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Living with disability and long term conditions

Our research covers a wide spectrum of people’s experiences across the life course, including physical and learning disability and living with a long term condition. Key strands include world-class research in social history of learning disability; theory; policy and practice in disability; advocacy for people with learning disabilities; disability and end-of-life issues and disability and diabetes. Research in the field of long term conditions includes the experience of co-morbidity (physical and mental health), motherhood, and issues around screening, diversity and gender. Projects in this area have also focused upon the development of inclusive research methodologies and life story work. Collaboration with colleagues in other universities, with service user and provider organisations, and with disabled people in the UK and internationally, is a central component of research in this area.

Research activity under this theme includes the internationally-renowned Social History of Learning Disabilities Research Group (SHLD), core membership of which is based at The Open University, but which includes people with learning disabilities and academics from other universities in the UK and in Europe, North America, Japan and Australia.

Disabled woman in wheelchair talking with a friend


Professor Cathy Lloyd talks about this research team

A further strand of research involves membership of the organisation: The Dialogue on Diabetes & Depression which includes a number of international initiatives investigating the relationship between these two long term conditions and developing interventions for the care of individuals experiencing them.


Book cover 'Approved Mental Health Practice'. Courtesy of Palgrave Macmillan.

Approved Mental Health Practice

Sarah Matthews, Phil O’Hare and Jill Hemmington.

We are pleased to announce that Approved Mental Health Practice: Essential Themes for Students and Practitioners, which is coedited by Sarah Matthews (Staff Tutor, The Open University), Phil O’Hare (Senior Lecturer, University of Central Lancashire) and Jill Hemmington (Senior Lecturer, University of Central Lancashire) was published by Palgrave Macmillan on 11th April 2014.

This publication arose from a collaborative project between The Open University and the University of Central Lancashire, and presents a unique and timely perspective on approved mental health practice and the various professional workers that undertake it. The book also addresses the introduction of the newly reorganised role in England and Wales that encapsulates two major policy changes; the reform of mental health legislation (Department of Health 2008) and the distribution of professional roles in mental health services (Department of Health 2007).

In addition, the General Social Care Council in England has now been replaced as a regulatory body by the Health and Care Professions Council, which requires a new framework against which the education of Approved Mental Health Professionals will be judged. This framework must encompass not only the Professional Capabilities Framework for Social Work (developed by the Social Work Reform Board and now owned by The College of Social Work), but also satisfy the continuing professional development frameworks of all eligible professionals.

The topical book provides a critical assessment of approved mental health practice as it is carried out in all countries of the United Kingdom and criticality explores what is required of those individuals who undertake it.

Current and recently completed research projects

'Contraceptive choices for women with learning disabilities' is an Open University research project, supported by a grant from Open Society Foundations. This inclusive project set out to explore women’s contraceptive decision-making and sought to include women with mild to moderate learning disabilities as well as women with high support needs. Read the final report (pdf).

Our research in learning disability also includes three completed projects funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund: Reclaiming the Past; a Hidden Heritage; and Days Gone By: Histories of Day Centres.

In 2007 we hosted an ESRC seminar series Service User Agendas in Research: Emancipatory and Inclusive Paradigms, in which university researchers and learning disabled researchers came together to debate and progress inclusive research paradigms.

We have also conducted research on children and disability in the international context through our work on the UNICEF Innocenti Research Project.

Our current research in long-term conditions includes the International Prevalence and Treatment of Diabetes and Depression (INTERPRET-DD) Study, a global study in 15 countries of the pathways to mental health care in people with diabetes, funded by the Association for Improvement of Mental Health Programmes under the auspices of the Dialogue on Diabetes and Depression.

In 2009 The Open University hosted an international meeting on Living with Long-term Conditions, and in July 2010 the Open University hosted a workshop entitled Living with long-term conditions: measuring psychological well-being in minority ethnic groups with diabetes. The proceedings of this workshop were published in the journal Diversity in Health and Care, and online on the websites of Diabetes UK and the South Asian Health Foundation.

Potential research projects

We’re actively looking for more postgraduate students to join us. For further information on potential research projects, supervisors and applying to study please see our Living with disability and long term conditions page within The Open University Research Degrees Prospectus.