Making Space: Exploring Intimate Citizenship in the lives of people labeled with learning disabilities

Jodie Bradley*, Vicky Farnsworth*, Annie Ferguson*, Hayley Wilcock*, Dan Goodley**, Kirsty Liddiard** and Katherine Runswick-Cole***

* Speak Up Self-Advocacy
** The University of Sheffield
*** Manchester Metropolitan University

In September 2015, we travelled to Toronto, Canada to take part in a workshop exploring intimate citizenship in the lives of people labeled with learning disabilities.

Who are we

We are all co-researchers on a research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council “Big Society Disabled people with learning disabilities and civil society” which broadly asks ‘how are people with learning disabilities faring in a time of austerity in England’

We have worked together to find out what people think. You can see summaries of the project findings here:

Why did we go to Toronto

We were invited by Esther Ignani, Ryerson University, Canada, Ann Fudge-Schormans, McMaster University, Canada, Kirsty Liddiard, The University of Sheffield, UK and Katherine Runswick-Cole, Manchester Metropolitan University to take part in the workshop funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada. They knew about our previous research with people with learning disabilities as well as Jodie and Vicky’s work as self-advocates, supporting other people with learning disabilities to speak up for themselves and to gain access to information and support.

Who was there

In Toronto, we met other self-advocates, family members, activists and academics from around the world all of who were interested in the idea of intimate citizenship.

What is intimate citizenship

Intimacy and being intimate is about touch, love, affection, privacy, bodies and being close. Citizenship is about our rights and access to equality, fairness and justice. Intimate citizenship is about our rights and access to equality in our intimate lives.

Why is this important

Sadly, many people with learning disabilities are still not able to experience intimacy and being close. People with learning disabilities have the right to have relationships, love, and sex in their lives if they want to. They can be parents and they can look after their children, but all too often their children don’t live with them. The aim of the workshops was to explore these issues.

What did we do in the workshops

The three-day workshop used arts-based methods to think about intimate citizenship. This meant that we took part in drama, performance, made some artwork as well as taking part in discussions.

What ideas came from the workshops

Lots of ideas were discussed in the workshop, we talk about three of them here: love, work and shopping.

Ideas about love:

Loving relationships are important; they make us feel cared for and safe.

Families play important roles in helping people to feel and to keep safe, but sometimes families can hurt disabled people too.

Ideas about work:

Sometimes caring about and for someone involves work. Often people with learning disabilities are thought of as people who receive care, but we talked about the ways in which they also care for other people too.

Ideas about shopping:

There may be more to life than shopping but we all agreed that we need to make sure that people with learning disabilities have enough money to live well.

What did we think about being involved in the workshop?

Jodie said: “The workshops where very interesting, I liked the tree idea and both Vicky and I were included in the workshop”.

Vicky said: “it was very interesting and fun, we talked about families and friendships. We made a family tree and thought about relationships”.

And finally …

At the workshop we talked about how intimate citizenship is often the stuff that makes a life a good life. Recently cuts to services and support for disabled people have made it more difficult for people to survive day-to-day. As one of the participants said in the workshop, it isn’t easy to talk about intimate citizenship when you are worrying about where you are going to live or what you are going to eat. The feeling at the workshop was that we need to make sure that disabled people are safe and that they are not living in poverty, but we also need to think about their intimate lives at the same time as their day-to-day living.

Find out more

If you want to learn more about the workshop please visit: