helped Charlie in his first few weeks in his new job, supporting him to learn new tasks as well as the workplace culture. Charlie has been working at the meals service for seven years, he was forty-seven when he got his first paid job. Charlie’s story shows that with the right support, people with learning disabilities can work, but it also reveals that low expectations and a lack of appropriate support means that many people who can work are excluded from the labour market.

Way back in 1984, The King’s Fund published An Ordinary Working Life that built on discussion in the 1950s about the role and value of employment for people with learning disabilities. And yet, in 2015, fewer than 10% of people with learning disabilities are in paid work. In 2010, the Coalition government endorsed the policy document Valuing Employment Now (VEN) (Department of Work and Pensions and Department of Health, 2009) that recognized the particular experiences of marginalisation faced by people with learning disabilities. And yet, only 4.8% of the Coalition’s Work Programme, the programme designed to support disabled people into work, have a learning disability. In the early days of the new Tory government, reports are already emerging that Access to Work, a fund which offers disabled people up to £25,000 per year on physical adaptation to workplaces, personal aids (e.g. seats, reading machines), job coaches, and money for transport, is under threat with the publication of an Equality Analysis for the Future of Access to Work

Charlie’s story is just one of the stories from our research project that shows that people with learning disabilities can work, and yet the supports in place to support people into and in work are under threat. MPs, and others, need to understand that many people with learning disabilities want to work and have lots to offer as employees.

Our research found that:

  • Few people with a learning disability are in work;
  • Support available to move people into employment varies across local areas;
  • Job coaching can work well to support people into employment;
  • Social enterprises can also create employment opportunities for people with LD;
  • Business circles of support can help people become self-employed;

We suggest that:

  • We need to make what works (job coaching; social enterprise; business circles; self-employment) widely available;
  • Financial and other support for these services should be increased (not cut).

If you would like to find out more about the project visit: or contact

[i] Big Society? Disabled people with learning disabilities and civil society is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant Ref: ES/K004883/1). It is a partnership project between four universities: Manchester Metropolitan University, The University of Sheffield, The University of Bristol and Northumbria University as well as civil society partners: Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities; Pathways Associates; Manchester Learning Disability Partnership; Mencap; SpeakUp Self-Advocacy and Pete Crane, Wendy Crane, Max Neill and Helen Smith, independent living advisors.