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School of Social and Political Science: Research


Events and activities


This event has been postponed and will be rearranged for early 2020- we will provide updated details once they are available

Historical perspectives on disability

In this seminar we will have two presentations from network members who carry out historical research

Judith Drake ‘Performing Disability’

Judith is a PhD student in European Theatre focusing on Scottish Disability Theatre.

In this presentation Judith will discuss aspects of Nineteenth century Freakshows, exploring how this problematic entertainment created different modes of displaying and performing disability, and highlighting the social construction of disability. Judith will discuss how Freakery influences current disability theatre and the societal understanding of disabled people.

Jackie Gulland 'Finding disability in the archives'

Drawing on her recent book on the history of disability benefits, Jackie Gulland will discuss how she researched a little-known aspect of disabled peoples' history through using archives of social security records.

Dr Jackie Gulland is a lecturer in social work at the University of Edinburgh. Her work is inter-disciplinary and crosses the fields of social policy, sociology, social work, history and law.  A former welfare rights and disability adviser, her research concerns how people negotiate their rights within the welfare state. Her recent book Gender, work and social control: a century of disability benefits was published in July 2019 by Palgrave Macmillan

e-book available at

Date / Time Details Where

Past events


Communicating research through creative methods – a narrative approach

Members of Disability Research Edinburgh, Paula Jacobs and Shweta Ghosh, ran a workshop as part of the 

This workshop explored the use of creative media to communicate research with a focus on narrative, film and audio. 

In this workshop, that formed part of the Minor Movement Celebration at the Centre of Creative Relational Inquire (CCRI) we drew on our own experiences of communicating research through collaborative and creative methods in the context of disability and inequality. Within the field of disability we feel that narrative approaches allow researchers to do to two important things: (1) promote involvement of people within the research process and (as the highest aim) facilitate participatory practice and (2) it helps us to illustrate complexities and an understanding of people's specific context and wider socioeconomic and cultural influences in an accessible way. 

We discussed our own work

Click here for podcast by Paula Jacobs about her research about Transitions from school to adult services for young people with additional support needs: 

Click here for a youtube video by Shweta Ghosh about her research with disabled people in Mumbai 'We Make Film':

We used these examples as a basis to explore with participants the challenges and benefits of narrative approaches. Later on participants had the chance to use equipment and develop ideas of how they could use creative approaches to communicate their research. 

 The workshop sparked interesting reflections about the importance to be aware of power imbalances within research relationships, strengths and challenges of working closely with people's realities and the importance to think more closely about how we communicate our research. 

 Photo of Shweta Ghosh presenting her research. slide text includes 'You don't need to be a voice for the voiceless. Just pass the mic' Dr Su'ad Abdul Khabeer

Photo of Paula Jacobs presenting her research Slide text includes  Advantages of using narrative to communicate researchPaula and Shweta 

Where are all the disabled musicians?

Dr George Low

Tuesday 23rd April 2019

George Low in front of his cover slide which shows a person in a wheelchair playing a trumpet and has the text:  Where are all the disabled musicians? An exploration of the attitudinal and physical barriers that impact on the identities and lived experiences of musicians with a physical impairment.

George Low is a researcher in disability, social justice and inclusion. He gained a PhD in Education from the University of Edinburgh and explores the issues faced by disabled people through the lived experiences of musicians who have a physical impairment. As a wheelchair user and musician George has a special interest in attitudes and perceptions towards disabled people with a focus on disabled musicians in particular. George lives in West Lothian with his wife Jeanette and his assistance dog Fogle.


Much of the research that relates to disabled people and music focuses on music therapy. Consequently, there is a deficit in research exploring disability and music from the perspective of disabled musicians themselves. To help address this deficit, Dr Low's thesis describes the barriers disabled musicians encounter as they attempt to engage in music making, or journey towards a qualification in music. His findings affirm that most of these barriers occur during performance, or while disabled musicians work towards a qualification in music. His thesis argues that the barriers described are the result of negative attitudes, discrimination and imbued misconceptions. 


