UCL Grand Challenges


Interdisciplinary Conference on Disability 2017

First UCL Interdisciplinary Conference on Disability

Disability between academic and research practice: breaking barriers towards a just and equal world - 9th May 2018

Disability is an inherently cross-disciplinary issue, which should be genuinely researched through a 360-degree viewpoint, embracing its social, political, clinical and psychological origins, as well as the technical-contextual sphere connected to disabled people's everyday life experience.

The First UCL Interdisciplinary Conference on Disability aims to bring together the most cutting-edge research on disability across departments and research centres, framing its evolving nature within the present situation and supplying a wide spectrum of academic perspectives with the purpose of favouring the effective, just and equal participation of disabled people in society. For this reason, the Conference intends to overcome the approach to disability as a problem to be solved, but as a way of innovating and promoting change in society, benefiting the community of disability researchers, disabled and non-disabled people by developing a more all-encompassing approach aimed at investigating disability as a multi-faceted phenomenon.

Event details

Date/time: 9th May 2018, 09:30-17:30

Location: Room G12 - The Bartlett School of Architecture
UCL Faculty of the Built Environment
22 Gordon Street

Find out more and reserve your place at the conference now.

Read the full conference programme

Keynote speakers

Dr Catherine Holloway, UCL Interaction Centre and Global Disability Innovation Hub

Keynote: Global Disability Innovation

Dr Diane Carr, UCL Knowledge Lab at the Institute of Education

Keynote: "Agh! It's Alive!" Science Fiction, Disability and Discipline

D4D is an AHRC funded large consortia research project addressing the evolving ways in which disabled people express, perform, experience and practice 'community'. The project team includes disabled and non-disabled academics from media and cultural studies, robotics and anthropology, working in partnership with each other and with disabled artists, writers, dramatists and performers. The project aim is to develop a better understanding of the different ways that contexts and phenomena (including play, education, medical research, institutions and digital technology) shape aspects of community. D4D is structured around a series of 8 inter-connecting work streams. Dr Diane Carr leads a work-stream titled 'Playful Bodies, Technology and Community'. For Playful Bodies, the team are working with popular media texts, disabled audiences, artists and online communities, while drawing on screen studies literature, digital games research and critical disability theory. They are exploring, for instance, how (or if) lived experience of disability shapes aspects of our engagement with science fictions, and investigating the extent to which science fictions potentially offer disabled audiences tools for articulating resistance to able-identified culture. The work is collaborative, and the inclusion of multiple voices and perspectives (disciplinary or otherwise) has led to a productive problematizing of the concept of disability itself. Rather than nestling neatly within familiar models (medical, charitable, social, etc.) the concept has taken on a leaky, lively life of its own. Dr Carr's keynote address will share examples drawn from the research, and reflect on the implications for research practice. 

Acknowledgements: Disability and Community: Dis/engagement, Dis/enfranchisement, Dis/parity and Dissent (AKA the D4D Project) is funded by the AHRC (2016-2020) under the Connected Communities programme. The PI is Professor Martin Levinson at the Bath Spa University and the Project Manager is Esther Fox, Accentuate. Visit the project website here.

Read more about the speakers and presenters at the conference


Accessibility and Transformative Technology

Chair: Rafie Cecilia

Dis/Ordinary Architecture

Jos Boys and Barbara Penner, Bartlett School of Architecture, with The Dis/Ordinary Architecture Project

This presentation reports on an Arts Council England (ACE) funded project that brought disabled artists into architectural education, to prototype new ways of working together around the design of built space. Rather than treating disability as a technical problem to be solved through design guidance, this project explored what happens when we start from difference: when both disability and ability are understood as complex, ambiguous and relational; where engaging with the richness of biodiversity and neuro-divergence can enhance design; and as a means of critically and creatively unravelling 'what is normal' about everyday social and spatial practices. We reflect on what worked and what was less successful, and discuss possible future steps for building on disabled artists' experience and creative talents to 'do inclusion differently' in architectural education.

