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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Knowledge Exchange in Malaysia

By Keith Bates

Developing employment opportunities for people with disabilities is hard. I’m not sure it should be, but it is. We know that. UK employment rates remain stubbornly low. Short term funding prevails, quality of support is variable and only now are we turning our attention to working with young people while they are still at school, raising aspirations and expectations that they can and should work,  Yet again we repeat, we know what works; give good quality support to people who are interesting in finding work, and we can match their skills interests and aspirations with the needs of local employers and get good job outcomes.


This was one of the key messages shared during a recent knowledge exchange and training visit to Malaysia. The team, consisting of Keith Bates and Molly Mattingly, both research partners from the Foundation for People with learning Disabilities and part of the wider Big Society Progarmme led by Professor Dan Goodly of Sheffield University and Katherine Runswick Cole of Manchester Metropolitan University

With employment rates of 7%, we cannot claim to have succeeded in the UK but we do have some pockets of promise. The impact of supported internships is an indicator what can be achieved when we develop good relationships with employers. The increasing popularity of self employment as a route to work shows that people can and do want to explore small business ownership. The emergence of quality standards for job coaches reminds us that we have a wealth of evidence about how to support people find and keep great jobs.


Concluding the visit with a two day workshop with 32 Special Education Teachers, (including one who flew in from Sabah, Borneo), Job Coaches, Employers and representatives from the Dept of Education the team shared their experience UK approaches to planning for transition, supported internships as well as detailing the rise of self employment. Held at a school in a very hazy Kuala Lumpur, the workshop involved Keith and Molly delivering presentations, introducing activities from FPLD’s When I Grow Up programme and facilitating a lively discussion about how Malaysia can build on its own transitions pilot and further support teachers to prepare young people for a working future.


Importantly the session was supported by the Prime Minister’s Office and the unit within that monitors high impact programmes. Malaysia clearly wants to get this right. We were delighted to hear our colleagues now plan to adapt some of the materials introduced for the Malaysian context and explore many more of the concepts debated.

Yet we came away from Malaysia with an overwhelming sense of familiarity. The visit consisted of a number of workshops, seminars and discussions in and outside the Government; the Ministry of Special Education, The Department of Social Welfare and with Employers. Supported Employment is gaining pace in Malaysia thanks to the work of JICA the Japan International Co-operation Agency which has been developing job coaching and equalities training across the country.

There is little doubt that huge progress has been made, and as JICA withdraw this year, Malaysia will need to embrace the changes introduced and continue to develop opportunities. We were struck by the high regard each Department placed on the employment of disabled people and the engagement of many key players.

The inclusion of families and of disabled people themselves is vital as it is in the UK. Similarly, calls to address the need to uphold quality and provide a focus may prove beneficial. This is familiar territory. We know what works, but like our colleagues in Malaysia will no doubt echo, systemic change is a long game.IMG_2178

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23rd September, 2015: The power of employers

The power of employers. – 23 Sep 2015

Keith Bates

We talk often about knowing what works in getting people into employment; all that research and evidence; all that practice. Yet where do employers fit? Should they not be doing some of this stuff for us – or at least with us?

We know in the UK the growth of Project Search and Supported Internships offer an insight to what happens when we get the (properly supported) skills and talents on display for recruiting managers that employment rates for people with learning disabilities and autism start to increase significantly.image-2 image-3

We were therefore delighted to be invited once again to talk to Gamuda – one of Malaysia’s largest engineering, property and infrastructure companies about supporting people with autism in the workplace. The welcome we received was truly exceptional.

Gamuda, a company with over 3500 employees working in a fabulously wide variety of sectors has decided it wants to create opportunities. This is a message directed from the very top and already involves support for a number of disabled people with high ambitions to increase this.

After a brief introduction and exploring what Autism is and how it may impact on work life, Keith and Molly from the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, members of our research team in Malaysia, shared stories of how people have been supported to become valuable and respected employees in a variety of settings. This attempted to show how small changes have made a big difference to their success at work and in some cases have improved the working environment for everyone.

The team was deeply impressed with the fact that the presentation was attended by over 100 people from the organisation. Not only did serve to illustrate the importance to this initiative is to the company but, indeed the level of commitment by the staff team.

Further cases studies offered an opportunity for the participants, which included both chairman and the Chief Executive – another show of commitment – to consider possible responses to real life scenarios.

The session finished with a short conversation about some of the thing the organisation would use to move forward. The team were delighted to hear that Dato’Lin Yun Ling, Group Managing Director found the workshop had helped significantly and that he was already thinking of adjustments to their programme such as the possible introduction of support circles for employees.

This is just a great example of how employers can and do make a difference when we get the right support, the right approach and the right attitude. As with our internships, Business led partnerships can have real impact

We look forward to further developments.


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21st September, 2015: Big Society team returns to Malaysia

This week, two members of the team, Keith Bates and Molly Mattingly from the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, are back in Malaysia to deliver training on employment, job coaching, enterprise & self-employment.

