Centre for Disability Studies

Centre for Disability Studies

MA Disability Studies students celebrate graduation

MA Disability Studies students celebrate graduation


Job Opportunity at University of Leeds: Research Fellow in User Needs Analysis

Research Fellow in User Needs Analysis

Do you have a strong background in qualitative research with an interest in the rights of disabled people to access assistive technology? Would you like to work as part of a multidisciplinary European consortium working to improve Independent Living for Deafblind People?

The picture shows two men in conversation using deafblind sign language communication

Haptic conversation through Tactile Sign Language. Courtesy of http://lighthouse-sf.org 

Deafblindness – the combination of hearing and visual impairments – has a massive impact on independence and quality of life, when combined with inaccessibility of the built and social environment. Deafblindness is becoming more common as the population ages. Communication with other people and the ability to navigate the environment are key issues with regard to independence and control over one’s own life. The last decade has seen many advances in computer vision, navigation aids and the accessibility of technology, but this has as yet rarely been available to Deafblind people.

SUITCEYES (Smart, User-friendly, Interactive, Tactual, Cognition-Enhancer, Yielding Extended Sensosphere) is an international consortium funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 programme, which hopes to address this problem by appropriating sensor technologies, machine learning, gamification and smart haptic interfaces. It brings together experts in assistive technology, haptic feedback, wearable devices, gamification and disability studies to develop new methods for enabling communication and navigation for Deafblind people.

Within the research consortium, the University of Leeds is responsible for engaging with Deafblind people and their carers to establish communication and navigation needs, to identify barriers they experience to participating in society and develop means of addressing these. This will help to ensure that technical developments in the consortium remain focussed on addressing user needs with regard to Independent Living, and on identifying barriers that require social and policy solutions, rather than purely technical ones.

You will have a strong background in qualitative research, with the ability to arrange, conduct and analyse interviews and focus groups, and work across disciplinary boundaries to communicate these issues to engineers and computer scientists.

To explore the post further or for any queries you may have, please contact: 

Raymond Holt, Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering

Tel: +44 (0)113 343 7936 or email: r.j.holt@leeds.ac.uk

Professor Gerard Quinn joins CDS

A photo of Professor Gerard Quinn. He is smiling. In the background is a large bookshelf full of texts.

Professor Gerard Quinn

The Centre for Disability Studies is delighted to announce that it has a new member. Professor Gerard Quinn joined the School of Law at the University of Leeds in January. Gerard is a leading authority on international disability law and will be known to many people as the founder and, now former, Director of the Centre for Disability Law & policy (CDLP) at the National University for Ireland (Galway campus). We welcome the important contribution he will make to interdisciplinary work in the field of Disability Studies here at Leeds.

A graduate of the National University of Ireland, Kings Inns (Dublin) and Harvard Law School, Gerard is a global authority on international disability law. He holds three lifetime achievement awards from the US International Council on Disability, Rehabilitation International and the European Association of Service Providers.

Continue reading

Moving beyond binaries in mental capacity law

Dr Beverley Clough (School of Law) has started a new project called ‘The Spaces of Mental Capacity Law‘ funded by a fellowship from the Independent Social Research Foundation.

Beverley’s project seeks to reinvigorate debates in mental capacity law, and disability more broadly, through interrogating the key concepts and binaries that currently frame and constrain legal analysis. This will be done through a critical exploration of the creation and maintenance of the contours of mental capacity law, with an eye to the norms and concepts which inform legal responses in practice, and the concrete consequences of these in terms of embodied experience. It seeks to expose what is obscured or hidden by the binary concepts that frame this area, as well as how recognising relationality and spatial dynamics can help to reconfigure the conceptual terrain. It will provide an important provocation in global debates surrounding the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which has been hailed as ushering in a ‘paradigm shift’ in disability rights. This will not occur if we are constrained by the current boundaries of our legal approach.

Contact Beverley for more information.


Disability network holds tenth annual meeting

On 16-17 November, members of the EU’s Academic Network of European Disability experts (ANED) held its tenth annual meeting in Brussels. Policy researchers representing 35 European countries met with advisors from the disability movement, policy makers and staff from the European Commission to discuss the progress and current challenges in evidence-based policy making. Copies of the presentations and audio recordings are available on the ANED website.

The Academic Network of European Disability experts (ANED) was created by the European Commission in December 2007 to establish and maintain a pan-European academic network in the disability field that supports policy development in collaboration with the Commission’s Disability Unit. It has been chaired by Professor Mark Priestley from the University of Leeds since its foundation.

ANED builds upon the expertise of existing disability research centres, supported by national experts, thematic rapporteurs, and links to relevant networks in the disability policy field. Its philosophy and aims support the objectives of European disability policy towards the goal of full participation and equal opportunities for all disabled people.