Struggles for Social Access: Young People with Physical Disabilities in Online Relationships

Herminder Kaur, Middlesex University

To broaden conversations on digital media access, this paper proses the concept of 'social access', to shed light on how young people with physical disabilities attempt to gain acceptance in social interactions as well as form and maintain relationships on social networking sites.  Drawing on an ethnographic study of young people with physical disabilities use of the internet in a special school, this paper argues that young people with physical disabilities struggle to gain acceptance in social interactions when presenting discrediting visuals of their bodily stigma, and when deviating from norms practiced in visual cultures on digital media environments. The issues are illustrated by three case studies. The case studies tease out the complex ways in which teenage 'lookism', normative behaviour, exclusion and rejection are mediated by disability and digital media.

Design opportunities for AAC and children with severe speech and physical impairments

Seray Ibrahim, Asimina Vasalou and Michael Clarke, UCL Knowledge Lab, UCL Institute of Education

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technologies can support children with severe speech and physical impairments (SSPI) to express themselves. Yet, these seemingly 'enabling' technologies are often abandoned by this target group, suggesting a need to understand how they are used in communication. Little research has considered the interaction between people, interaction design and the material dimension of AAC. To address this, we report on a qualitative video study that examines the situated communication of five children using AAC in a special school. Our findings offer a new perspective on reconceptualising AAC design and use revealing four areas for future design: incorporating an embodied view of communication, designing to emphasise children's competence and agency, regulating the presence, prominence and value of AAC, and supporting a wider range of communicative functions that help address children's needs.

Human Health and Wellbeing

Chair: Dr Catalin Brylla

Challenging intellectual disability stigma at multiple levels

Katrina Scior, UCL Unit for Stigma Research (UCLUS) and Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research (CIDDR)

Promoting positive attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities and challenging stigma are vital to ensuring equal rights, empowerment, self-determination and inclusion advance in all parts of society. This talk will provide a multi-level model of interventions designed to tackle stigma experienced by children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Examples from UCL research will be shared to illustrate what efforts to tackle stigma at different levels may look like. Illustrative examples will include a psychosocial group intervention for adults with intellectual disabilities designed to increase stigma resistance, work jointly conducted in schools with Mencap to promote more accepting attitudes towards peers with intellectual disabilities, and a film based digital intervention designed to increase awareness of intellectual disability and challenge stigma in African countries.

The Way I See It

Rosie Gilbert and Catalin Brylla, UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Healthcare

The General Medical Council (GMC) states that its guidance on medical education about disability is informed by the social model, that is, 'the problem of disability lies with society, not with the disabled person', as opposed to the medical model where 'the impairment is seen as the problem' However, there is still a paucity of opportunity within medical training to learn about the wider psycho-social aspects of disability, and in particular, visual impairment. This leads to deficiencies in health-care provision and support - recently highlighted by a focus group of visually impaired patients with age-related macular degeneration.

Telepresence as a Tool to Support Well-being for Persons with Disability

Jennifer Rode, UCL Knowledge Lab, UCL Institute of Education

Persons with disability often become invisible.  Despite advances in accessibility, we still live in a world where most tube stations do not have lifts, where the walk between the bus stop and your next date is too far, and where buildings have often entrances up a flight of stairs. It is easier to stay home. For others they are stuck at home or in the hospital.  This adversely impacts the health and wellbeing of persons with disability.  Telepresence presents a provocative possibility to get people out in a partially embodied form. In this talk I will discuss my own auto-ethnographic as a disabled person experience using telepresence, and early qualitative work with students and museum patrons to get them where they need to go using telepresence. I will argue telepresence is a promising tool not to fix disabled persons, but rather to allow an alternate empowered form of expressing their disability.

Inclusion, Equality and Social Justice

Chair: Sara Joiko

Disability and the Normative Trajectory of Academic Careers

Alison Wilde, Leeds Beckett University

This presentation is based on autoethnography and (Critical Discourse) analysis of job specifications for posts, and interviews in Sociology over a 10-year period. It will also draw on material e.g. policy) closely related to the academic community over the last few years. Exploring assumptions made of disability, impairment, age, gender, achievement, and notions of the 'ideal candidate', the paper will examine the expectations made of academics in sociology and explore some of the implications of a 'non-disabled' academic 'gaze' for the shaping of the academic community. It will highlight potential barriers to access for disabled sociologists and raise questions about the implications for academic practice and output and the place of disabled people and Disability Studies within it.

