DISSERTATION: What are the barriers facing children from ethnic minorities with disabilities in accessing services aged between 1-18 around Birmingham? – 10,000 words

What are the barriers facing children from ethnic minorities with disabilities in accessing services aged between 1-18 around Birmingham? 





Introduction                                                                            p.1

Background                                                                            p.5

Aims and Objectives                                                              p.6

Literature Review                                                                   p.7

Methodology                                                                          p.12

Design of the Instrument                                                        p.14

Sample                                                                                                p.20

Reliability and Validity                                                          p.21

Pilot Study                                                                              p.22

Data Analysis                                                                         p.23

Ethical Issues                                                                          p.24

Reflective Account                                                                 p.25

References                                                                              p.26

Appendix                                                                                p.29


The focus of this research proposal is to examine the treatment of disabled children from ethnic minorities in Birmingham.  Although this is a specific issue based in one geographical location, the implications of this subject are wide-ranging.  The treatment of both ethnic minorities and people with disabilities are key issues in human rights.  In 1975, the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Disabled Persons stated:


“Disabled persons, whatever their origin, nature or seriousness of their handicaps and disabilities, have the same fundamental rights as their fellow citizens of the same age, which implies first and foremost the right to enjoy a decent life, as normal and as full as possible.”  (Barron and Amerena, 2007, p.13)


In 1994, this statement was expanded upon to ensure that policies were implemented to provide equal opportunities for people with disabilities.  In a document entitled Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, the United Nations stated:


“Persons with disabilities are members of society and have the right to remain within their local communities.  They should receive the support they need within the ordinary structures of education, health, employment and social services.” (IDDC, 2004, para. 26)


However, are these measures being put into place by social services and other institutions?  If so, are disabled young people from ethnic minority groups receiving the same quality of service as other disabled young people?

This study will not begin with the assumption that young disabled people from ethnic minorities are discriminated against, as the use of the term “discrimination” suggests a deliberate attempt to deny people services that are available to others.  If there are barriers facing young people in accessing services, these may be due to organisational factors rather than deliberate discrimination.  For example, there may be a lack of understanding about the young person’s needs due to a lack of education and training.  The young person and their parents or guardians may be faced with cultural and linguistic barriers, which may be due to a lack of statutory organisations to meet the needs of ethnic minorities.  It may be the case that some of the negative experiences faced by disabled people from ethnic minorities are also experienced by other disabled people.  These are issues that need to be identified as barriers concerning disability as a whole rather than ethnicity.  This study will aim to identify these problems, with a view to providing an insight into how our institutions may be improved.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines disability in the following terms:


“Disability is a generic term that includes impairments in body functions and structures, activity limitation and participation restrictions.  It indicates the negative aspects of the interaction between an individual (with a “health condition”) and his context (environmental and personal factors).”  (WHO, 2006)


This study will adhere to this definition, as my aim is to investigate the experience of young people across a broad range of disabilities, rather than focusing on one specific area.  In doing so, I may be able to discover if some disability groups are better catered for than others, and if there are more barriers facing particular disabilities.

I will apply the same principle to ethnic minority groups by studying a range of communities rather than one specific ethnic group.  This will allow me to determine whether or not all ethnic minorities face the same challenges, or if there are specific problems associated with particular groups.

The term “ethnic minority” is perhaps more difficult to define.  In their introduction to the book, Ethnic Minorities in Britain, Modood et al suggest:


“In principle, an ethic group would be defined as a community whose heritage offers important characteristics in common between its members and which makes them distinct from other communities.  There is a boundary which separates “us” from “them,” and the distinction would probably be recognised on both sides of the boundary.” (Modood et al, 1997, p.13)


However, these boundaries are often blurred.  For example, would a person of mixed race be defined as an ethnic minority under this definition?  In surveys and equal opportunities questionnaires, skin colour is used as a determining factor in categorising a person’s ethnicity – for example, “White British,” or “Black Caribbean”.  However, as Modood et al argue:


“colour cannot be used to distinguish between minority groups (for example, between Caribbeans and Africans, or between Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis).  So it is inadequate as a criterion on its own.”  (Modood et al, 1997, p.13)


Similarly, a person’s religion may be unhelpful as a definition of ethnicity.  Many people with Afro-Caribbean and Asian origins come from Christian backgrounds rather than minority faiths.  These are issues to be considered when formulating my study, and it will be necessary to acknowledge these problems when defining the ethnicity of my participants.

A more useful definition of an ethnic group can be found in Paul Spicker’s Social Policy: Themes and Approaches:


“Ethnic group: A group of people separated from the main population by differences in history and culture.”  (Spicker, 2008, p.290)


By focusing on history and culture instead of religion and skin colour, Spicker’s definition acknowledges that ethnicity is based around cultural rather than biological differences.  His reference to history acknowledges that minority groups may have their origins in other countries, but this is not necessarily defined by skin colour.

Two key pieces of legislation are vital to this study.  The first is the Disability Discrimination Act (2006), which makes it illegal to discriminate against any person in the UK on the grounds of their disability.  This is an amendment to the 1995 Act, which came into effect as a result of years of campaigning by disability organisations and disabled people who demanded equality of access to employment and services.  As Eleanor Ellison writes:


“Since December 1996, it has been unlawful for service providers – that is anyone providing a service directly to the general public – to discriminate against disabled people by:


–        Refusing service

–        Offering a worse service

–        Offering a service on worse terms.”  (Ellison, 2002, p.8)


In other words, not only is it unethical to discriminate on the grounds of disability, it is also illegal.  It will be important to keep the Disability Discrimination Act in mind while conducting my study, because there are both ethical and legal implications to disability discrimination.

