The Leonard Research Centre
The Leonard Cheshire Research Centre has been undertaking cutting-edge research on disability and international development for more than two decades, and has become a world-renowned research facility and think tank on global disability issues. Our research addresses the entrenched and endemic discriminations faced by people with disabilities, generating a body of knowledge that helps to improve the lives of people with disabilities, their families and their communities around the world. Our applied research works to shape national and global policymaking and implementation, develop evidence as to ‘what works’ in disability-inclusive development and empower people with disabilities to advocate for their rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The research centre is based at University College London (UCL), which is ranked 7th in the world, and is one of the few centres exclusively dedicated to generating robust evidence on the nuances of global disability issues. The research team comprises internationally acclaimed academics trained in a broad range of fields including anthropology, psychology, political science and public policy, health economics, education and global health. We engage in cross-departmental collaborations and members of the research centre teach on the Disability and Development module in the MSc Global Health and Development, based in the UCL Institute for Global Health.
Staff at the research centre regularly advise the UK government, and UN and other international organisations, and sit on multiple boards and committees including the Lancet: Global Health Editorial Board; UNICEF Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities and the UCL Grand Challenges in Global Health.
The pledge of ‘no one left behind’ is central to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our research and engagement activities aim to ensure that this ambitious vision becomes a reality for people living with disabilities globally.
The research centre is a unique collaboration between UCL and Leonard Cheshire. Leonard Cheshire has over 70 years’ experience supporting people with disabilities. They are part of the Leonard Cheshire Global Alliance, a network across 54 countries which works to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Their work is pan-disability, working to ensure that all people with disabilities can reach their full potential. The research centre works with colleagues in the Leonard Cheshire International team to test, refine and scale-up its innovative inclusive education and livelihoods programmatic models.
Academics at the research centre have a broad range of expertise and interests, including inclusive education, livelihoods, health, wellbeing, social protection and climate resilience, and have worked in numerous countries and contexts in low- and middle-income countries and conflict-affected states. The generation of internationally comparable data is key to monitoring progress towards the SDGs, and our research contributes to the evidence base by generating robust data disaggregated by impairment and gender.
Our extensive research on inclusive education has been utilised to improve the access of young learners with disabilities to primary education, improve curricula and learning methods, change the attitudes of teachers and teaching assistants through improved teacher trainings, and have influenced the design of national policies and international initiatives.
Regular work and livelihoods are essential to improving the lives of persons with disabilities, achieve sustainable poverty reduction and to enable countries to develop economically. Our research into livelihoods and labour markets has influenced programme design, and has worked to understand the needs of employers and opportunities for employment and training, to ensure that people with disabilities are able to enter employment and contribute economically in their communities.
All activities undertaken by the research centre are ‘applied’ and we often use a mixed methods approach. This enables us to understand ‘what works’ in improving the lives of people with disabilities, but also ‘why’ and in what contexts. It is the central purpose of all our research that it should directly benefit the lives of people with disabilities, both those who are involved with the research, and as well as having a positive impact on people with disabilities globally. We achieve this through a participatory approach: people with disabilities themselves are involved at all stages of the research cycle, from research design through to validation and presentation of results. People with disabilities are included in the research and programme teams, and are active members of monitoring, evaluation and advisory groups.
Our research is undertaken in partnership with people with disabilities and their representative organisations, acknowledging the call of ‘nothing about us without us’. Our research also aims to form strong partnerships with academic institutions in the countries in which we are working. Promoting links between our academic partners and disability communities is a core component of our research design and has the potential to be a powerful force for promoting disability issues and disseminating results in partner countries and globally.
Generating impact for positive and sustainable change is the focus of all our research. The results of our research have informed global, UK government and national policies. We have provided expert advice in consultations surrounding the development and implementation of the SDGs,. Our research results have directly influenced national disability-inclusive policy design and the development of national SDG targets. The results have also empowered people with disabilities and Disabled Peoples Organisations (DPOs) to advocate for their rights enshrined in the CRPD and hold their governments to account.
Photo credit: Hamish Roberts.