In this way, ANED provides a coordinating infrastructure of academic support for implementation of the European Disability Strategy and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


Measuring the right to independent living

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has published three reports of evidence on the right to independent community living. This includes evidence developed for FRA in research on statistical outcome indicators by Professor Mark Priestley and Stefanos Grammenos, as well as evidence collected by other researchers and legal Opinion from the FRA.

The right to live independently in the community is enshrined in Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). The implications of this right are further expanded in the UN Committee’s General Comment on Article 19, to which members of CDS also contributed evidence during the drafting.


The PODI project examines political rights and participation for disabled people and their organisations.


Dr Rune Halvorsen

Rune Halvorsen

Dr Rune Halvorsen joined the CDS as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow, to conduct research on the political rights and participation of disabled people and their organisations in a selection of European countries. The fellowship is based in the School of Sociology and Social Policy. Rune has extensive international experience, especially in research and innovation funded by the EU, and was previously based in Oslo, Norway.

The project is called Realizing the political rights of persons with disabilities (PODI). Taking as its point of departure the adoption of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, including Article 29 on Participation in political and public life, PODI examines under which conditions disabled people’s organisations are most likely to achieve voice and influence on decision-making processes of importance for their own lives and for society as a whole, including examples of promising practice.

We are particularly interested in how disabled people’s organizations in Europe work with their respective governments. By comparing the experiences of disabled people’s organizations in Germany, Italy, Norway and the UK we aim to identify what these organizations can learn from each other in their work with the CRPD and how politicians can promote their involvement in the formation and implementation of relevant policies.

Read more about the project here.

Launch of the Disability Law Hub

For many decades the University of Leeds has played a pioneering role in global disability studies. Its Centre for Disability Studies brings together scholars from a wide range of academic disciplines across the University, from transport studies to social policy, human geography to healthcare, business and law. This multidisciplinary work continues to challenge socially-created barriers which limit the life chances of disabled people. It explores ways in which systems and attitudes can facilitate and enable choice, participation and inclusion for disabled people.

Building on this legacy, in April 2016 the School of Law’s Centre for Law and Social Justice established a new initiative: the Disability Law Hub. Its members draw on the expertise of colleagues in both the Centre for Disability Studies and also the Centre for Law & Social Justice. Disability Law Hub staff contribute legal expertise to the interdisciplinary initiatives of the Centre for Disability Studies as well as to other global, European, British and Yorkshire-based networks.

Press Release

Wednesday 13 April 2016 – University launches Disability Law Hub

Head of School, Professor Alastair Mullis shared a few words at the launch of the Disability Law Hub on Thursday 14 April, 2016.

Enforcement is key on Equality Act

from : http://www.aboutaccess.co.uk/access-news/enforcement-is-key-on-equality-act/

‘Enforcement is key on Equality Act’

April 28, 2016

Lawyers, campaigners, peers and academics have spoken of how disabled people can find it almost impossible to enforce their rights to equality, six years after the introduction of the Equality Act.

They were speaking at a seminar in London – organised by the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds, the legal firm Unity Law, and the Cloisters set of barristers – that discussed the findings of a landmark report by a Lords committee on the impact of the Equality Act 2010 on disabled people.

The committee, which reported in March, concluded that government was failing to protect disabled people from discrimination, while laws designed to address disability discrimination were “not working in practice”, and spending cuts were having “a hugely adverse effect on disabled people”.

Several of those who contributed to yesterday’s (27 April) seminar spoke of how disabled people’s access to justice had been damaged over the last 20 years, since the first Disability Discrimination Act.

Catherine Casserley, who has practised discrimination law since 1996 in law centres, for the former Disability Rights Commission, and now as a barrister with Cloisters, said disabled people had “very significant problems” enforcing their rights under the Equality Act, with advice centres and law centres closing, while even the judiciary appeared to have difficulty understanding discrimination law.

Professor Anna Lawson, director of the Centre for Disability Studies, said the committee’s report was a “fantastic” piece of research which “gathers together people’s lived experience”, exposes the gap between that experience and what the law says, and helps keep up the momentum for change.

She said it was clear that the Equality Act “has made a difference” and was “the envy of many other countries”, but she added: “Things are different now than they were in 1995 but it is slow progress.”

And she said the Equality Act had to be supplemented by other legislation on social care, social welfare, education and mental capacity.

The disabled peer Lord Low, who spoke of lessons learned from the work of the Disability Rights Taskforce, of which he was a member between 1997 and 1999, called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to push the government to set out an action plan to implement the committee’s recommendations.

He said: “We must get away from the perception that disability rights are something that we in society out of the goodness of our hearts give ‘them over there, those poor disabled people…’

“The advancement of disability rights is a shared task for all of us… for the rest of society no less than disabled people and their organisations.”

There were also concerns at how vital campaigns to fight cuts to social care and benefits had meant equality had been “left behind” as a campaigning issue for disabled people.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said disabled people had shown they could put disability “high up the agenda” with the battle over the government’s plans to tighten eligibility to personal independence payment (PIP), which were later abandoned.