The second key piece of legislation is the Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000), which requires services to develop what is known as a Race Equality Scheme (RES) to show how they will fulfil their statutory duties.  Under the Act, services have the duty to promote equality of opportunity, to promote good relations between all ethnic groups, and to eliminate unfair racial discrimination.  Racial discrimination was outlawed in Britain with the 1976 Race Relations Act.  The 2000 Act is an amendment to the 1976 Act.  However, as Hari Sewell argues, this law is not always adhered to, and is not always enforced.  Sewell writes:


“The law on its own does not act as a deterrent except for when there is a high probability of prosecution or sanctions for breaking it.”  (Sewell, 2009, p.26)


Is the Race Relations Act always adhered to in social services in Birmingham?  This is a controversial question, as there are legal implications.  When asking questions of this nature, it is important to be tactful, as a researcher could be accused on making unreasonable accusations.  Nonetheless, it is important to ensure that the Race Relations Act is adhered to by all organisations, not simply because it is the law, but also because it is their duty to do so.







Attitudes and perceptions regarding disability have changed over time, and the ways in which people with disabilities are treated by institutions have also changed.  Traditionally, people with disabilities were treated under the medical model, which placed them in the same category as people with other medical conditions.  The medical model has since been criticised for focusing on the impairment and not the person.  As Barron and Amerena argue, this approach is often associated with negative ideas of:


“      – Permanence (there is little chance of meaningful change)

– Dependency (the individual needs to be “looked after”)

– Passivity (the disabled person is not capable of self-determination).” (Barron and Amerena, 2007, p.9)


Firstly, therefore, the medical model can be accused of patronising people with disabilities by limiting their opportunities for independence.  Secondly, by ignoring the individual nature of people, the medical model disregards the disabled person’s cultural, social and physical environment.  In this way, a person from an ethnic minority may be treated in exactly the same way as a person from the majority, in spite of any cultural, economic or linguistic differences.

As a result of widespread dissatisfaction with the medical model, the social model was introduced in order to take social and environmental factors into account.  This involves seeing the disabled person as an individual rather than as a particular type of person.  The social model involves recognising the differing cultural backgrounds of people with disabilities, including a person’s ethnicity.  Barron and Amerena state:


“Clearly the social model of disability aligns closely with the Declaration of Human Rights, so that assessment and treatment of the individual is related directly to addressing the barriers and providing the supporters that help realise equality of opportunity.”  (Barron and Amerena, 2007, p.10.)


The social model recognises that a person’s disability may be due to social factors, and if these social factors can be adjusted, the impact of the disability may be lessened.  As Spicker notes, it is for this reason that terms such as “handicapped” have become unacceptable terms, as they imply a permanent situation regardless of social factors.  (Spicker, 2008, p.57)

However, has the social model been fully adopted by our institutions, or does the medical model still prevail in some areas?  How does this affect the treatment of young disabled people from ethic minorities?





Aims and Objectives:


In this study, I aim to address the following questions:


1)  Do children from ethnic minorities face social and material disadvantage?
2)  Are they excluded from mainstream society?
3)  Are families from ethnic minorities not advised on the rights of services and benefits available to them?
4)  Do they face language barriers?
5)  Are their cultural and religious needs taken into account?
6)   Is there a sufficient amount of statutory organisations to meet the needs of ethnic minorities?
7)  Are children from ethnic minorities with disabilities offered second rate services?

Through addressing these questions, I intend to identify what particular barriers are facing young disabled people from ethnic minorities.  I also intend to identify any areas within social services that appear to be lacking adequate provision and support for people from ethnic minority groups.

Crucially, I intend to draw a distinction between the treatment of young disabled people from the “white” majority, and compare that with the treatment of young disabled people from ethnic minorities.  Is there a difference between the ways in which social services deal with people from different groups?  If so, is the difference positive or negative?  On one level, it is necessary to offer the same quality of service to all people.  Therefore, treating people in the same way can be considered a good thing.  However, on another level, it is important to acknowledge the cultural needs of individual people, and cater for their needs on that basis.  In this respect, it is important to treat people from ethnic minorities in a different way to the majority.  It could be argued that equality can only be achieved through treating people differently, rather that offering exactly the same services to all people.




Literature Review:


In the 1970s and 1980s, educators and social work practitioners were heavily criticised as under-representing the needs of ethnic minorities (ADSS / CRE 1978; Taylor, 1981; Rooney, 1980; Small, 1984; Sewell, 1985; Devine, 1983; Tipler, 1986; Dominelli, 1988; Williams, 1987).  Other studies specifically identified the existence of racism in social work (ADSS / CRE, 1978; Gitterman and Schaeffer, 1972; Banks, 1971; Kent, 1972; Small, 1984; Sewell, 1985; Fletchman-Smith, 1984).

