The RITE (Realising Independence through Education) Project was an exciting four-year collaborative initiative between the DARE Foundation (Disability and Rehabilitation Education) and the ACE Centre. RITE involved young disabled people who have the academic ability to study at college and university and who require high levels of personal and communication support for everyday life. It also involved, service providers from education, health and social services, employment services and parents.
What does it involve?
There were three parts to the project:
The first part consisted of a series of four six-months 50:50 workshop programmes in St Helens, Oxford, Sussex and Northern Ireland. During each of these programmes, the participants (young people and service providers) worked in equal numbers in small project teams on ideas to improve opportunities and choice for young disabled people. As an example, one of the project teams raised funding for and produced a short DVD ‘Sex, Lives and Aptitude’. This became part of a training pack ‘Raising aspirations’ which was distributed to Further Education Colleges across the UK.
The second part of the RITE project was a three-year research project carried out in collaboration with the London School of Economics. Some of the young disabled people formed an advisory group which steered the project from start to finish. They advised the researchers on the methods and questions to be used; they commented on all drafts of the report; made recommendations on what should be done next and decided the title of the final report.
The third part of the project was work undertaken by the London School of Economics lookng at the financial implications of giving this group of people access to further and higher education.
This resulted in The RITE report, The RITE transition: the only way forward
The report highlighted some of the barriers and hurdles many young disabled people face when trying to make the transition from school through college and university to employment and independence in adulthood. It explored their hopes, aspirations, concerns and difficulties.
The young disabled people who took part, described how hard it can be to obtain a good education suited to their ability and potential; how many are discriminated against within the education system and when trying to get jobs to match their qualifications.
They RITE participants also described how important it is to have the right support but also how getting good support can depend very much on where you live or the person with whom you are dealing.
The RITE research also examined existing data sets to try and estimate the costs to the participants, their parents and the State, when support and services are inadequate and transition fails to lead to independence in adulthood. This socio-economic part of the research was carried out by the London School of Economics.
Headline findings from the research report
Low expectations of disabled people’s abilities, poor physical access, inadequate support, inadequate transport and ill-informed or discriminatory attitudes affect every area of disabled young people’s lives – employment, education, social access, housing, and health and social services. Problems in one area are invariably inseparable from those in another.
Young disabled people with high support needs face a catalogue of barriers to obtaining an education equivalent to their non-disabled peers. Barriers include a lack of physically accessible schools; schools and LEAs refusing access; low expectations of young people’s abilities and few opportunities to sit mainstream exams.
Young people with speech impairments are most poorly served by the education system. Delays in recognising their ability to communicate and in obtaining appropriate equipment and assistance often result in lost years of learning and development.
The majority of those who have finished their education are working part-time as volunteers or on very low wages. Participants’ employment situations are bleak, with few in full-time employment despite their academic qualifications. Many feel trapped by the benefits system and face innumerable obstacles to gaining employment.
Health and social services
Dealing with social services is demoralizing and debilitating for participants. There is a lack of co-ordination between the many agencies with which participants deal, and agencies fail to accommodate the communication technology, such as email, that is an important feature of participants’ lives.
The move to adult health and social care services usually triggers the withdrawal of the specialist services that are essential to participants’ well-being. Without regular physiotherapy, participants face decline in their physical health and quality of life.
The provision of personal and social support by social services is generally felt to be inadequate, inflexible and disempowering. Support needs are also often ‘under review’ with services looking to cut back on the amount of support they provide.
Inadequate and expensive transport options create obstacles to accessing education opportunities; employment; leisure and social life.
The cost of adapting homes is high – an average of £23,323. Consequently, most people are dependent on local authority funding. Long waiting lists leave some participants living in unsuitable and unsanitary accommodation.
Battling for their rights and services is an ongoing theme, particularly where participants face obstructive professionals who act as gatekeepers to a range of services. Decisions are often made on the basis of cost rather than need, and participants often have to cope with inappropriate equipment or adaptations. Long waiting times are the norm, both for receiving equipment and for getting it repaired.
Economic implications of disability
There are many indirect costs associated with the State’s failure to ensure that young disabled people have the opportunities and support they need to obtain an education and move into independent adulthood. Low expectations and lack of support at school affects the type of qualifications young people obtain and hence their employment opportunities. Workplace discrimination compounds barriers to well-paid employment. As a result, people with high support requirements lack the opportunity to earn a salary comparable to their non-disabled peers and society and the State lose out on the personal and economic contributions that they would make.
Identity and self-esteem
Negative attitudes towards disabled people have a significant impact on sense of self, but also shape everyday interactions, leaving some disabled people feeling ignored, looked down on and prejudged. Many of those who took part in the RITE research project considered that their experiences challenged the idea that all human beings have the same human rights. For many of those involved in the research it was this that defined their experience of being ‘disabled’.
The report is challenging, but it does more than point out the problems, it also provides some solutions, looking at ways of making real change happen.