I retired from the Open University in 2010 and am now Emeritus Professor of Learning Disability. My route into the history of learning disability was through my work as a social worker in Somerset, where I was involved in the 1970s in helping people move out of the long-stay hospitals to live in the community. It was apparent then that people with learning difficulties have very interesting - and revealing - stories to tell. At the same time, I began to delve into the documentary histories of the hospitals and other institutions where I was then working. This early interest in the oral and documented histories of people and places was given scope to develop when I came to work at the Open University in the mid-1980s.
In particular, the anthology, Know Me As I Am (Atkinson and Williams, 1990), was a landmark in developing life history work with people with learning difficulties. The subsequent founding of the Social History of Learning Disability research group in 1995, with Jan Walmsley, has led to a series of conferences and publications which have drawn together life stories and documentary evidence as a distinctive contribution to a new field. My particular interest has been in life history research. This was the focus of my book, An Auto/Biographical Approach to Learning Disability Research (1997) and my PhD thesis, Researching the History of Learning Disability using Oral and Life History Methods (2001).
If you woud like to get in touch with the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group, please contact:
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
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