Funding set to help researchers DRILL down into independent living barriers

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Projects that will research how to help people with chronic illness speak out, tackle violence against disabled women, and judge the success of peer support initiatives are among 10 user-led schemes that have been awarded £400,000 in funding.

The 10 research projects – across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – have received between £35,000 and £40,000 each to explore new ways to remove the barriers to independent living faced by disabled people.

The schemes are the first part of the DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning) programme, a £5 million research scheme funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and delivered by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Disability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

DRILL, which has so far received more than 200 applications for funding, is believed to be the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people, and should eventually fund about 40 pieces of research and pilot projects.

Disabled campaigner Catherine Hale, a member of the Spartacus online network, is lead researcher on one of the projects, which aims to empower people with chronic illness to “develop a collective voice with which to challenge their exclusion”.

The project will be managed by the Centre for Welfare Reform (CWR) and will learn from the work of existing online networks of sick and disabled people, such as The Broken of Britain and Spartacus.

Hale, a CWR fellow, said: “There is a vibrant chronic illness community online, as you can see if you search #spoonie. This project is about channelling it into a movement for social change.

“To do this we need to grow our awareness of the social and political dimensions of our exclusion; to strengthen links with the disability rights movement and to develop a collective voice on the government policies that affect our lives.”

In Scotland, one DRILL project will aim to understand what stops people with mental health problems engaging in civic and public life. 

Another Scottish project will explore how more people with learning difficulties can be supported to make decisions.

In Wales, research will examine the barriers young disabled people face in forming friendships, and what contributes to their social isolation.

Another Welsh project, to be co-produced with All Wales People First, will develop an easy-to-use way for people with learning difficulties to evaluate the success of their self-advocacy projects, making it easier to attract future funding.

Joe Powell, national director of All Wales People First, said: “Self-advocacy helps people to be active in their social circle and be better citizens.

“Our project will enable people with disabilities to have a louder voice in saying what works for them in projects that aim to improve their self-advocacy skills.

“Improving these projects will mean more and better self-advocates who can take control of their own lives and influence society to have positive images of disabled people.”

One of the English DRILL projects will work with people with sight loss and older people to make it easier for galleries and museums to respond to “impromptu” visits from blind and partially-sighted people.

Humare Avaaz (Our Voice) will explore the barriers faced by disabled Asian women, and some of the success stories where those barriers have been overcome, in co-production with the Asian People’s Disability Alliance, and other organisations.

Inclusion London and Barnett Voice for Mental Health are among organisations that have secured £40,000 DRILL funding to examine what makes peer support employment projects successful.

Another project that has won funding will look at how to tackle violence and abuse experienced by disabled women across England and Wales, including how services can work together to create safer and more inclusive communities for disabled women.

Finally, Dementia NI will work with two Irish universities to evaluate how the organisation – set up by five people from Northern Ireland with a diagnosis of dementia – has helped to empower people with that condition.

Another £600,000 of awards will be announced by DRILL next spring.

In a blog, Liz Sayce, chief executive of DR UK, said: “The common thread to all these projects is that they are being driven by disabled people, for disabled people; these are core criteria when it comes to getting funding from the DRILL programme. 

“We hope this will lead to new insights and ways of looking at things which will help develop new solutions to the barriers disabled people face.

“But we also hope disabled people’s organisations will develop new partnerships and insights into building evidence; and researchers will learn more about how to work in genuine co-production with disabled people.” 

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said her organisation was “excited” about the impact the two Welsh research projects would have in “tackling the isolation of young disabled adults and encouraging people with learning difficulties to stand up for what they need.

“Moreover it will help create a much-needed research community among disabled people in Wales which is so vital to identifying solutions that make achieving independent living a reality.”

Professor Tom Shakespeare, the disabled academic who chairs the DRILL central research committee, which approved the grants, said: “We sometimes find the questions posed by disabled people are different from those posed by non-disabled academics, and so this research has the potential to answer questions of most concern to disabled people.

“The programme will involve sharing knowledge, research and skills through genuine co-production between disabled people and academics and should leave a legacy of greater skills for all involved.”

Picture: Four of the founders of Dementia NI

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