Here Keith talks about their first day of workshops.

Quality and value 

We know how to support people with learning disabilities into work. We know what works; we have decades of academic, practical and anecdotal evidence for this. Yet we also know that not all services commissioned in the UK follow good practice guidelines. Quality is important, in order to get good outcomes, we need good inputs. This was one of the key messages delivered at a workshop today as part of the Big Society Research programme.


Following a request to deliver further exchanges in Malaysia to build on the initial visit made in March 2015, the team, consisting of Keith Bates and Molly Mattingly, both voluntary sector partners from our Progrmmme today led a workshop exploring the development of quality approaches and the professionalization of Job Coaching


Molly and Keith worked with 23 senior Job Coach Trainers representing the major government departments, NGOs and private businesses to explore what needed in place they need to build a quality framework for job coaches in Malaysia.

After an introduction to the employment situation for people with learning disabilities, in the UK, Keith reminded participants of the precarious situation people found themselves in across the UK, dealing with stubbornly low rates of employment and challenging cuts yet with some promising innovations that were generating positive outcomes for some.

The session touched upon Social Role Valorisation and the importance of valued roles in society for people with disabilities and the vital role employment played in this. The relevance of providing evidence based approaches to supporting people into work was emphasised throughout the day with participants exploring a range of quality measurement tools and standards available to the supported employment sector form the UK, US and Europe.

Participants were invited to build on the significant local work done to date and to start developing and designing the beginnings of a service framework using model coherency. The Job Coach Trainers worked together and explored how they should build a sustainable model of supported employment and to enhance job coaching as a profession across Malaysia.

Clearly it is neither possible nor desirable to build a quality framework in a day, but foundations have been laid from which to grow and will undoubtedly further the object of getting more people with learning disabilities into work. Representatives from the Departments of Welfare, Labour, Education and Skills have agreed to work closely together to develop a framework for Quality in Job Coaching Support.

A challenge was delivered to the job coaches by the Department of Welfare that reminded the workshop that anyone can work if given the right support. This was followed with a promise that the department will develop National Occupational Standards in the New Year with further workshops agreed in pursuance of this aim.

We look forward to further developments


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15th &16th September “An inspiring and energising conference” End of project conference Big Society? Disabled people with learning disabilities and civil society

The end of project conference brought together people with learning disabilities, family members, activists, academics, third sector organizations and other allies to think about the lives of people with learning disabilities in a time of austerity.

Day one focused on the three strands of the project: circles of support; self-advocacy and employment. The day included presentations from

The day concluded with a knowledge café facilitated by Rebecca Lawthom (Manchester Metropolitan) with visual facilitation by Dan Goodley (Sheffield).


Day Two took up the theme of austerity again and began with a presentation from Dan Goodley (Sheffield) & Katherine Runswick-Cole (Manchester Metropolitan) talking about disability and community. In their presentation Dan and Katherine described disability’s radical potential to disrupt notions of the community and, indeed, the human. (Presentation here: EOP presentation)

They were followed by Imogen Tyler (Lancaster) describing her current powerful research on the cultural production of stigma ( ) (Presentation: intolerant%20times%20tyler)

Next Alan Roulstone (Leeds) reflected on the ‘causes’ and consequences of austerity in the lives of disabled people, as well as thinking about opportunities for resistance (Presentation here: Roulstone).

Alan was followed by Jenny Fisher’s (Manchester Metropolitan) presentation which focused on austerity parenting and her evaluation of the work of Home Start in Manchester ( ) (Presentation here:Sheffield%200915) .

After lunch, Aaron Reeves (Oxford) described his work on drawing on social policy and health economics to explore disability and the labour market ( ) (Presentation here: disability_public).

The day ended with a presentation by Chris Hatton (Lancaster) describing what statistics do (and don’t) tell us about the lives of people with learning disabilities ( (Presentation Hatton).

Thanks to the generosity and support of those attending the conference, you can follow the detail of the discussion via twitter #austerity15 and the storify is available here: ‪ ‪ ‬

Katherine Runswick-Cole said: “While it was clear that there is a range of urgent challenges facing people with learning disabilities in a time of austerity, it was also clear that among the presenters and attendees at the conference there is a powerful momentum for change.

We are looking forward to collaborating with community and university partners to be part of that work.”

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30th July, 2015: Equalities & Human Rights Commission visits disability academics at MMU

On July 30th, the team had the pleasure of entertaining the disability committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission at Brooks Building, Manchester Metropolitan University. They visited to find out more about the disability research across MMU so a host of expertise around speech and language provision and other disability research featured. We welcomed Professor Swaran Singh and Professor Anna Lawson who hold academic posts at Warwick and Leeds respectively, whilst undertaking roles within EHRC.   Rebecca Lawthom, Professor of Community Psychology and Co-Investigator on Economic and Social Research Council funded project Big Society? Disabled people with learning disabilities and civil society represented the project (while Katherine Runswick-Cole, Senior Research Fellow Disability Studies and Psychology and other members of the team were busy in Sydney – see blog posts here for more information: and Julie Marshall, Reader in Communication Disability and Development, met with them.