In the 1990s, these problems did not appear to have improved.  In an essay in the Racism and Antiracism: Inequalities, Opportunities and Policies, edited by Braham et al, Lena Dominelli draws a distinction between three different types of racism: individual, institutional and cultural racism.  Individual racism takes place at an individual level, directed from one individual towards a racial group.  Institutional racism,


“draws on the public legitimisation of prejudice, i.e. the institutionalized exercise of power to exclude groups which are defined as racially inferior from having access to society’s resources and power and pathologize or blame those so excluded for their predicament.” (Braham et al, 1999, p.165)


Finally, cultural racism makes assumptions about a person’s cultural background based on racial stereotyping, assuming that all members of a particular ethnic group behave in the same way as each other.  Dominelli argues that these three types of racism interact with and reinforce each other, and all of these three aspects of racism are prevalent in social work.  (Throughout this essay, Dominelli uses the term “black” to refer to all people of Afro-Caribbean and Asian origin.)  Dominelli writes:


“The two channels through which racism makes its presence felt in social work practise mark social work’s contradictory relationship to black people.  The contradiction between excluding black people from welfare services and including them in provisions oriented around social work’s social control function can be explained in terms of the impact of racism in its three forms on the different relationships white social workers have with different client groups within the black population.  In other words, those black client groups which white social workers consider “deserving” of services, but whose needs are deemed to be catered for through black self-help groups and community kinship networks, are shunted off through the exclusive channel.  Meanwhile, those black client groups which white social workers see as deviating from acceptable white social norms are considered potentially threatening and in need of control to ensure that their socialisation takes place in accordance with white middle-class expectations.” (Braham et al, 1999,p.166)


The assumption that ethnic minority communities are able to deal with their own problems to a large extent within extended families and other networks within their communities is an example of cultural racism.  It ignores the fact that many people from ethnic minorities may not have extended families in the United Kingdom, and may well be isolated from other members of the ethnic group they belong to.  Institutional racism comes into play when it comes to dealing with groups who are considered to be “threatening”.  In these cases, people are not treated on an equal basis, but are discriminated against purely on the grounds of their ethnicity.

While Dominelli’s argument is very relevant to this study, it is important to acknowledge the extent to which Dominelli generalises about the relationship between “black” clients and “white” social workers.  By using the word “black” as an umbrella term for all people of Afro-Caribbean and Asian origin, Dominelli ignores the many differences between ethnic minority groups.  Also, speaking about “white” social workers may lead to the implication that all social workers are white.  However, as Dominelli points out, ethnic minorities are under-represented when it comes to employment within social services.  This is backed up by several studies (ADSS / CRE, 1978; ABSWAP, 1981; BICSG, 1984; Stubbs, 1985).

Are these problems still prevalent in social work in the 21st Century?  After the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report at the end of the last decade (Macpherson, 1999), the problem of institutional racism became an issue for all public institutions in the United Kingdom, including social services.  However, to what extent were the recommendations of the Macpherson Report implemented?  My study will attempt to answer this question by acknowledging that in the past social services have been guilty of institutional racism.  I will aim to find out if this institutional racism still exists in social work, will aim to discover whether or not appropriate steps been taken to eradicate it.

In the 1990s, Dominelli put forward an argument for social workers to receive antiracism training.  (Braham et al, 1999, p.173)  This is now a part of social work training, but how effective is this education for social workers?  Antiracist training will only be effective within the public services that are free from institutional racism.

A similar point is put forward by The Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain.  The Commission was set up in 1998 as an independent think-tank, which aimed to promote racial justice in Britain.  The Parekh Report, named after the chair, Bhikhu Parekh, was published in 2000.  The Report states:


“The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report, with its disturbing finding of institutional racism in the police service – and by extension all public bodies and institutions – was a sombre reminder of the challenges that must be faced.”  (Parekh et al. 2000, p.14)


In other words, the Report may have identified problems of institutional racism, but it is up to the institutions themselves, and the governing bodies that regulate those institutions to bring about positive change.

Issues of human rights are central to the Parekh Report, and this raises important questions regarding both ethnicity and disability.  The Report argues that more needs to be done to implement human rights for all people:


“The Human Rights Act is unlikely to achieve its potential, either to protect rights or to foster a human rights culture, if there is no statutory body to drive process forward.  Just as the government in the 1970s saw the need to establish the CRE and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in order to enforce the anti-discrimination legislation – and just as the Disability Rights Commission has now been set up to do the same in relation to disability – so there must be an effective body to promote and enforce human rights.”  (Parekh et al. 2000, p.101)


Can problems of institutional racism be solved without an effective body to promote human rights?  The same question could be asked of discrimination against people with disabilities.  The Report acknowledges that important measures have been put into place regarding the treatment of people with disabilities, particularly the success of the Disability Rights Commission.  However, the Report also asks the question, if there is not enough focus on human rights, to what extent can people with disabilities, and people from ethnic minorities be treated as equal?

An important book to consider in this study is Laura Middleton’s Disabled Children: Challenging Social Exclusion.  This is a key text because it examines the experiences of young disabled people from ethnic minority groups.  Middleton refers to the work of Z. Kurtz, who found that relatively high numbers of disabled children are born into ethic minority communities (Kurtz, 1993).  Despite this, Middleton argues:


“Parents from minority ethnic groups may find themselves even more cut off from advice, support and positive role models … This means examining issues like racism is service provision and differing cultural understandings of disability.  Whatever such cultural differences may be, the principles of equality between disabled and non-disabled children remains the same, and should serve as a starting point for discussion with parents about ways in which their disabled children may become disadvantaged.”  (Middleton, 1999, p.128.)