Supporting individuals with intellectual  (learning) disability who are ageing and/or during their end-of-life 

Dr Stuart Wark

Thursday 25th October, 2018

How we assist people ageing with a learning (intellectual) disability and how we provide appropriate end-of-life care are key priorities for disability support services in Australia. This seminar will focus on the development of models of support for people with learning disabilities, the problems with the Australian policy framework that arbitrarily separates ageing, disability and health as distinct issues, and what possible steps may be taken to redress the perceived inequity and inequality in the systems. The findings and conclusions from research undertaken in conjunction with individuals with lifelong disability, family members, direct support workers, managers and government officials from across large areas of rural and remote areas will be presented to suggest areas for improvement and potential collaborations.

Dr Stuart Wark is the Clinical Academic Coordinator in the School of Rural Medicine at the University of New England. He has a two decade working history in the community and public health sector, and retains strong relationships with both rural and metropolitan Non-Government Organisations (NGOs).

Disability in China: employment, parents’ advocacy and inclusive education
Monday 29 October

It is estimated that over 87 million people are living with disability conditions in China. While the country has gained much progress in its economic development, disabled people continue to be marginalised in the society, facing stigma and barriers in all aspects of their lives. This seminar is to introduce some of the latest research and community initiatives relating to Chinese disabled people’s employment, education and rights advocacy. The speakers will explore together the possible ways forward to tackle the barriers to Chinese disabled people’s participation in policy and practice development.

Speakers were:

An empirical study of the representation of disabled people’s employment rights in China
Cuiqiang Shi, Cardiff University

Parents’ advocacy for disability rights: a case of Inclusion China
Juan Lu, Peking University

Barriers to inclusive education in China and possibilities of change
Yuchen Wang, University of Edinburgh

Film Showing :  Accsex by Shweta Ghosh

Synopsis: Beautiful. Ugly. Complete. Incomplete. Able. Disabled. Within stifling dichotomies of normal and abnormal, lie millions of women, negotiating with their identities. This film explores notions of beauty, the ‘ideal body’ and sexuality through four storytellers; four women who happen to be persons with disability. Through the lives of Natasha, Sonali, Kanti and Abha, this film brings to fore questions of acceptance, confidence and resistance to the normative. As it turns out, these questions are not too removed from everyday realities of several others, deemed ‘imperfect’ and ‘monstrous’ for not fitting in. Accsex traces the journey of the storytellers as they reclaim agency and the right to unapologetic confidence, sexual expression and happiness.

More details about the film  here

Researching Disability: best practice in Inclusive Research

We ran a workshop for students and others interested in inclusive research as part of the  University's Festival of Creative Learning 

Film showing: Defiant Lives

We showed the film ‘Defiant lives’ (Sarah Barton, 2016) which  is a film, telling the story of the disability rights movement in the United States, Britain and Australia, using archival footage and interviews with activists.   

These events were part of the University of Edinburgh's Festival of Creative Learning.  See here for information about other events during the week

Transformational Learning

Both events were very well attended with students, University staff and people from local organisations and the community. Two students wrote about what they learned - read about it here


Disability and support in Scotland and Poland: ethnographic research on the perspective of Poles working as caretakers and assistants for disabled people at home. 

Wednesday 25th October, 2017 

We were delighted to host a seminar by visiting researchers from Universities in Poland who were in Edinburgh while conducting their comparative research on the experiences of Polish people working in care settings in Scotland and Poland.  

