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Introducing Research Abilities: the creative group that offers researchers a new perspective

Research Abilities is a group that offers researchers the opportunity to discuss their ideas with people who have learning disabilities. The group was founded in partnership with the Lawnmowers Theatre Company as the Learning Disability Research Support Group. Their biggest aims are to make research more inclusive and to help people understand what research is about.

The group can help researchers in a number of ways:

  • choosing a research topic
  • creating research questions
  • writing a plain English and/or easy read summary with no jargon
  • thinking about how to plan and collect research information in an accessible way
  • advising on how to find people with learning disabilities and ask them to take part in research in a welcoming and respectful way

One way that Research Abilities helps researchers is by expressing ideas in a way that is easy to understand. For example, a simple way to describe the relationship between researchers and the people who will benefit from research is by thinking of the researcher as a ‘chef’ making soup and the people who will benefit as the ‘customers’. The soup needs to be cooked the right way so that the customers are satisfied.

The group has been involved in many different projects over the last few years. For example, they have created a set of ‘Communi-cards’, which each feature a different emoji that help people express themselves more easily during online and face-to-face meetings.

The cards have been distributed across various organisations in the North East, including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead, and they have also been adopted into the Learning Disability Diamond Standard Acute Care Pathways.

Creativity is a common thread that runs throughout all of Research Abilities’ projects. One such project was about understanding people’s views on dental care for people with learning disabilities. The group devised a drama game which involved thinking about what gift they would give the researcher to help them in their work, for example the gift of time. The group has continued to work on this project and is now creating a play and a storyboard to tell people about the research.

Another example of how Research Abilities uses creative methods is the Creative Health Awareness Training (CHAT) programme. During the training, participants experience a 20-minute theatre piece that shows areas of healthcare that people with learning disabilities find inaccessible. Members of Research Abilities play characters and act out scenes based on real-life experience. Participants then work with the actors to improve the circumstances of the scene. Watch this video to find out more about the CHAT programme.

A big highlight for Research Abilities was when they presented at the Art Therapy Practice Research Network (ATPRN) symposium in 2021. A university lecturer based in Singapore was so impressed with their work that he invited the group to present in front of his class. Although the presentation did not happen in the end for logistical reasons, the invitation and positive feedback nevertheless meant a lot to the group.

The ATPRN symposium led to another opportunity working with an art therapist to explore the power of labels and language for people with learning disabilities. The group worked with the research team to see how people can be excluded from health and care research because of labels and jargon. A paper which describes the creative ways the contributors worked together using performance, music and poetry, was published last November.

So what does the future hold for Research Abilities? The group is applying to present a theatre piece about accessible research at this year’s R&D Forum in Newcastle. The group will continue its activism in making healthcare research more inclusive, while also looking for more paid work to generate funding for bigger, more ambitious projects.

If you would like to get in touch with Research Abilities to explore how they can help you, you can contact them on They would love to hear from you!