It is important to consider that disabled people from ethnic minorities are a minority group within a minority group.  Therefore it is particularly important for appropriate services to be provided for young people in this situation, because without support, they may be made to feel particularly isolated.  However, Middleton’s suggestion that disability can be used as “a starting point for discussion” implies that the opportunity for discussion is available to people all the time.  In reality, people from ethnic minorities may find it difficult to communicate with schools and social services, particularly where there is a linguistic barrier.  Also, while discussion of issues are very important, there need to be positive conclusions from these discussions, leading to positive actions.  The crucial issue here is that young disabled people need access to services.  If there are barriers in place that restrict the young person’s access to these services, having discussions with other people who are in the same situation can help to educate people about what services are available to them, and how they can be accessed.  However, not all people will have this kind of support network in place.  If there are cultural or linguistic barriers to be overcome in order to inform people about what services are available to them, it is the responsibility of practitioners to make this information available to all people.

Middleton’s argument that there is a lack of positive role models for disabled people from ethnic minorities is echoed in Dominelli’s case study, which tells the story of a Sikh woman’s experience of using social services.  When she was taken in for an interview, the woman found:


“the walls were covered with posters of white people – young and old, telling them of the services which were on offer to them.”  (Braham et al, 1999, p.168)


There is, of course, a simple solution to this problem.  If social services were to present young disabled people from ethnic minorities with images of people in the same situation as them, and acknowledge that there are many other people throughout the UK in the same situation as them, this will be a positive step towards making the person feel less isolated.  Dominelli’s study was conducted in the 1990s before the Macpherson Report.  Are the same problems of a lack of positive role models being faced in 2009, or has the situation improved?  This will be an important consideration for my study.

Middleton argues that it is vital for children with disabilities to acquire a positive identity and a positive self-image.  She writes:


“There may be additional complications for disabled black children since experiencing both racism and disablism can make it even harder to understand what is going on or how to get help … A disabled black girl is in a smaller minority than a disabled white girl in the UK and she may find it harder to find other children like herself.”  (Middleton, 1999, p.124-5)


This problem may exist in varying degrees, depending on the young person’s disability, and also on their particular ethic group.  Some disabilities are more common than others, just as some ethnic groups are proportionally larger than other ethnic groups.  To a certain extent, this will also depend on the geographical area in which the person lives.  My study will be based in Birmingham, which has a higher proportion of ethnic minorities than the national average (See Appendix 1).  If my study were to be conducted in a different part of the UK, the results may be quite different.

Middleton also makes the important point that gender is an important part of a young person’s identity in addition to their ethnicity.  Middleton argues that “we conceptualise disabled children as without gender.”  (Middleton, 1999, p.124)  However, it is obvious that there are differences between gender groups, and boys will be dealt with in a different way to girls.  In my study, it will be necessary to ask questions about how social services deal with young people of different genders.  How will this affect the way in which young disabled people from ethnic minorities access services?  Is there equality, or are there more barriers in place for females or for males?

A series of studies have focussed on disability among the Asian population (Balarajan and Botting, 1989; Lumb et al, 1981; Kurtz, 1993; Hopkins and Bahl, 1993).  However, Middleton argues that because these studies are medically orientated and quantitative in nature, they tend to see the child as the “problem”.  This is very much in keeping with the medical model.  What we need are more qualitative studies based on the social model.  Middleton writes:


“The number of children born with impairments is disproportionately high … The coincidence of disability has been variously noted with inter-marriage (consanguinity), vegetarian diets, low immunisation rates, poor ante-natal attendance and high birth incidence.  Furthermore, Asian communities have been noted to make less use of health services.”  (Middleton, 1999, p.133.)


Middleton argues that the quantitative studies on this subject do not provide any adequate explanation as to why Asian communities are less likely to use health services, and argues that institutional racism within white-dominated services are to blame.  Perhaps a qualitative study into the barriers facing young disabled people from ethnic minorities will be the best way of investigating these issues.

One area in which there are significant differences between ethnic groups is mental health.  This is the subject of Hari Sewell’s book, Working With Ethnicity, Race and Culture in Mental Health: A Handbook for Practitioners.  While the subject matter of this book refers mainly to adults, the same principles can be applied to young people with mental health problems, and their ability to access services.  People with mental health problems may not necessarily be regarded as “disabled,” and may not be subject to the Disability Discrimination Act.  For example, if a person is sectioned under the Mental Health Act (2007), this means that certain rights have been taken away from them in the interests of personal and public safety.  Nonetheless, the principles that Sewell outlines in this book can be applied to the treatment of young disabled people from ethnic minorities.  Sewell draws on personal experience of racist attitudes in health care:


“During a training session on race and mental health in 1993 a white community psychiatric nurse said that she did not “get into all that stuff” as it would make her job too difficult (i.e. taking account of ethnic, racial and cultural needs of service users).  Her comments indicated that she behaved as though this element of practice was optional.  This was a racist view.  It has always been the case that practitioners have an obligation to take into account the whole person.  This includes their racial, ethnic and cultural background.”  (Sewell, 2009, p.26)


Sewell’s reason for telling this story is to illustrate the argument that although we may have legislation outlawing racial discrimination, this will not make a big difference to the way in which people from ethnic minorities are treated unless we are able to rid our institutions, and our culture in general, of racist attitudes.  Sewell’s argument is reflected by Vic Finkelstein and Ossie Stuart in the book, Beyond Disability: Towards an Enabling Society, edited by Gerald Hales.  Finkelstein and Stuart write:


“Put simply, attitudes towards black people embedded in British culture mean that racist assumptions about black and Asian culture continue to set boundaries of the black British experience for the foreseeable future.  Without cultural change legislation of the kind championed by ethnic minorities will remain restricted and of limited value.” (Hales, ed. 1996, p.175)


