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  4. Creating a living archive of learning disability history: what should it look like?

Creating a living archive of learning disability history: what should it look like?

Mark Flint, Vicky Green, Nigel Ingham, Rowena Richards and Liz Tilley

As part of our research into a living archive, we are making a model of a digital archive to go on the internet. In time, we hope that this digital archive will be a place to find things out about the history of learning disability, but also a place for you to share your own stories, memories and other things. We would like to show you our ideas for how the digital archive might look, how it might work and get your views about it. We think that it is really important to make a digital archive that is accessible for everyone, so that nobody is excluded from sharing their story and contributing to history. Come along and help us to get things right!

Our project involves exploring what an archive of learning disability history might look like.

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The project is inclusive, so people with learning disabilities are employed as researchers and consultants.

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We are also meeting with lots of other people with learning disabilities and their supporters to help us with the archive.

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We are working with other groups of people who can help us think about the learning disability archive, like archivists and technologists.

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We want to build a digital archive which is accessible, useful and fun. It also needs to address the things people say are important about an archive. For example, people want to ‘try’ things out by sharing their material with people they know first. They don’t want to lose control of their stories.

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We are also working with local record offices to think about how they can be more inclusive and open to people with learning disabilities. The project is working with archivists to explore how they can enable more people with learning disabilities to share their stories.

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We are finding out what is important in thinking about an archive of learning disability history. Our project is raising lots of questions. These questions are important to people now. They are about identity, labelling, control, consent, access and inclusion.

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The project has also made us think a lot about why it is important that people’s stories are collected and preserved.

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Our research is showing that people with learning disabilities are interested in the past. They have been quite shocked about the things they have seen and heard. People with learning disabilities now in their teens and twenties, including people who have been through the special school system, told us that they didn't know that in the recent past thousands of people with learning disabilities were sent to live in institutions away from their families and local communities. They have said that it’s important that people know about the past, so that the same mistakes don’t happen again.

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Health and social care providers and advocates have explained that current concerns about capacity and consent can act as a barrier to sharing history.

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Speaker biographies

Mark Flint is Technical Co-ordinator for RIX Research and Media.

Vicky Green is currently working as a Research Associate as part of the Living Archive Project team. Vicky joined the team with a background of working as a Mencap Young Ambassador where, amongst other events, she worked on Mencap’s Anti-bullying Campaign and attended a self-advocacy event at the Houses of Parliament. Vicky is experienced at helping with campaigns and working with self-advocates.       

Nigel Ingham is a Research Associate with the Faculty of Health & Social Care at the Open University. Nigel is a community oral historian, with a strong and long-standing interest in the social history of learning disability. He is part of the research team on the Living Archive Project.

Rowena Richards is employed at the Open University on the Living Archive Project as a PA to Vicky Green, on a consultancy basis. Rowena has a strong background working within local authorities, she is a registered social worker with a wealth of management and hands on experience mainly with people with learning disabilities. Rowena is interested in all aspects of research that promote improvements for the life experience and opportunities of people with disabilities.

Liz Tilley is Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Health & Social Care at The Open University. Her research and teaching interests include learning disability, participatory methodologies and the interface between disability and sexual and reproductive health. Liz chairs the inclusive and internationally renowned Social History of Learning Disability Research Group ( and is Principal Investigator on the Living Archive Project.

Contact us

About the Group

If you woud like to get in touch with the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group, please contact:

Liz Tilley 
Chair of the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group
School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

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