A self-advocate’s right to belong as a form of resistance in higher education and disability studies

Friday, November 1, 2013
First author:
Maillard, T.
Designing Methods for All

1) Disability Studies and Inclusive Education, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

2) Our New Future NPO, Ghent, Belgium
All authors:

Toon Maillard 1,2, Ludo Schoeters 2, Marc Callebaut 2, Didier Peleman 2

Inclusive Methods
rights – belonging – education – personal growth – co-research – academia


A process that started as a small dissertation project, grew into a joint search by three self-advocates and a student on ways for people with a label of intellectual disabilities to participate and belong in higher education and academia, a place ruled by rigid views on intelligence, even in a midst of disability studies scholars.


This project was founded on a – Critical – Disability Studies framework in which one starts from a strengths-based model and a cooperative research approach with self-advocates who identify with the label of intellectual disability. We drew heavily on the existing research on emancipatory action research, self-advocacy and the inclusion paradigm. We developed a methodological approach in which all co-researchers could share their insights. We started from a classic action research cycle (think-act-reflect-cycle),  which though our collaborative efforts evolved into a more complex research cycle in which reflection and interaction between researchers was a key part. We organized visits and interviews with key stakeholders in higher education and academia. Which we structured and analyzed using mind maps and rich pictures, so refining our theoretical and practical concepts.


One of the outcomes of this research project was an event in which we shared our narratives, findings, thoughts and questions with key stakeholders, both national and international. It brought together a group of self-advocates, researchers, lecturers, vocational workers, policy makers, students and supporters. The workshop was created and facilitated by a self-advocate and a student, thus creating a place of belonging and participation, as well as resistance within academia and disability studies.


Through the co-creation of these projects in which a collaborative research approach and a positive valuing of talent is paramount, we can create spaces of belonging with and for people labeled as having intellectual disabilities within the fortress of academia.