Sewell suggests the way to combat negative attitudes is through education, learning and development.  Sewell uses this terminology instead of “training,” which he argues is becoming an outdated term.  “Education, learning and development” reflects an increased emphasis on the active role of the individual in learning.  Sewell’s argument is backed up by several studies (Banfield and Kay, 2008; Collin, 2007; Bloisi 2006: Owen, 2006; Reid and Barrington, 1999).  Sewell writes:


“Training is often suggested as the solution to problems when performance is poor, service users complain or where other evidence of a skill or knowledge gap emerges.  There is a range of mechanisms for closing the gaps.  The use of a competency-based approach focuses more on the outcomes being pursued.”  (Sewell, 2009, p.157)


Of course, Sewell’s suggestions are speculations about how services should be run, and how training should be provided.  A crucial question for this study is, are these suggestions being put into place by social services?  Are the principles of education, learning and development being adopted?  If so, how effective are these education programmes?  What impact do they have on the services that are available to young disabled people from ethnic minorities?  Are barriers being broken down effectively?







Action Research:


As this is an examination of social work in practice, which has an aim to identify areas that may need to be improved within social work, I have decided to use action research as my approach.  Stephen Kemmis and Robin McTaggart define action research as:


“a form of collective self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own social or educational practices as well as their understanding of these practices and the situations in which these practises are carried out.”  (Kemmis and McTaggart, ed. 1988, p.5)


Using action research within this study will allow the participants to take a more active role in the research I am undertaking, rather than being used as passive subjects for the research.  In other words, I will be considering other people’s points of view by researching in a collaborative way.  Kemmis and McTaggart argue that action research recognises that,


“human beings are social beings, and that language, activities and relationships are socially constructed.”  (Kemmis and McTaggart, ed. 1988, p.16)


This method is therefore highly appropriate for this study, which is partly an examination of social attitudes regarding issues relating to ethnicity and disability.  On a wider level, this study is concerned with the culture of social services as an institution.  I will examine firstly what measures have been put in place regarding provisions for disabled young people from ethnic minorities.  Secondly, I will investigate how successfully these measures are implemented by practitioners.  If there is a lack of understanding about the needs of disabled young people from ethnic minorities, this may be due to a lack of understanding on a cultural level.



Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research:


Spicker draws the following comparision between quantitative and qualitative research:


“Qualitative research is commonly aimed at producing material to help explain issues, answering questions beginning with “why?”, “who?” and “how?”, as well as some questions about process – such as “what is happening?”.  Quantitative research is research which measures effects … Numbers are used to answer questions like “how much?”, “to what extent?”, “what proportion?” and “what are the differences?”.”  (Spicker, 2008, p.223)


Action research requires the researcher to adopt a subjective approach to their research, which may imply that qualitative rather than quantitative methods should be used in the study.  Because they are more concerned with facts and statistics, which are less open to interpretation, quantitative methods offer a more objective approach.  However, is it appropriate for a study of this nature to disregard quantitative methods?  The question for this project is, “What are the barriers facing children from ethnic minorities with disabilities in accessing services aged between 1-18 around Birmingham?”  In other words, I am attempting to discover concrete facts about the difference between young disabled people from ethnic minorities and other service users.

However, I am not entirely sure that these facts can be obtained through statistics.  What is needed is a fuller understanding of the issue, which can only be achieved through a qualitative approach.  Therefore, I propose to use both quantitative and qualitative methods in the study.  The quantitative approach will allow me to identify specific barriers that are faced by young disabled people from ethnic minorities.  The qualitative approach will aim to uncover the reasons for these barriers being in place.  In doing so, this may lead to some positive conclusions about how these barriers can be done away with.







Design of the Instrument:





Issues surrounding barriers facing disabled young people from ethnic minorities are complex, and need to be examined in depth, taking the perspective of both practitioners and service users into account.  In this study, I will use open-ended or in-depth interviews.  In order to gain an understanding of both sides, I will interview both social work practitioners and the parents or guardians of young service users about their experience of accessing services.

I have decided to interview the parents or guardians of the children rather than the children themselves, because there are various problems associated with interviewing children.  Firstly, there are ethical considerations, and some parents may not agree to allow their child to be interviewed.  Secondly, the child may not be particularly responsive when it comes to answering questions.  Issues surrounding disability and ethnicity may be very difficult for a child to talk about, particularly if they have been a victim of bullying because of their disability or ethnicity.  Also, the child may not be aware of the specific difficulties they have faced when attempting to access services, because it will most likely be their parents or guardians who have had the experience of accessing services.

For example, one particular issue facing the parents or guardians of disabled children is respite care.  Respite care is available to relieve carers of their duties caring for their child, and it is very important for the welfare of carers that they have access to respite care.  Do families from ethnic minorities have the same access to respite care as people from the majority?  If so, are their cultural needs being met?  The best way to address this question will be to interview parents of disabled children from the majority in addition to the ethnic minority groups.  With this data, I will then be able to compare the experiences of people from different groups, and assess whether or not the barriers they face apply to all people with disabilities, or if there are specific barriers for people from ethnic minority groups.