The disability committee of the EHRC are clearly focused on disability but noted much overlap with other protected characteristics. Indeed, the continued existence of the disability committee reflects the importance of disability as a protected characteristic within the EHRC. A review of the committee’s work in 2014 noted the need for more stakeholder engagement and MMU was identified as an area of excellence in disability research, a key feature of the research at MMU is the central role played by stakeholders outside the university.

The visitors were interested in three broad questions:

what were the important issues facing disabled people today?

how were disabled students faring in times of shifting funds?

how could research be made accessible to disabled people?

We shared our current findings and briefing cards (available to download here:, which they were impressed with. We also talked about expertise across our faculty in AAC and speech therapy in underserved countries. Discussions also focused on the #JusticeforLB campaign (x and the proposed changes to the law to support the community inclusion of disabled people the Justice for lb campaign and the proposed member’s bill (

This meeting marked the start of an ongoing relationship. We will be looking at the EHRC website and keeping our eyes on the work undertaken. The commission presents evidence to government so capitalizing on this channel will be useful for impact work and more importantly for the disabled people we work alongside.

Rebecca Lawthom

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#IntimateCitizenship day two and three: labouring, consuming, loving

Day Two began with an introduction from Kathryn Church, Director for the Centre for Disability Studies at Ryerson University. She welcomed the international participants to the workshop. Participants then split off into three workshop groups: loving, working and consuming.

Each group used different arts based methods to explore the theme including drama and artwork to facilitate the discussion. You can see some of the art work below.

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The following day, each group fed back from their group work to talk about each of the strand.

Then Dan and Katherine facilitated a knowledge café style workshop reflecting on what people had learned over the last few days.

Key learning included:

  • desire is always fraught for disabled people;
  • ableist desires always cancel out the desires of disabled people;
  • disabled people desire compassion and a future
  • people who love and care for disabled people play an important role in enabling intimacy
  • Sometimes ‘love’ looks like violence and control over disabled bodies
  • We need to make space for people with learning disabilities to get what they want
  • Connections matter
  • love is not just about wanting, but also about giving, some people with learning disabilities are not allowed to give and not allowed to love.
  • disabled people are always thought to be consuming too many resources but not consuming in the ‘right’ way
  • Disabled people are assumed to consume too much… Healthcare, social supports

The third day ended with a discussion of future plans for collaboration

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Making Space #IntimateCitizenship workshop day one, 2nd September, 2015

Day One was a chance for the project team to meet up with old friends and to make some new ones too. The focus of the day was on introducing the notion of intimate citizenship and of the three strands that make up the intimate citizenship workshops: loving, working and consuming.

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The day began with a forum theatre performance by SPIN reflecting on the barriers facing people with learning disabilities who become parents. Forum theatre allows for discussion of complex issues and encourages the audience to take part in the performance in order to offer solutions or other interpretations of the discussion.


This was followed by a series of scholarly sound bites; these brief introductions, from people working in universities about their research, captured the range of their interests and cultural locations from the experiences of aboriginal men with HIV in Canada, to the lives of labeled people on the margins in Australia to the lives of children with life shortening impairments in the UK. Each of the scholarly sound bite addressed issues of intimate citizenship in labeled people’s lives and discussions continued with comments from the floor.


In the afternoon, Jodie and Vicky presented findings from the Big Society research. They spoke about the importance of self-advocacy and the threats posed by the cuts to self advocacy in the UK as well as sharing details of the #JusticeforLB campaign in the UK.

This was followed by more scholarly sound bites focusing on loving with presentations on new eugenics, the intimate lives of people who use assisted and augmentative forms of communication as well as desiring disability, among others.

And the day wrapped up with more discussion.


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A hop across the pond: intimate citizenship workshop, Toronto, Canada, 2nd-5th September, 2015

A hop across the pond: intimate citizenship workshop, Toronto, Canada

This week the Big Society team is in Toronto, Canada. Dan Goodley, The University of Sheffield, Katherine Runswick-Cole, Manchester Metropolitan University, Jodie Bradley, Vicky Farnsworth, Hayley ?? and Annie Ferguson, SpeakUp Self-Advocacy, Rotherham, travelled to participate in the workshop exploring intimate citizenship in the lives of people with learning disabilities ( Their trip was funded by contributions from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada, Ryerson University, Canada, McMaster, The University of Sheffield, UK, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK and Sheffield Hallam University, UK, and Tangled Arts, Toronto, Canada. The aim of the workshop is to bring together self-advocates and their allies to discuss intimate citizenship. Intimate citizenship is concerned with the intimate aspect of people’s lives: loving, working and consuming. For more details visit:

For the team, it was also the chance to share our research findings from the current project and to build networks of support and for future research collaborations. We will be blogging about each of the days and some of our reflections from the workshops.

Katherine & Dan

Katherine & Dan