The speakers were

 Beata Borowska-Beszta, Assoc. Prof., PhD, Head of Chair of Disability Studies, Faculty of Education Sciences, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland

 Piotr Krakowiak, Assoc. Prof. PhD, Head of Chair of Social Work, Faculty of Education Sciences, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland, Poland

 Urszula Bartnikowska, Assoc Prof. PhD, Chair of Special Education, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Poland

 Katarzyna Ćwirynkało, Assist. Prof. PhD, Chair of Special Education, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Poland

Seminar organised jointly with Disability Research Edinburgh and Social Work, School of Social and Political Science

Disability and Higher Education

10.30-12.30, Tuesday 20th June 2017

Talking on a topic close to the hearts of many of us, we had two speakers on disability and higher education.

Elisabet Weedon

Deputy Director and a Senior Research Fellow in the
Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity at the Moray House, School of Education, University of Edinburgh.

Disabled students in the UK, Sweden and Europe: who are they and what can we learn from published statistics?

Sheila Williams

Director of Student Disability Services, University of Edinburgh

Disability perspectives from the Student Disability Service

Visit from University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, May 2017

Visitors from Texas

On 22nd May we were delighted to host another visit from our colleagues from the School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

See here for a report of their trip

The day began with an excursion to Drake Music Scotland where the students and staff were given an insight into the excellent work carried out by Drake Music Scotland by CEO Thursa Sanderson OBE. This was followed by an interactive and entertaining presentation by Figurenotes Officer Lauren Clay of the music system Figurenotes which uses colour and shape to convey all the information of traditional music notation; a system initially designed to enable those with learning disabilities to play music but has since developed into a tool to help anybody get started. 

The visit to Drake Music Scotland was followed by a working lunch and informal talk led by George Low, coordinator of Disability Research Edinburgh. This format gave our visitors and Disability Research Edinburgh members the opportunity to discuss studying and researching the various aspects of disability in Scotland, the UK and the USA all in one relaxed, lively and nutritious afternoon. 

The lunch was attended by; Professor Bruce Reed, Director of UTRGV’s School of Rehabilitation, Professor Joan Reed, Director of Learning Framework at UTRGV and fifteen students studying a variety of subjects and issues related to disabled people.

Disability Research Edinburgh members were:  Professor John Davis, Professor of Childhood Inclusion, Dr. Jackie Gulland, Lecturer in Social Work, and George Low.

Visitors from Texas with Fogle

Fogle, the assistance dog, joined us but was not so keen on having  his photograph taken

We would like to thank Professors Bruce Reed and Joan Reed of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley for their continued support and look forward to our visit next year which we hope will be equally successful. 

Seminar April 2017

Dr. Audrey Cameron from the Scottish Sensory Centre told us about her project on Science and Maths in British Sign Language.  

You can find more information about this fascinating project on the Scottish Sensory Centre website link here

Jon Reid from Sense Scotland talked about Sense Scotland's work in using creativity and arts to develop communication with people with profound and complex support needs

Thanks to both our presenters for their stimulating and exciting presentations.


Seminar December 2016

Dr. Katherine Brookfield and Phoebe Fielding presented their research on:

Physical environments and community reintegration post stroke: qualitative insights from stroke clubs 


App-cessibility? An Inquiry into how the Euan’s Guide App is Changing Urban Space and Accessibility for People with Disabilities

Seminar - October 2016

We had three very exciting presentations from our PhD researchers, focusing on a diverse range of topics in Scottish and European contexts.

The three presentations which comprise our seminar are the following:

- Paula Jacobs - “It's different, but it's the same”: Perspectives of young adults with siblings with intellectual disabilities in residential care

- Diana Murdoch - “Why does no one listen to me”: Hidden voices in inclusive education

- Donatella Camedda - Like butterfly wings: Disability and cultural diversity in educational contexts

Disability Research Edinburgh Launch Event, 16 June 2016

Disability Research Edinburgh (DRE) celebrated the launch of its new website on the 16th June. This event aimed to also provide networking opportunities for members and people who are also interested in disability research, and highlight the diversity of research in this field. The day attracted an audience from a wide range of disciplines and sectors, and included interesting presentations and lively discussions.

Dorothy and GeorgeThe event was opened by Professor Dorothy Miell, Vice Principal and Head of the Collee of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Edinburgh, who discussed how DRE, which started as a student-led initi

ative, achieved its status today as an interdisciplinary, intersectoral and international network. She acknowledged that  Disability Research Edinburgh has effectively enhanced the structure and landscape of disability research in Edinburgh and beyond, through its seminar series and networking events. She also highlighted the supportive nature of the network for researchers and students.

Subsequently, GJoy and Georgeeorge Low, founder of DRE, further explained his original purpose in setting up the network, and acknowledged the input of University staff Jackie Gulland and Kenneth MacMahon, whose support enabled the network to step into a new stage of development. George then launched the network's new website with Joy Vamvakari, the website's developer, and guided the audience through its content.

Colleagues from Disability History Scotland (DHS) attended the event as invited speakers. Iain Hutchison highlighted the 'missing' voice of disabled people in historical records and discussed the establishment of DHS in 2011, underpinned by the phrase ‘nothing about us without us’. He illustrated the rationale behind the short animation ‘The last push’ produced by DHS, which was later played to the audience. George Lamb talked about the organisation’s aim to transform provision. In addition, Sasha Callaghan introduced future projects, such as setting up a digital archive on disability history for researchers and organising a showcase of disabled people’s aspirations. Topics such as the ‘pity’ attitude and the dehumanisation of disabled people were further discussed in the Q&A session.

Disability History Scotland

John Davis, professor in childhood inclusion from the Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh, gave a presentation of his work with disabled children and young people, and shared his first-hand experiences and insights. He highlighted the trend in academic research - greater participation of children as co-investigators and leading researchers. He reviewed the current methods of conducting research with children, and addressed the role of intersectionality towards understanding children’s diverse and complex experiences. By revisiting ‘Life as a disabled child’ and ‘Liverpool youth project’, he emphasised the need for researchers to be reflective and willing to listen, noted the necessity of post-research support, and questioned the current ethics procedures, which tend to act as barriers for disabled people’s participation in research.

John DavisAs the last presentation, Josie Isles from Inclusion Scotland offered detailed guidance regarding the application for the Disability Research on Independent Living & Learning (DRILL) funding, covering the main themes for research and the essential elements in a proposal. She stressed that DRILL funding is geared towards research led by disabled people, and aims towards  innovation, new solutions and perspectives, with the ultimate purpose of generating real-world impact.

Rio Grande Valley Scholar visit, Tuesday 31 May 2016

Disability Research coordinator George Low and his wife and support assistant Jeanette welcomed a delegation of staff and students from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to the University of Edinburgh. The visitors, eight students and two professors are form the School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling and were led by Professor Bruce Reed, director of the school. George gave an informal talk outlining his work as the coordinator of Disability Research Edinburgh (DRE) and his experiences as a disabled PhD researcher within the Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD), University of Edinburgh.

Texas Scholar visit

Disability Research Edinburgh seminar, 10 May 2016, 2-3:30pm, Atrium, Alison House

Reshaping the definition of a musician, a musical instrument and music - Thursa Sanderson, CEO Drake Music Scotland

The experience of a musician with a different perspective on musical education and training - Clare Johnston, Drake Music Scotland

On the 10th of May 2016 Disability Research Edinburgh hosted a seminar discussing the definition of a musician, musical instrument and music. The speakers were Thursa Sanderson, OBE, CEO of Drake Music Scotland, and Clare Johnston Associate Musician with Drake Music Scotland. The event attracted students and researchers interested in music psychology, education and technology, and those with an interest in disability, inclusion, participation, and social engagement.

George Low and Clare JohnstonDuring her talk, Thursa Sanderson discussed the background of Drake Music Scotland, and explained how their approach to working with ‘participants’  has developed and how it works in practice, both regarding the ‘participants’ and the ‘associate musicians’ team. Furthermore, she introduced the use of technology in music making and provided examples in practice. Definitions of ‘the musical instrument’ and ‘the musician’ were discussed, linked to shifting the boundaries of common preconceptions, supported by appropriated approaches to training and opportunities for disabled musicians to be players, music leaders, performers and composers.