Robert G. Burgess suggests that in-depth interviews offer:


“the opportunity for the researcher to probe deeply, to uncover new clues, to open up new dimensions of a problem and to secure vivid, accurate, inclusive accounts that are based on personal experience.” (Burgess, 1982, p.107)


In-depth interviews are largely unstructured, and therefore there are no rules regarding the direction of the conversation.  In some respects, the interviewee is in control of the conversation, because to a certain extent, it is their decision what they choose to speak about.  The interviewer’s role is to guide the conversation in the right direction.  If the interviewee moves onto a subject that is irrelevant to the study, it is necessary for the interviewer to guide the conversation back to the subject in hand.  This may be problematic, in the sense that it requires the interviewer to make a decision about what is relevant and what is not relevant to the study.  Some qualitative researchers would argue that anything the interviewee says is relevant, because if it were not relevant, it would not have occurred to them to speak about it.  In other words, anything that is relevant to the interviewee is relevant to the study.

A distinction can be drawn between structured and unstructured interviews in terms of who controls the conversation.  In structured interviews, which use more closed questions and expect shorter answers, the interviewer is very much in control of the conversation in terms of what is being discussed.  In an unstructured interview, the conversation may go off on a tangent depending on what the interviewee says.  The interviewer may ad lib prompt questions based on the interviewee’s responses.  In this case, the interviewee is more in control of the conversation.  Perhaps the ideal structure for my interviews would be a situation in which the interviewee is allowed to go into depth and elaborate on their answers, but in which ultimately the interviewer guides the conversation in the direction they want.  This is known as a semi-structured interview.

Because this study will adopt an action research approach, if the participant takes control of the interview, this will not necessarily be a problem, because as I have already suggested, action research is a collaborative approach.  This means that I will involve the participant within the research, and encourage them to make enquiries into their own experience.  In this sense, the interviews could be seen more as conversations or discussions, rather than a straightforward series of questions and answers.

In a semi-structured interview, the researcher may ask both open and closed questions.  In his book, Social Research: Issues, Methods and Process, Tim May writes:


“Questions are normally specified, but the interviewer is freer to probe beyond the answers in a manner that would appear prejudicial to the aims of standardisation and comparability.  Information about age, sex, occupation, type of household and so on, can be asked in a standardised format.  The interviewer, who can seek both clarification and elaboration on the answers given, can then record qualitative information about the topic.” (May, 2001, p.123)


In my study, it will be important to obtain a certain amount of quantitative information from the interviewee.  For example, I will need to know what kind of ethnic group they are from.  It will also be important to know how long they have been using social services, in order to discover if the quality of service they have received has changed over the years they have used the service.  When interviewing parents, I will also find out something about their economic background in order to contrast the experience of people from different economic backgrounds.  Could it be the case that a person’s economic background rather than ethnicity which creates more barriers?  Would a rich person from an ethnic minority have better access to services than a poor person from the majority group?

I will also ask more open-ended questions, which will allow the interviewee to go into more depth about their experiences.  When interviewing parents or guardians, I will focus particularly on the following questions:


–        How would you rate the quality of service you have received?

–        What problems have you encountered in accessing services?

–        What advice were you given about the benefits and services available to you?  Was this information easily obtainable?

–        Do you think the quality of service has changed in the years you have been using these services?


When interviewing social service practitioners, I will focus particularly on the following questions:


–        How much education, learning and development have you been given in training, and as a practitioner?  Do you think this level of training is enough to fully understand the cultural needs of people from ethnic minority groups?

–        What barriers are faced by young disabled people from ethnic minorities when accessing services?

–        Do you think there should be more statutory organisations to meet the needs of ethnic minorities?


As May suggests, as an interviewer, it will be necessary to ask prompt questions, which will clarify particular points, and seek further elaboration on a particular subject.  A prompt question could be, “Why do you think that is the case?” or “Can you think of an example of that?”  Some interviewees will need more prompt questions than others, depending on how responsive they are.

In all interviews, it is important to be wary of bias.  First of all, we need to consider if the interviewee is biased towards a certain point of view, and if so, how does their bias affect their judgement?  We also need to be aware of our own bias as interviewers.  What are our own views on the issue, and how do they affect the way we approach the interview?  We may find ourselves asking leading questions – i.e. questions in which the interviewer’s bias is implied, and will therefore be more likely to lead to the answer the interviewer was hoping for.  For example, in my proposed study, I might say, “Children from ethnic minorities with disabilities are offered second rate services – don’t you agree?”  The way in which this question is worded makes it sound more like a statement of fact than an open-ended question, which would make the question more difficult to say “no” to.  On an essay on interviews in Applied Qualitative Research, edited by Robert Walker, Sue Jones suggests:


“There cannot be definitive rules about the use of open-ended questions, leading and loaded questions, disagreement with respondents, and so on.  Such choices must depend on the understanding researchers have of the person they are with and the kind of relationship they have developed in the encounter.  Some relationships may allow, without destroying trust and comfort, much more of the to-and-fro of debate and discussion between two human beings than others.  What is crucial is that researchers choose their actions with a self-conscious awareness of why they are making them, what the effects are likely to be upon that relationship – and indeed whether their own theories and values are getting in the way of understanding those of the respondents.”  (Walker, ed. 1985, p.49)


Perhaps if the interviewer is able to acknowledge any bias that they have, then they are more likely to be objective, because they will be able to recognise when their bias is interfering with their research.  As Jones argues, in some cases it may be appropriate to discuss your own views with the interviewee in the interests of generating a debate, as well as conducting your research in an open and honest manner.

All interviewee’s reactions will be different.  Even if people have had very similar experiences, their way of telling stories and expressing their opinions may be very difficult.  This is both a strength and a weakness of in-depth interviews.  It is a strength because it treats people as individuals rather than simply part of a hypothesis that needs to be proved or disproved.  It allows people to express their feelings in a way that would be ignored by a quantitative study.  This kind of data provides an important insight into the issue.  However, will these interviews “prove” that there are barriers facing young disabled people from ethnic minorities when accessing services, or will they be a purely subjective account?

