Our work on disability inclusion

Published on 14 June 2021

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Mary Wickenden

Research Fellow

We want a more equitable and sustainable world, where people with disabilities everywhere can live their lives free from poverty and injustice. This can only be achieved if the inequalities and inequities that harm people in rich and poor countries alike are tackled.  

Two types of research related to disability are important: the inclusion of a ‘disability-aware’ perspective in all research and, where needed, a specific focus on the concerns of people with disabilities. Both of these are essential to provide the knowledge and action needed to reduce extreme forms of injustice and inequity – namely, exclusion and marginalisation. 

The disability inclusion team at IDS is part of the Participation, Inclusion and Social Change Cluster. With an emphasis on participatory methods, we seek to develop and share ways of collecting data and understandings about the realities of life for adults and children with disabilities, so that we can identify opportunities and strategies for action, and build solidarity to effect change. 

We see ourselves as allies of the disability movement and believe strongly in working in ways that follow the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (UNCRPD).  Our approach follows the social model of disability, and within also that recognises the importance of attending to people’s impairment specific needs and perspectives.  Studies about disability may focus on a number of aspects and sectors eg education, health, social justice, identity, economics, humanitarian contexts. We recognise that disability is difficult to define and as a concept varies across cultures. We aim to take this into account in our work in various countries and regions. 

Our research interests

  • Disability inclusive participatory research methodologies 
  • Working with adults and children with disabilities as peer researchers 
  • Working with the most marginalised groups of people with disabilities (eg those with intellectual, psychosocial and complex impairments) 
  • Understanding the experiences and perceptions of adults and children with disabilities and their families and carers 
  • Inclusive employment (formal and non-formal) 
  • Inclusive education (at all levels from pre-school to university) 
  • Community-based inclusive development 
  • How disability, gender and sexuality intersect  
  •  Inclusive health services and systems 
  • Inclusive humanitarian response. 

Who we work with and where

We have worked with partners and funders including: UNICEF; UK Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office; Participatory Action Research with Disabled Adolescents in Nepal; Kathmandu University; Sightsavers; UK Research & Innovation. 

Currently we are working in: Bangladesh, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. 

Working in collaboration, we model inclusive participatory research methods and provide insights that have informed the approach to research of others, influencing them to be more disability inclusive. Recognising that people with disabilities have things to say and often have particular experiences which need to be understood, if they are to be truly included and have equal opportunities   

For example, our recent work (as part of the Inclusive Futures research Consortium) aimed to understand the experiences of people with disabilities during the Covid-19 pandemic in five middle-low income countries. It showed that, as predicted by many, their pre-existing disadvantage and marginalisation has been exacerbated by the lack of an inclusive approach to Covid-19 related support and mitigations. 

Meet the team

We are a team of six, working closely with other cluster colleagues to address inequality experienced by the most marginalised groups. We also work with other colleagues accross IDS to integrate disability issues with other aspects of development, including gender, children and youth, health, religion or belief and education. 

  • Amy Riley-Powell. Postgraduate Researcher examining how women with disabilities understand and experience violence in Lima, Peru. 
  • Brigitte Rohwerder. Research Officer working on disability inclusion, humanitarian response, conflict, governance, and social development issues. 
  • Jackie Shaw. Research Fellow and social psychologist with key expertise in the use of visual and performative methods to drive and mediate participatory action research, community development and social change processes. 
  • Stephen Thompson. Post-Doctoral Research Fellow with research interests in education, nutrition and health, and how people with disabilities in low income contexts can be included in various aspects of everyday life. 
  • Mary Wickenden. Research Fellow with a particular interest in inclusive and participatory research and in hearing the voices of adults and children with disabilities and their families, especially those living in the global south or in disadvantaged contexts. 
  • Dilmurad Yusupov. Postgraduate Researcher working on issues of social exclusion and marginalisation of disabled people in Uzbekistan. 

Find out more about our work

See our projects, publications, news & opinion, and events  or get regular updates on our work by signing up to our Participation, Inclusion and Social Change newsletter

Contact us

For more information about our research or to discuss our consulting services, please contact Mary Wickenden: [email protected]


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