Following Thursa, Clare Johnston discussed her experience as a musician. She introduced a different perspective on musical education and training, describing her development as a musician, the obstacles, barriers and improvements, as well as attitudinal issues. Clare further discussed the significance of terminology in relation to disability.

DRE seminar speakers George Low, Thursa Sanderson and Clare Johnston

Networking event, 28 April 2016, School of Social and Political Science

On the 28th of April, Disability Research Edinburgh held an interdisciplinary networking and development event. The aim of this event was to enable members to share expertise in working across disciplines and seeking external funding from a wide range of sources. Participants were members from the College of Art, the School of Health in Social Science, the School of Social and Political Science and the School of Education. During the event participants discussed research interests and ideas, aiming formulate links and highlight opportunities for collaboration. This exercise further emphasized the variety of research expertise both regarding research focus as well as research methods used.

DRE networking event


Disability Research Edinburgh seminar, 5th of November 2015

It is all in the detail

- Steve Hollingsworth, Artist/PhD candidate, Glasgow Conservatoire

- Liz Davidson, Manager, Cherry Road Day Centre

The talk introduced the Artlink Ideas Team and their innovative work with people with profound learning disabilities. It looked at some of the approaches emerging from one to one work with people with high support needs, the impact of their work on the individual and their care structures and its wider relevance to understanding and supporting people with learning disabilities. The speakers highlighted thinking creatively regarding the ways to provide support for very vulnerable people - ensuring access to innovative work as a well as to basic care.

Disability Research Edinburgh seminar, 25th of June 2015

But that’s just common sense, isn’t it? Social science research on inclusive access to outdoor environments - Máire Cox, OPENspace research centre

This seminar focused on the 14 years of work by OPENspace aspiring to embed inclusive design in policy and practice through a range of projects, including collaborative work with partners.  Their aim is to transform unsupportive environments for people whose mobility is limited, a change which will also benefit everyone's health and wellbeing.

Disability Research Edinburgh seminar, 6th of April 2015

Exploring the cultural and societal base of barriers in the educational environments of primary school-aged children with disabilities in Bangkok - Dr Michelle Proyer, Kingston University

The presentation provided insight into the benefits and challenges of applying Grounded Theory in intercultural research within the field of special needs and inclusive education. In Dr Proyer's PhD thesis Grounded Theory was used to explore the challenges children with disabilities face in primary schools in Bangkok. The main focus of her research was the exploration of the cultural and societal contexts that impact on the challenges children with disabilities face in relation to education. The presentation described the different steps of applying Grounded Theory and associated challenges. Drawing from a very broad database, concrete examples were used to illustrate the research process. Furthermore, the talk presented the research outcomes of this study (a culture-specific model to understand disability in the given regional and cultural context) and commented on the process of writing a theory.

Disability Research Edinburgh seminar, 20th of March 2015

Teachers' negotiations of inclusive practice in Nigerian classrooms - Mary Taiwo, PhD candidate, University of Edinburgh

The presentation reported findings from a study of teacher’s practices in classrooms where children with disabilities are accessinbg education alongside their non - disabled peers. The study was carried out in Nigerian classrooms.  Teachers’ classroom practices were examined in the form of case studies and against set criteria of inclusive classroom practices. Teachers’ beliefs, knowledge and actions were also looked at, in order identify how these interrelate and influence the nature of learning experiences children with disabilities have in Nigerian classrooms.

