VIPER (meaning voice, inclusion, participation, empowerment and research) was a three-year project funded by the Big Lottery Fund to research young disabled people's participation in decisions about services.
The project was delivered by a consortium of organisations that included CDC, NCB, The Children's Society and the Alliance for Inclusive Education and a team of disabled young researchers (the VIPERS) recruited specifcally to support the project. We set out to research disabled children and young people’s participation in decision-making about local services with the aim to improve services used by disabled children and young people in England.
The ethos of the project
The ethos of this project started with the principle that all young disabled people have the same rights as young non-disabled people to participate in decisions and issues that affect them. A rights based approach challenges the view that young disabled people need extra care and protection that would be considered unacceptable for non disabled young people. This view disempowers young disabled people and limits their right to choice and control in their lives.
A key principle for this research and the partnership was the social model of disability and all project activities adopted this approach. A social model of disability approach places the responsibility of removing the barriers with society and NOT with the young disabled person. This has meant that the research focused on identifying and removing the attitudinal, physical, economic and social barriers that prevent young disabled people from participating in decision making. These barriers are created by negative attitudes in society towards people with impairments or differences.
How did the research project work?
The project involved a large research programe. We reviewed existing research to establish what was already known about disabled children and young people’s participation then carried out a consultation exercise with organisations working with disabled children and young people to look at current practices. All of the Viper researchers were given opportunities to take part in all aspects of the research and a choice about how much or how little they got involved in each stage of the project. For a minority, attending the meetings was all that they wanted to do. But for most, they chose to do much more and we tailored opportunities to their individual interests. All Vipers stayed involved in the project from beginning to end – a period of three years commitment.