The Inclusive Archive of Learning Disability History

Inclusive Archive logo design by Charlie Minnion

The Inclusive Archive of Learning Disability History was a three year collaboration between The Open University, RIX Research and Media and Leeds University that was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project ran from March 2014 – June 2o17.

As part of the scoping of the project, The Social History of Learning Disability Research Group identified that there were lots of stories about learning disability history ‘out there’ but that they were very hard to find and there is a risk it will be forgotten. The Inclusive Archive Project was formed to research how more people with learning disabilities, their supporters and other people could:
1. Find out about the history
2. Add their own stories and perspectives to the history

The Inclusive Archive Project wanted to explore how more people could share their stories in way that was positive and safe. We knew the important role that archives can play in storing and preserving stories and records, and also in learning and accessing history. However, we also understood that there are some barriers that have previously stopped people with learning disabilities and their supporters depositing their stories in an archive. The project set out to identify and overcome the barriers, and create an archive that would be owned by people with learning disabilities.


RIX and the Inclusive Archive of Learning Disability History

RIX lead the technical strand of the project and worked with people with learning disabilities and their supporters to co-develop a digital archive. We did this by working with people with learning disabilities and their supporters using our inclusive research methods.


We ran two events we called Technical Sandpits at the University, and invited lots of different people with learning disabilities and their supporters to come. In these events we explored ideas about how our digital archive would need to work by trying out prototypes, using pictures and videos and discussions.


people with their archive things

A film prop and a memory box brought to our Sandpit by some of our co-researchers


We broke down all the parts of the journey to depositing something in an archive, starting with the ‘thing’ that you might want to share, to digisitising it using pictures and videos, and describing your ‘thing’ using whatever communication people preferred.


T-shirt, drawings and CDs from Apex Choir in our ‘Pop up Museum’


We also asked the important question:  Who do you want to share with and why?

We found this wasn’t always the answer we were expecting, and that the sharing process on our archive needed to be as flexible as possible and put the user in control of how long they share their story and who with. This could be with as little as one person, or a group of friends. People said they might change their mind over time.


Notes made by Access All Areas on sharing their stories with everyone in the world.


Having explored these ideas we created a user journey that started with someone having something to contribute and then ending with them deciding to share and interacting with people on the archive. We also explored the other function of an archive which is a place where people can find and discover the contents of the archive.


User journey for adding something to the archive

User journey for finding and discovering stories on the archive


We then worked closely with our partner co-researchers from the Woodbine Group based in Redbridge, and Carlisle People First Research Team, to refine the user journeys as we translated them to digital versions we could try out.


Working with the Woodbine Group on the designs of the archive.


We also had to think about consent on the digital archive. We wanted to make sure that anyone that wants to add to the archive can do so, including those with high support needs. We found that the guidance for anyone supporting someone with high support needs in adding something to an archive was difficult to find and the advice unclear. Our fantastic collaborators at the Open University led a whole strand of research on this topic, even seeking legal advice into their findings. Lots more information on this work can be found on the Inclusive Archive project website here.


Workshop where we are drawing ‘obstacles’ on the road to giving consent, lead by Carlisle People First Research Team


The Prototype Archive

The digital archive was finished in March 2017 by RIX Research and Media and Multime  and anyone can sign up to it by going to:  It’s called a prototype because we had lots of ideas that we wanted to make in the first version but we couldn’t fit them all in in the amount of time we had. We still have lots of our ideas ready for the next version of the digital archive.


Image of the Inclusive Archive homepage


On the 31st March 2017 at the London Metropolitan Archives we had a showcase to celebrate the Inclusive Archive of Learning Disability History Project. It was a chance for everyone involved to present their work to the network of interested people we know, including our co-researchers, archivists and researchers.  There was even a theatre performance by Access All Areas!

Image of the Woodbine Group presenting their stories on the Inclusive Archive site at our launch.

It was also a chance for us to hear your ideas on where we are headed next. In a fun task, we all wrote or drew our ideas for the future of the Inclusive Archive of Learning Disability History on a paper plane, and we all launched them together as a symbolic end to the project!