A pioneering five-year programme, led and controlled by disabled people, has left a legacy of independent living research that can now be used to lobby for change in policies and services across the UK, according to a new report.
But it has also shown that research can be done in a “truly co-produced way” and has increased the ability of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) to influence change.
The independent report, which analyses the impact of the Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) programme and is published today (Thursday), says it has “demonstrated that co-production works and that disabled people are the experts on their own impairments”.
The five-year, £5 million programme has researched subjects such as the barriers disabled people face in renting accommodation; violence and abuse against disabled women and girls; participation in civic and public life; and barriers to employment in the legal profession.
The programme was funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, and has been managed by the national disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) Disability Rights UK, Disability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.
The aim was to “build better evidence” on different approaches to enabling disabled people to live independently”, to use that evidence to influence changes in policy and service provision, and to “give a greater voice to disabled people in decisions which affect them”.
When the funding was first announced nearly six years ago, DRILL was described as the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people, with disabled people involved in the design, management and delivery of research projects.
In all, the programme handed out funding to 36 projects, with 85 organisations involved as partners.
Nearly 5,000 (4,856) disabled people took part, and 313 of them fulfilled leadership roles.
The report found that three-quarters (76 per cent) of project representatives said DRILL had increased their organisation’s ability to influence change, and nearly two-fifths (38 per cent) said it had helped them secure new funding.
One of the members of the steering group from People First Scotland’s project on decision-making by people with learning difficulties said: “This kind of research makes people think differently about us.
“People can see that we have a voice.”
Another project representative described how, of 15 peer researchers who took part, five of them found jobs as a direct result of their work.
The representative of another project said their work had demonstrated that research can be done “in a truly co-produced way” and had “demonstrated the value of working together from the very start”.
But the evaluation report also says there is still “a lot more work to do to realise the impact of DRILL, to change attitudes, influence policy and change practice”.
And it says that the extent of its success in delivering change to services, policy and practice will probably only become clear over the next two to three years.
DRILL’s major success, the report concludes, has been in “achieving the participation levels it did, in securing leadership roles for disabled people and involving disabled people in co-producing projects and research”, which has “created the conditions and the impetus for significant policy change”.
It is now hoped that the findings from the 36 projects will provide a platform for “a period of extensive lobbying and engagement”.
Andrea Brown, from Disability Action, which managed DRILL on behalf of the four national DPOs, said: “It’s hard to understate how important DRILL has been.
“The positive effects on our organisations, partners and disabled people as a whole over the last five years has been huge.
“It’s shown how and why disabled people can and should be at the centre of projects affecting them.”
Picture: A research event for a DRILL project on people with learning difficulties and friendship, in Gwent, south-east Wales
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