Research into practice

Wingham looks at research in northern England that investigates the links
between services for older people and disabled people.

older people also have disabilities. However, how disability is viewed by
politicians, policy makers and voluntary sector organisations is often quite
different for older than for younger people. The Centre for Disability Studies
at the University of Leeds has completed an interesting pilot study, which explores
how the issues of ageing and disability combine, the differences in focus of
how these groups are represented and how they view each other. The research
covers a wide area of political and policy debate, but also provides some
insights into cultural aspects of age and disability.

study focused on a single local authority in northern England and involved a
postal survey of 72 local voluntary sector organisations (53 returns) and
interviewed 21 representatives from these groups.

research paper provides a thought-provoking analysis on the way that older
people’s and disabled people’s groups have campaigned on similar issues, but in
a different way. Where disability groups have campaigned for accessible
housing, those representing older people have campaigned for "houses for
life". Where older people’s groups have argued for cold weather payments,
disability groups have campaigned for the recognition of the "additional
costs of impairment". While the United Nations year of older people
envisages a "society for all ages", disabled people’s groups have
sought to create an "enabling society".

study also gives insights into the cultural identification of old age. Some
ethnic minority groups in particular were seen to identify old age in terms of
production and reproduction (for example, if you are working or whether you had
become a grandparent). The researcher was told by a south Asian group that,
once over 40, females in particular are classed as elderly. With a grandchild,
a woman as young as 34 can be "elderly".

research concludes that there are many policy issues of common concern to
disabled people’s organisations and those representing the claims of older
people, but there remain barriers to identifying them on both sides.

research has implications for policy makers, but what relevance could this have
for social workers in the field? It may be important when undertaking a
community care assessment to consider whether there are "disability"
services that could be suitable for older people, from which they appear to be
excluded because of age.

work teams and individual workers may not even consider certain services or
support from an organisation because of age. They should not assume that
because someone is older they would not want to enjoy independence,
socialising, education or perhaps even employment. There may be a medical
service social workers feel is being denied someone because of their age, which
could be highlighted.

groups who claim to represent either "group" may need to be
challenged about their priorities and ethos. There may be common issues, which
need to be explored. The researchers suggest that there is evidence of
potential benefit of disability equality training with older persons’
organisations, which may lead to collaborative advocacy or a tactical alliance
between the two.

years ago I can recall that it was an issue that younger disabled people only
received services suitable for older people. Hopefully, some of these issues
have been addressed. We may need to move on further and think of the disability
issues of older people, and not see all disability as an inevitable result of
ageing, and age as a bar to services.

Building Bridges: Disability and Old Age, Centre of Disability Studies,
University of Leeds, LS2 9JT. Contact: Dr Mark Priestley. E-mail: 

Wingham is director of the Professional Independents Consultancy.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.