Schooling in Austere Times: Young People with Dwarfism Reflecting on Their Secondary Education

Antonios Ktenidis, School of Education, University of Sheffield

While there is evidence of the discrimination that disabled students deal with throughout their schooling in the United Kingdom, especially during the time of Austerity (see the latest reports from the Equality and Human Rights Commission), the actual experience of such discrimination is not really heard. Moreover, although there is some research with people with dwarfism reflecting on the educational experiences (Shakespeare et al., 2007), this has exclusively included retrospective accounts.
This paper engages with the stories of 4 young people (11-25 years old) with dwarfism reflecting on their experiences of secondary schooling through multi-modal narratives. These stories explore discourses of normality/difference, dependence/independence and inclusive/exclusive practices in schools and how these are negotiated by these young people. These narratives were collected during 2017-2018 with the use of various methods (focus group narrative interviews, Skype interview, blog stories).

Disability beyond policy: disability dispositif in higher education

Francesca Peruzzo, UCL Institute of Education

In this world of fleeting post-truths, how can policies still promote equality in educational opportunity and address diversity in higher education? If, on the one hand, disabled students' rights are upheld through international documents such as Education Transforms Lives (UNESCO, 2017) and the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disability (UN, 2006); on the other hand, on a state government level, neoliberal positions are undermining disability services and financial provisions in academic settings.
Framed within studies on governmentality (Foucault, 2006), Critical Disability Studies (Campbell, 2009; Tremain, 2001) and policy sociology in education (Ball, 2013; Ball et al., 2012), my research project seeks to find alternative solutions to this grim picture of disability and higher education. Taking an ontological stance on disability, I operationalize what I called disability dispositif, a heterogeneous combination of discourses, subjectivities, policies and practices, institutions, feelings and behaviours, whereby power relations actively produce disability and disabled students in the everyday academic routine. Using data from an ethnographic research I carried out in an Italian higher education milieu, here I present the disability dispositif as an innovative analytical tool to critically rewrite education policy work towards more socially just approaches to human diversity and more egalitarian higher education trajectories.

About the Conference

The project of organising the First Interdisciplinary Conference on Disability aroused from the idea of creating a space dedicated to the interdisciplinary character of disability at UCL. Funded by the UCL Grand Challenges Small Doctoral Grants, our intention is to contribute to the UCL Grand Challenges' aim of creating an interdisciplinary community of researchers on disability issues, in order to foster and enhance UCL's intra-departmental research and network. Our project seeks to build a stronger connection between staff and doctoral students from different disciplines, departments, and research centres, to develop and support an interdisciplinary approach to disability, favouring potential future collaborations.

This conference will gather for the very first time in UCL high-quality academic research on interdisciplinary approaches to disability. The aim is to open the path to the development of cross-disciplinary and cross-cutting tools to investigate disability, and the wide range of perspectives being presented at the event will feed into an important deal of research impact.

Conference organisers


Francesca Peruzzo is the Conference Project Leader and PhD candidate at the UCL Institute of Education in the Department of Education, Practice and Society.  Her interests lie in sociological approaches to disability policies and practices in higher education. Her doctoral research investigates the effects of exclusionary processes on disabled students' subjectivities, and their implications for inclusive practices and equality of opportunities in academic contexts.

A former disabled student assistant and UCL Student Disability Ambassador, she collaborated with the UCL Student Disability Service to inform their policies and practices, and with UCL ChangeMakers to voice disabled students through a panel of discussion.

Rafie Cecilia

Rafie Cecilia is the Conference Project Developer and a PhD candidate at UCL Institute of Archaeology. Her research examines the impact of technology on the experience of blind and partially sighted visitors in museums. Rafie looks at technology as empowerment tool for disabled people. Additionally, she has six years of experience working and volunteering in the assistance of blind and partially sighted visitors in museums and galleries. For her research, she collaborates with the British Museum, the Wallace Collection, the Museum of London, and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.