Disability voices: understanding the lives of disabled people in Cumbria

Snell, Laura ORCID logo ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4455-8076 , Ward, Meghann ORCID logo ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6061-4133 and Grimwood, Tom ORCID logo ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8099-6191 (2023) Disability voices: understanding the lives of disabled people in Cumbria. (Unpublished)

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Between January and March 2023, Healthwatch Cumbria conducted the Disability Voices: Understanding the lives of disabled people in Cumbria project. The project aimed to capture the voices of disabled people across Cumbria in order to understand their experiences of everyday life, the barriers they encounter, their frustrations or worries, and what changes they feel are needed to improve their lives. In April 2023, Health and Society Knowledge Exchange (HASKE), at the University of Cumbria, was commissioned by Healthwatch Cumbria to undertake an analysis of the data collected for the Disability Voices project.

The Disability Voices project engaged 758 people across Cumbria, which included disabled people, their carers, and professionals working with disabled people. The data was collected through:
• 54 focus groups and 202 case study interviews, which recruited a total of 596 participants.
• An online survey, which had 155 responses.
• Social media posts about the project, which resulted in seven people providing comments about their experiences via Facebook.

• The findings of the Disability Voices project were analysed and presented in three separate sections: Cumberland, Westmorland and Furness, and Cumbria-wide. The findings across all three datasets reported similar themes and experiences, which have provided a detailed insight into the lives of disabled people, their carers, and people working with disabled people in Cumbria.
• The Disability Voices project captured many diverse accounts of ‘normal life’ for disabled people, and their carers, along with many shared experiences. For example, many disabled people described how their various impairments or health conditions can ‘hold them back’ - to some extent - when going about their daily lives.
• Another commonality across the data was the barriers that disabled people encounter within society, which can restrict their access to health and social care services, education, employment, social activities, and impact on their interactions with other people. The types of barriers identified within the research included: physical, transportation, organisational, attitudinal, communication and information, and technological barriers.
• The findings show that in the past five years, some disabled people have experienced improvements in their quality of life due to: a reduction in physical barriers; improvements to impairments or health conditions; increased availability of services and more/adequate support; gaining more independence; increased confidence, and engagement in social activities. However, it must be noted that some disabled people, and their carers, emphasised that any improvements in quality of life were a result of self-advocacy and independent research to find out about services or support available in their local area.
• In contrast, the findings show that many disabled people felt that their quality of life had declined in the past five years as a result of deteriorating impairments or health conditions; ageing; loss of independence; the impact of the Covid pandemic; a reduction in services and support within local communities; the increasing cost of living; and an increase in organisational and technological barriers.
• Overall, disabled people indicated that having better access to healthcare services and support across Cumbria, and better social lives, would improve their lives.
• Experiences of loneliness were often attributed to the barriers identified above and the effects of a disabled person’s impairment or health condition, which sometimes impacted on their social life. A key theme throughout the data was that having access to a good support network (which might include family, friends, neighbours or community members), along with the opportunity to engage in a range of social activities, was a positive experience for many disabled people. In particular, being involved with support groups or activities with other disabled people can provide the opportunity to spend time with those who understand their impairments/health conditions and the disabling barriers they experience in wider society. This shared experience can reduce feelings of isolation or loneliness and provide a sense of belonging for some disabled people.
• Disabled people expressed worries or frustrations about the various physical, transportation, organisational, attitudinal, communication and information, and technological barriers detailed above. In addition, concerns were raised about ageing, the possibility of worsening impairments or health conditions, loss of independence, the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, and the uncertainty of accessing support in the future.
• It is relevant to note there is significant overlap in many of the themes presented in this research as each theme impacted on several aspects of a disabled person’s life. As an example, the physical barriers associated with accessing public transport can exclude a disabled person from carrying out their daily activities, which can limit their independence, cause feelings of frustration and isolation, and impact negatively on their quality of life.
• This research has shown that there is still work to be done across Cumbria to create a society which is fully inclusive for disabled people. In particular, the research participants suggested that the lives of disabled people could be improved through raising more awareness of their impairments and health conditions; improving access to information about the various support and services available within local communities; and tackling the physical, transportation, organisational, attitudinal, communication and information, and technological barriers that exist within society.

Item Type: Report
Departments: Health and Society Knowledge Exchange (HASKE)
Additional Information: This report was produced by Dr Laura Snell, Dr Meghánn Ward and Professor Tom Grimwood at Health and Society Knowledge Exchange (HASKE), University of Cumbria. The report was made publicly available by the commissioner in October 2023 and made openly accessible on Insight on 23.10.23.
Depositing User: Laura Snell
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2023 17:06
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2024 14:47
URI: https://insight.cumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/7320


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