Engaging People with Learning Disabilities in Qualitative Research

September 2012
News Item
Natasha Wall
12th September 2012

As Booth (1996) draws from the ‘excluded voice thesis’, qualitative research can access the perspectives and experiences of oppressed groups lacking the power to make their voices heard through traditional academic discourse.

As every business knows, understanding your customer is the most important activity an organisation can undertake. Involving people with Learning Disabilities in research to ensure you understand the barriers and motivators to accessing your services is essential to put you in a position where you can address such issues. This is a crucial factor to ensure success.

As a social marketing agency, we have experience of working with people with Learning Disabilities and we have put some tips together for you to consider when engaging with people with Learning Disabilities.

When conducting the research it is important to understand whether it is inclusive or emancipatory i.e. whether the people with learning disabilities are simply involved or whether they have control of the research and it’s in their interest. This will impact upon how the research is developed and brought forward.

Good practice for effective research is actually universal. Most of these suggestions can pretty much apply to any qualitative research exercise

  • Be creative in your approach: Make the session short, interactive and fun to ensure both effective participation and also that participants have a good time.
  • Be attentive to what goes unsaid.
  • Be aware that the disability does not define the individual and what opinions they have to offer.
  • Ensure that the people with Learning Disabilities fully understand the purpose of the research – using illustrated summary letters and symbols where appropriate.
  • Have informed consent – using an illustrated explanation of what the consent is for.
  • Have participant validation so that you check back with the participants to ensure they are happy with what they have said.
  • If possible get advice from family members and advocates who can best advise on the individualised communication.

Some useful links to make information accessible include:

Mencap. Make it Clear: A guide to making information easy to read and understand

ChangePeople Accessible Information Guidelines

By Natasha Wall