Although they may provide a useful and detailed analysis of the issue, on their own a series of in depth interviews may not adequately represent all the people the sample population – namely, social work practitioners in Birmingham, and the parents or guardians of disabled children in the area.  Unless the project was given a large research grant, there would not be sufficient time available to interview a large cross-section of people.  Therefore, there will be some ethnic groups left out of the study, and various views and opinions which will not get the opportunity to be expressed.  Moreover, there will no doubt be many parents and practitioners who would be unhappy talking to a stranger in depth about potentially sensitive issues.  Therefore, as I would only be able to interview a small number of people, I would have to back up my findings with a different form of research.





Surveys, or questionnaires, are a quantitative method of research, which I will use in addition to the qualitative semi-structured interviews.  Again, these surveys will be distributed amongst relevant social work professionals, as well as parents and guardians of children with disabilities in the local area.   One benefit of this approach is that because it is less time consuming, the questionnaires will use a larger sample of the population than the interviews.

  1. Ackroyd and J. Hughes identify four categories of surveys: factual, attitudinal, social psychological and explanatory. (Ackroyd and Hughes, 1983.)  My questionnaires will come under the explanatory category, because it seeks to explain how people’s attitudes and experiences are linked to their background.  This is known as the “explanatory variable.”  In this case, the explanatory variable is the person’s ethnicity or disability, and possibly also their social class.  Tim May suggests that “explanatory surveys are specifically designed to test hypotheses.”  (May, 2001, p.90.)  In this case, the hypothesis is the idea that young disabled people from ethnic minorities face barriers when accessing services, which are specific to their ethnicity.  The survey will attempt to either prove or disprove this hypothesis.

When writing the questions for a questionnaire, it is important to remember that they are intended to be quantitative, and therefore must be approached in a different way to in-depth interviews.  May writes:


“Because surveys measure facts, attitudes or behaviour through questions, it is important that hypotheses can be operationalized into measures.  This means that they must be turned into questions that respondents (the people who answer the questions) can understand and are able to answer.  The answers must then be capable of categorization and quantification.  Having collected and analysed the data, the researcher is then in a position to decide whether the hypotheses have been confirmed or falsified and what this means for the theory.”  (May, 2001, p.91)


The questions will need to be carefully constructed.  As with the interviews, I will establish basic information – for example, the respondent’s age, ethnicity and economic background, etc.  The rest of the questionnaire will ask a series of basic questions about their experiences, either as a practitioner or as a service user.  These questions will need to be very simple and precise in their meaning, as unlike with the interviews, there will not be the opportunity for the respondent to ask for clarification regarding what a particular question means.  As with the interviews, it will be important not to use loaded or leading questions as this may lead to a biased study.

One way of compiling useful numerical data will be to ask service users to assess the quality and accessibility of the service they receive by ranking the service 1-5 (5 being “excellent,” 1 being “poor,” etc).  Although the service users will not be giving specific reasons for their marks, they will provide an indication of their opinion, which may differ between ethnic and economic groups, or depending on the disability of the child.  This quantitative data will be used to back up the qualitative data gathered in the interviews.



Alternative Methods: 


An alternative qualitative method to use in this study would be the group interview.  In a group interview, a small group of people are brought together to share their views, and hold a discussion about their experiences and their feelings about the issue.  Walker writes:


“The task of the group interviewer – frequently called a “moderator” or “facilitator” – is not to conduct individual interviews simultaneously, but to facilitate a comprehensive exchange of views in which all participants are able to “speak their minds” and respond to the ideas of others.”  (Walker, ed. 1985, p.24.)


It is therefore important for the interviewer to recognise the difference between a group interview and a one to one interview.  One advantage of the group interview is that issues arise that the interviewer would not have thought of raising.  Often the group will generate ideas that would not have occurred to them when talking to an interviewer one to one.  The group interview also gives you the opportunity to generate some debate around the issue, and therefore gain a better understanding of the multiple perspectives.

Difficulties may arise with group interviews when the group is too large.  In an essay in Walker’s Applied Qualitative Research, Alan Hedges writes:


“Unfortunately the quality of the session suffers with larger numbers.  The group becomes hard for the interviewer to control.  More timid people easily get squeezed out.  The group tends to fragment, different sub-groups pursuing their own conversations simultaneously.  It takes longer for everyone to have their say on a given issue.  The quality of the conversation deteriorates.  It is impossible to run a group with more than ten people present, and there is usually a strong case for getting the numbers down to six or seven participants – normally the optimum size.”  (Walker, ed. 1985, p.75)


However, similar problems may also arise in smaller groups if one person decides to take the lead and dominate the group.  This would require a particular level of skill on behalf of the group facilitator, who will be required to tactfully ask one person to be quiet while another has their turn to speak.

The main difficulty that would be encountered if I were to conduct a group interview as part of my proposed study would be that due to the sensitive nature of the issue in question, there may be certain amount of restraint from the participants.  There might be certain things that people will be happy to discuss on a one to one basis, but not as part of a group.  For example, social work practitioners may have strong views about the barriers facing young disabled people from ethnic minorities, which they may not wish to share in front of a group, as they may risk appearing unprofessional.  In an individual interview, they will have the option of retaining their anonymity, and will therefore be more likely to be open and honest about their views.  Similarly, parents may have objections about the way in which social work practitioners deal with their child, but may prefer not to openly criticise them in a group discussion, not least of all if the group is dominated by social work practitioners.

