The following case study is an example of engaged research bringing disabled people and disability organisations together with UCC researchers.
The Learning Disrupted study emerged out of a partnership between University College Cork and Ireland’s National Learning Network (NLN), which provides skills, education and work-based training for young people with disabilities in Ireland. NLN was concerned to explore what the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic had been for its students, and also to investigate the ways in which new technologies and remote models of learning might facilitate future developments in young people with disabilities’ access to, and experience of, education and work placements.
Between March and December 2021, two researchers from the Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century (ISS21) and School of Applied Social Studies, UCC, Dr Claire Edwards and Dr Gill Harold, worked with the students of NLN, their family members, NLN staff and employers who provide work placements to students. Individual interviews were conducted with the young people via Microsoft Teams, alongside focus groups with NLN staff and employers.
The study identified a range of findings that indicate the challenges COVID-19 presented to young people with disabilities, but also the opportunities provided in terms of engaging in remote forms of learning. The research therefore raises broader questions about what inclusive learning spaces might look like, and how far technology can act as a way of supporting inclusion for people with disabilities in education and employment.
The findings from the report were launched at an event in UCC in September 2022, when members of NLN, including young people with disabilities themselves, came to campus to share their experiences of being involved in the research and to explore how to take the findings forward.