D4D - Disability and Community: Dis/engagement, Dis/enfranchisement, Dis/parity and Dissent

Esther Fox (Accentuate), Sue Porter (University of Bristol), Diane Carr (Institute of Education), Praminda Caleb-Solly (University of the West of England/Bristol Robotics Lab/Designability), Lucy Burke (Manchester Metropolitan University), Allan Sutherland, Colin Hambrook and Trish Wheatley– Disability (Arts Online), Sue Moffat (New Vic Theatre, Stoke on Trent)

  • Awarded to: Dr Martin Levinson
  • Funding Awarded to Exeter: £ 865,420 (total funding of £ 1,296,407)
  • Dates: 1 April 2016 - 31 December 2016
  • Sponsor(s): AHRC

This project transferred to Bath Spa University on 1 January 2017

Project dates 1 April 2016 - 31 March 2020

A new AHRC funded, Connected Communities programme research project Disability and Community: Dis/engagement, Dis/enfranchisement, Dis/parity and Dissent (the D4D project) will investigate with disabled people the evolving ways in which disabled people express, perform, experience and practice 'community'.  

The project team brings together disabled and non disabled academics from a range of disciplines, with disabled artists, writers and performers, and with community partners (including Accentuate, Disability Arts Online, Shape and Disability Rights UK).  The leadership of the project will be shared between two universities (Exeter and Bristol) and Accentuate, a disabled-led arts organisation. The research team will work in places as diverse as shopping centres, play areas, schools, youth zones, work places and arts festivals. 

The work will involve and be informed by the knowledge and lived experiences of disabled people. Key to the project will be research with disabled people as co-researchers. The team will explore the roles disabled people perform within and between communities (their own and others).  They will investigate the evolving ways in which disabled people express, perform, experience and practice being part of a community.

D4D will learn from participating communities with the aim of better understanding the ways in which disabled people experience community, and the various forces and contexts (e.g. play, education, medicine, new technology, digital media) have shaped and continue to influence the experiences of communities of disabled people. The project will build understanding, generate opportunities for connections, solidarity, resilience and activism, and support an increased sense of agency and empowerment among participants, sharing knowledge and professional development, and creating new spaces for dialogue and action.  

To investigate these questions, the project team (which includes academics from different disciplines, and community co-researchers with expertise in visual and performing arts practice, working in partnership with disabled-led organizations) will undertake research activities organized within 6 streams of work. These streams address:

(1) Now You See Us  - This stream will explore issues of integration and marginalization, focusing on different settings: mainstream schools, youth zones and the work-place. We will explore lived experience of ‘inclusion’, looking at issues of participation, visibility / invisibility, resilience and resistance of disabled adults and youngsters in these contexts. The research will consider the ambiguous relationships between inclusion and exclusion through ethnographic studies, and investigate ways of promoting agency and integration through creative expression

(2) Catch me if you can – Participating through Play  - Play, technology and inclusion - academics from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory will trial the robots and investigate how a powered mobility device called Wizzybug, developed by Designability, helps disabled children play more easily with friends.

(3) Electric Bodies - Members of the Disability Arts community will examine the origins, development and future of the Disability Arts community. In particular, this will involve exploring the tensions within ‘identity arts’ movements regarding issues of affiliation and community.

(4) Speaking from the body - Exploring embodiment through walking, craft and performance, this strand will explore how disabled and chronically ill participants form, experience and express alternative community, as well as how they manage their (dis)placement and disqualification by mainstream society. This research will also support disabled communities critically respond to clinical practice.   

(5) Institutionalised, Homogenised, Vaporised - In this strand, arts based research will drive an investigation of past, present and future disabled communities. In particular, through the creation and exhibition of an interactive art-piece, ‘Evolution’, mainstream audiences will be asked to consider disability perspectives on such matters as eugenics and genetic screening.

(6) Playful Bodies, Technology and Community - In this work stream we investigate ‘science fictions’ and the relationships between technology, popular culture and the body. We will be working with players, artists and online communities, while drawing on digital game studies and critical disability studies approaches. Disability communities’ critical perspectives on mainstream popular culture will be explored.

These six work streams will be augmented by two further streams, the first involving ethics and reflexivity to learn lessons for increasing meaningful participation in research, and the second will provide a forum for skill sharing and knowledge exchange across all streams, and work to maximize impact across and beyond the academic.

In addition to a regularly updated project website, D4D outputs will include academic papers, exhibitions, short films and created craft and art objects, performance poetry and animation, an Alternate Reality Game (or ARG), performances and playful, interactive art installations. These outputs will foreground the voices, knowledge and insights of the study’s participants.  

This innovative project is delivered through a partnership between universities [University of Exeter; University of Bristol; University College London; University of the West of England; Manchester Metropolitan University; Liverpool Hope University; Brighton University; Falmouth University; Wolverhampton University and Glasgow University] and community partners, including disabled people’s organisations [Accentuate; Disability Arts Online; The Edward Lear Foundation; SHAPE; WECIL; Disability Rights UK; Designability]; arts organisations [New Vic Theatre in Stoke; The Misfits]; community groups and campaigning organisations.


Esther Fox (Project Manager and Co I) – Accentuate
Sue Porter (Co I) – University of Bristol
Diane Carr (Co I) – Institute of Education
Praminda Caleb-Solly (Co I) – University of the West of England / Bristol Robotics Lab / Designability
Lucy Burke – (Co I) - Manchester Metropolitan University
Allan Sutherland - (Community Co I), Colin Hambrook and Trish Wheatley– Disability Arts Online
Sue Moffat (Community Co I) – New Vic Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent


Barbara Welch or Stephanie Adamou at Screen South: 

Tel.: 01303 259777

Email: barbara.welch@screensouth.org