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Research looks into ‘belonging’ for disabled people

24 July 2019

Professors Robyn Longhurst and Lynda Johnston
Professors Robyn Longhurst (left) and Lynda Johnston (right) were part of a collaborative research project on why and where disabled people feel they ‘belong’.

Understanding why and where disabled people feel they belong is the focus of a joint research report launched last night between the University of Waikato, the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA) and advocacy and disability rights organisation Imagine Better.

Waikato University professors Lynda Johnston and Robyn Longhurst, part of the research and experts in geographies of inclusion and diversity, say the research is unique in that it focuses on people’s feelings about their everyday spaces and places.

“It’s very clear from our research that the intersection of disability, place and identity matters a great deal to disabled people’s feelings of belonging,” says Professor Johnston.

Dr Carey-Ann Morrison from Imagine Better and Dr Esther Woodbury from DPA interviewed 15 disabled people and families of disabled people in a bid to understand more about their experiences of belonging and not belonging in different places.

Professor Johnston, along with Dr Morrison and Dr Woodbury, presented the research last night at the Spaces of Belonging event in Wellington which was attended by the Minister for Social Development and Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni and the Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero.

Dr Morrison, a parent to a young son with Down syndrome, says the research acknowledges the expertise disabled people and their families hold on their own lives and community needs.

“The research is community-driven. Disabled people and their families spoke about issues that were important to them and their lives. We need more research that prioritises hearing directly from disabled people and families,” says Dr Morrison.

Dr Woodbury is a disabled researcher and activist. She says by making the concept of ‘belonging’ a focus in their research, they can challenge the ‘noteworthiness’ of disabled people being physically present in everyday spaces.

"In this research we spoke about being in spaces where we are constantly reminded that we are different or unwelcome. We found that many disabled people and parents responded by forming relationships and creating communities where they felt at ease and a sense of ownership,” she says.

The report also highlights the need for greater attention around public spaces, schools, workplaces, dating and social spaces, and accessibility.

"We’re excited to share the first phase of this research, and we will continue to work with and for disabled people in Aotearoa,” says Professor Johnston.

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