Disability Research Edinburgh seminar, 20th of February 2015

Psychological Perspectives on People with Intellectual Disabilities Who Have Difficulties with Anger and Aggression: Past, Present and Future - Dr Ken McMahon, Senior Lecture, University of Edinburgh

Psychological difficulties experienced by people with intellectual disabilities have, historically, been seen by some as the result of ‘deficits’ in abilities. Psychological treatments, in many cases, have therefore relied upon trying to overcome these deficits. However, in recent years, a body of research has developed that suggests that such deficits may not be at the heart of difficulties such as frequent anger and aggression.  Instead, the life experiences and social context in which some people with intellectual disabilities live may play a primary role in such episodes. In this seminar, the presenter discussed both the historical and current views of anger and aggression, highlighting changes in the way that psychologists are working with people with intellectual disabilities. Possible future directions for research and psychological interventions were also suggested.


Establishment of network - ECA article

PhD student establishes international research forum

George Low at the ECA DRE event George Low is the driving force behind Disability Research Edinburgh. He is a PhD student in the Reid School of Music. His research explores the challenges facing disabled musicians, like himself, and aspiring musicians with disabilities, by attempting to identify the physical, psychological and social barriers they encounter.

George established Disability Research Edinburgh as a forum for researchers across and beyond the University of Edinburgh whose work engages with disability.

"As a wheelchair user and PhD researcher, I felt there was a need within the University of Edinburgh for a forum specific to disability research; a collaborative space that would encourage interdisciplinary engagement".

To read the full article please see here.

DRE ECA event

Disability Research Edinburgh seminar, 5 December 2014

Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Disability Research - Professor Thilo Kroll, University of Dundee

The talk covered the main areas of Professor Kroll's work,  including topics such as access to services and goods, health promotion and inclusive research and data capture methods. It also included a discussion of the definition of disability in the UN CRPD. Furthermore, Professor Kroll argued that public health is a useful frame for the understanding of health issues.

Disability Research Edinburgh seminar, 24 October 2014

Emancipatory Principles for Doing Disability Research - Dr Colin Cameron, Northumberland University

Dr Cameron discussed the use of the affirmation model of disability as a research tool. He introduced the theoretical ideas and the rationale behind the affirmation model of disability and, drawing on real examples from his own research, he discussed the use of the model as a research tool.

Disability Research Edinburgh seminar, 2 September 2014

Exploring disabled children’s learning and participation in regular schools in Shanghai - Yuchen Wang, PhD candidate, University of Edinburgh

The presenter shared the initial findings from her PhD research, which focuses on how disabled children’s identities are constructed and negotiated through daily interactions within the school environment.

Disability Research Edinburgh seminar, 24 July 2014

Supporting practitioners to develop social story interventions for children with Autism Spectrum Conditions - Aurora Constantin, PhD candidate, University of Edinburgh

The presenter described her PhD project, which focuses on designing, building and evaluating a computer authoring tool (ISISS-Improving Social Interaction through Social Stories) aiming to support practitioners in developing  social story interventions for children with Autism Spectrum Conditions.

Creative Interdisciplinary Research in Collaborative Environments (CIRCLE) Symposium, 27 May 2014

Disability Research Edinburgh participated in the yearly symposium held by Creative Interdisciplinary Research in Collaborative Environments (CIRCLE). Sophia Lycouris, Reader at the University of Edinburgh, together with a specialist, facilitated the broadcasting of the DRE session, a discussion among members on topics such as wiki usage and interdisciplinary networking.

Visit to Drake Music Scotland, 20 May 2014

Several of the network's members visited Drake Music Scotland in Edinburgh. The organisation’s CEO, Thursa Sanderson, and the music director Pete Sparkes introduced our members to Drake's innovative work supporting disabled people’s participation in music learning and performance. The members later attended the rehearsal of  ‘Screaming Rainbows’ , a band formed by young disabled musicians.

Disability Research Edinburgh first meeting, 18 March 2014

The founder of the network, George Low, organised the first members’ meeting in March 2014. Students, practitioners and University academics across disciplines attended the meeting. This was the first step towards defining the aims and values of the network, and formulate plans for future events and activities.

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