Rethinking Care & Support: Listening to disabled young people

A picture of a woman in a wheelchair (Sally) with her assistance dog, Ethan.

Sally Whitney, Co-Researcher, Living Life to the Fullest

This week has been a big week for the Living Life to the Fullest project. We are very proud to announce a small impact project we are undertaking, led by our Co-Researcher Sally Whitney in collaboration with Canine Partners, a registered charity that partners specially trained assistance dogs with disabled people. 

For almost a year, our co-researchers have been collecting the stories of fellow disabled young people through multimedia interviewing, for example through Skype and Facebook.

Preliminary project findings have emphasised the benefits of assistance dogs for disabled young people living with life limiting and life threatening impairments (hereby LL/LTIs). Specifically, our focus in Living Life to the Fullest has developed from hearing young people’s stories about their relationships with their assistance animals, and the meaning this form of care and support has in their lives. For example, young people’s stories have emphasised (i) the positive emotional impacts of this form of support; (ii) the emergence of new intimacies between humans and animals; (iii) the ways in which assistance animals contribute to the building of positive identities and futures; and (iv) how they can transform the social lives and experiences of disabled young people with LL/LTIs.

“Around the university campus I had gone from being the girl in the wheelchair to being the girl with the amazing dog and that was a very liberating feeling”

– Living Life to the Fullest Participant

This is something we have written about before in Living Life to the Fullest. In 2018, co-researcher Lucy Watts MBE MUniv and Kirsty Liddiard co-authored a short article about human and animal intimacies, based on Lucy’s experience with her assistance dog, Molly – you can read this here.

“Making sure she’s ok is a reason for me to make sure I am ok – I look after myself better so that I can look after her as she deserves. People treat me differently too, they ask about the dog rather than asking why I’m in a wheelchair.”

– Living Life to the Fullest Participant

In collaboration with Canine Partners, then, in this small impact project we will evidence and quantify the benefits of assistance dogs for disabled young people with LL/LTIs. Nik Bakalov of the University of Sheffield will support this work. A key aim is to produce a quantitative analysis of the impact of an assistance dog on young people and communities. Living Life to the Fullest will share this with multiple audiences: disabled young people and their parents, carers, families and allies; policy makers; commissioners; local authorities; and health, education and social care professionals. We are also hoping to make a short animated film with the support of our Community Research Partner, Purple Patch Arts, to narrate and animate young people’s stories about why their assistance dogs are so important to them, their lives and their futures.

“Rover [assistance dog] is also great fun to have around and he keeps me motivated. He also makes me laugh a lot as he can be quite cheeky – he sometimes brings me the house phone or remote control even if I don’t need them just so he can get a treat.”

– Living Life to the Fullest Participant

We are really proud that this project is being led by Sally. Sally has lots of experience and is supported by her Canine Partner, Ethan.

Sally says, “Our research [Living Life to the Fullest] shows the power of a partnership between young disabled people and assistance dogs that goes far beyond the physical tasks they can do. We can’t wait to share the transformative effect of canine support in our upcoming film and quantitative analysis, that we hope will truly show how these amazing dogs change lives and empower and enable their humans to live even more fully.”

As always, we will keep you updated as this brilliant project progresses.

Sally Whitney and Kirsty Liddiard


Photographs courtesy of Woman’s Own (2018)


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