Antonia's story: Bringing the past into the future

Owen Barden*, Steven J. Walden, Nicole Bird, Stella Cairns, Rhiannon Currie, Lynne Evans, Stephen Jackson, Emily Oldnall, Sarah Oldnall, Dawn Price, Tricia Robinson, Amber Tahir, Christine Wright, Claire Wright

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: This paper reports on a participatory project on the history of learning disability. The paper makes contributions to discourses on using participatory research methods with people labelled with learning disabilities, on the nature of research impact in participatory research, and on the lived experience of learning disability today. Methods: We used a two‐step methodology. The first step involved searching for and selecting archive material relating to the history of learning disability. The second step involved a series of participatory workshops. We worked collectively to systematically analyse the case history of Antonia Grandoni. Then we responded to it in a variety of creative ways. In doing so, we made connections between Antonia's life and our own. Findings: Many of Antonia's experiences seem very similar to what people labelled with learning disabilities often encounter today. These include discrimination, segregation and dehumanisation. Despite this, we very much enjoyed doing the research. As well as finding out about the history, some of us learned new skills, some of us grew in confidence, and we also made new friends. Conclusions: Participatory methods are an effective way of making digital archive material more accessible to people labelled with learning disabilities. In this project, using participatory methods revealed a lot of parallels between how we think somebody experienced learning disability in the mid‐19th century, and how it is experienced today. They also resulted in significant impact on the people doing the research.
Original languageEnglish
Article number12447
Pages (from-to)258-269
Number of pages12
JournalBritish Journal of Learning Disabilities
Issue number2
Early online date17 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • disability politics
  • history of learning disability
  • learning (intellectual) disabilities
  • research


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