But she said there had not been enough discussion about equality, with the focus instead on issues such as cuts to social care, which saw disabled people positioned as a “vulnerable group of people” which was “getting smaller and smaller” because of government rhetoric on “targeting resources on those who need the most”.

She said: “It’s really important that we keep talking about equality. This report does give us an opportunity.

“We should all push it to the top of our agendas to make sure it doesn’t get forgotten.”

Faryal Velmi, director of the user-led, accessible transport charity Transport for All (TfA), said the pace of change had been “really infuriating”, and any equality gains made had not come from politicians and transport commissioners but had been “won by the tireless and vociferous activism of disabled people and their allies”.

She said TfA’s helpline received calls every day from scooter-users who had been left “in the cold and the rain” because drivers would not let them on buses.

Velmi said it was a “mark of shame” in the fifth richest country in the world that disabled people were having to “limit their lives or at worst are trapped in their homes because public transport is not good enough”.

Several delegates spoke of the difficulty of enforcing the act.

Douglas Johnson, a discrimination law expert with Unity Law, said the real difficulty with the Equality Act was that while it gave rights “it makes you responsible for enforcing that yourself”, and added: “It is just not fair to expect victims of discrimination to sort out society’s problems themselves”.

Barbara Cohen, a member of the Discrimination Law Association, said EHRC had not done enough to enforce the act.

She said it had “really extensive enforcement powers which they have not been particularly keen to use in recent years”.

Kumar Moorthy, from Disability Watford, said service-providers tended to ignore regulations on access because of the lack of enforcement.

He said: “It is time that we took the stick out of the pocket and waved it around; maybe not necessarily to start hitting people, but let’s show it.

“It’s time to show the stick and make sure the regulations are implemented before we devote too much effort to modifying the expectations of tomorrow.”

Some of those at the seminar suggested there was a need for direct action to enforce disabled people’s rights under the act.

Kim Marshall, a lecturer on disability, said the Equality Act needed “teeth”.

She said: “We have had cut after cut after cut after cut in terms of legal aid and access to resources.

“Is it not now time that we went to direct action? We have been waiting 20 years and we still do not have an equal society.”

Tracey Proudlock, who chained herself to buses in the 1980s in protest at inaccessible public transport and is now a leading access consultant, said that for an “inclusive campaign you need to do more than just direct action”.

She said: “Part of me says we have a piece of legislation today, and what we should be doing is knuckling under and making it work.

“I want an inclusive campaign that really challenges the people that are doing wicked things.”

Sayce agreed that inclusive campaigning was important, but so was an inclusive approach to deciding what to campaign on.

She said disabled people were “being banged up in various institutions”, with the number of people sectioned under the Mental Health Act “going up and up relentlessly” and “people being subject to some pretty horrendous things”.

Bob Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People, said the law’s approach to disability was outdated, because of the continuing confusion between impairment and disability – the barriers created by society.

He said that if the legislation did not understand the difference between the two, “how will employers and service-providers?”

Audrey Ludwig, from Ipswich-based Tackling Discrimination in the East, which is run by Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, said discrimination law “becomes an irrelevance” in practice because of how few disability discrimination cases – just four in one year – are granted legal aid to be taken through county courts.

Baroness Deech, who chaired the Equality Act 2010 and disability committee that produced the report, promised that she and her committee would “do everything that we can to make sure the government listens to and carries out our recommendations”.

Lord [Chris] Holmes, the EHRC’s disability commissioner, said the commission would deliver its formal response to the report after it had been considered by its disability committee next month.

But he said: “There is no question we would all agree that government needs to do more to fight disability discrimination and enable disabled people to fully participate in society. Full stop.”

28 April 2016

Access to Finance and Control of Money

CDS hosted a seminar on ‘Disabled People’s Access to Finance and Control of Money’. Disabled people often face particular problems gaining access to money and exercising freedom in using it. The seminar provided an exchange of recent research and developments regarding: hate crime and financial abuse, gendered financial abuse and plans for the expansion of universal credit, law and policy on obligations of financial institutions. The speakers included Stephen Brookes and Mark Cutter from the Disability Hate Crime Network, Scarlet Harris, TUC Women’s Equality Officer, Equality and Employment Rights Anna Lawson and Alex Pearl, University of Leeds.

Contact Sarah Woodin for more details – S.L.Woodin@leeds.ac.uk

European disability ministers meet in Riga

As an initiative of the Latvian Presidency of the EU, high level representatives of the 28 governments of the EU Member States and representatives of disabled people’s organisations are meeting in Riga this week to discuss progress on implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) with a focus on young people, education and employment. The opening panel session was addressed by the UN Special Rappporteur (Catalina Devandas Aguilar) and the scientific director of the Academic Network of European Disability experts (Professor Mark Priestley, University of Leeds).


© Copyright Leeds 2018