Case study: WeCan2
This case study will focus on participation by young people with learning disabilities. Between 2005 and 2008, young people in Blackpool and Devon, assisted and funded by Mencap, researched some of the difficulties they faced when seeking meaningful participation – difficulties in translating theory into practice and rhetoric into reality. For this project, called WeCan2, Allan Aoslin, Ross Baines, Alice Clancy, Lizzie Jewiss-Hayden, Ryan Singh and Josh Strudgwick looked at some of the barriers and problems faced by themselves and other young people when trying to participate, wrote a report on what they had found and suggested solutions to some of the difficulties they encountered.
Before they started their research, these young people undertook training in research methods, shaping their proposal and deciding on the best methods to carry out this research. They then went on to examine the barriers they faced when trying to participate. Although they, and other young people like them, were very keen to participate, they found that it was not always easy. They found that difficulties occurred when:
- people spoke too fast;
- minutes of meetings were not sent out in advance and had to be read during the meeting;
- minutes and agenda papers were produced with small print and no pictures and were hard to read;
- people used too many ‘big words’: for example, in one youth council meeting one of the researchers drew attention to the example of the phrase ‘ethnically diverse’;
- meetings were often scheduled straight after school and the young people were hungry and tired, which affected how well they could participate;
- meeting places frequently did not have good disabled access.
Having carried out this research the young people then designed a toolkit giving the adult organisers of youth group meetings simple practical solutions to some of these problems, such as big writing and pictures on the papers, breaks for food and drinks and a set of trafficlight cards for young people with a disability to use in meetings to let people know when there was a problem. If people spoke too fast or if a young person did not understand something, they could hold up a red card. If a young person needed to ask a question, they could hold up a card with a question mark on it. The red, green and yellow cards could also be used as voting cards for no, yes and unsure.
The WeCan2 group then went on to evaluate these measures and found increased levels of understanding, participation and a sense of being listened to. They found that, in general, people were taking the time to explain things more clearly, were giving out simplified information and were taking their views on board. Young people were sometimes asked to co-chair meetings, were consulted about the recruitment of adult workers and when they suggested changes to leaflets or web pages, they were made (Aoslin et al, 2008).