Another qualitative research method is participant observation, which involves observing the participants in their day-to-day life.  Participant observation is a type of ethnographic research.  The word “ethnography” is defined as “writing about people”.  (Burns, 2000, p.393.)  Robert Burns writes:


“Ethnography essentially involves descriptive data collection as the basis for interpretation.  It represents a dynamic “picture” of the way of life of some interacting social group.  As a process, it is the science of cultural description.  Ethnography is a relevant method for evaluating school life, hospital life, prison life, etc., since these contexts are essentially cultural entities.”  (Burns, 2000, p.393.)


Through observing the participant in their everyday context, the researcher can build up a broad picture of what challenges are facing the participant, and would hope to gain an understanding of the issue they are focusing on.  In the case of this particular study, it may be useful to observe a practitioner who specialises in dealing with young people with disabilities, and accompany them as their go about their day-to-day routines.

One problem with using participant observation for this particular study is that the practitioner may act in a different way because they are aware they are being observed.  For example, they might make a particular effort to be inclusive towards young disabled people from ethnic minorities due to the nature of the study.  Therefore, observing a practitioner in this way may not offer an accurate reflection of their role, or of the role of social services as a whole.

Another problem with using this method is that it would not be appropriate to observe the service users in their day-to-day lives.  While I may learn a great deal about their lives as disabled people, I would learn very little about their ability to access services, unless I am able to accompany a person who happens to be attempting to access a service during my period of observation.  Therefore, generally speaking, participant observation would not be an appropriate method for the purposes of answering my research question.










A sample needs to reflect the population from which it is taken.  Arlene Fink defines the word “sample” in the following terms:


“A sample is a portion or subset of a larger group called a population.  The population is the universe to be sampled.  Sample populations might include all Americans, residents of California during the 1994 earthquake, and all people over 85 years of age … A good sample is a miniature version of the population – just like it, only smaller.” (Fink, 1995, p.1)


My samples for this study will be taken from two distinct populations: firstly, social service practitioners in Birmingham who deal specifically with young disabled people, and secondly, the parents or guardians of disabled children aged 0-18 in Birmingham who have accessed, or attempted to access, benefits and services.

It is important to consider what type of sample I will be using.  May writes:


“There are many types of samples but all samples are either probability samples (often called random samples) or non-probability samples.  Strictly speaking, only probability (or random) samples allow a statistical generalisation from sample to population.” (May, 2001, p.93)


Therefore, the respondents for my questionnaires will be selected from a probability sample – or as close as possible to a probability sample.  As May suggests, the sampling frame from which the sample is selected must be a complete list of people in the population.  I would only be able to compile a list of people social services know to be disabled.  Not all people with disabilities are registered disabled, and therefore the list would not be entirely complete.  However, my study is only interested in disabled people who have accessed, or attempted to access, benefits and services.  This data will be available from social services.

Due to the nature of the method of enquiry, it will not be possible to use a probability or random sample for in depth interviews.  Therefore, the method I will use for sampling for interviews will be purposive sampling.  Spicker writes:


“Many samples in policy research – arguably most – are purposive rather than numerically representative; they focus on a narrow group as a way of illustrating rather than precisely reflecting the major issues.” (Spicker, 2008, p.227)


To a certain extent, I will have to select my interviewees on the grounds of their availability and their willingness to be interviewed.  Many people in the population would either prefer not to be interviewed, or simply will not have the time to dedicate to an in-depth interview.  This does not mean that the data will not be accurate or useful.  The purpose of this data is to provide an insight into the issue rather than compiling statistics.




Reliability and Validity: 


Spicker offers the following definition of reliability:


“Reliability is also known as “predictive validity”.  Results are said to be “reliable” if they consistently show the same thing.”  (Spicker, 2008, p.222)


This study may have problems in this area due to the complex nature of the enquiry.  There are a wide range of disabilities, and a diverse range of ethnicities in the Birmingham area.  Therefore, the results of any study about issues surrounding disability and ethnicity may not necessarily be replicated in another study.  Moreover, as I have already argued, the results of this study may be applicable to Birmingham, but may not be applicable to other parts of the UK which have higher or lower proportion of ethnic minorities.

Spicker defines validity in the following terms:


“The term “validity” is used in a specialised way in empirical research studies.  It refers to a particular part of the process – whether or not the “facts” collected show what they are supposed to … Some concepts are relatively easily identified and tested – such as how many people over the age of 75 have a bathroom.  Many concepts in social science, however, are much vaguer.  Issues like altruism, embourgeoisement, or racism have not only to be defined; they also have to be identified within certain types of context.” (Spicker, 2008, p.222)


As the works I have cited in the literature review reflect, the issue of institutional racism is a difficult term to define, and it may also be difficult to identify in practise.  However, my research question does not directly address the issue of institutional racism, but instead addresses the question of what barriers are facing service users from ethnic minorities.  These barriers may or may not be in place due to institutional racism, but I have not set out to specifically answer this question.  The main aim of the study is to identify what these specific barriers are.  In this sense, there should not be a problem with validity because my concepts can be relatively easily identified and tested.

Will a lack of reliability be a major problem for this study?  This depends on how much importance we attach to the study’s reliability.  Spicker argues:


“Reliability is important for some sorts of research, but not for all.  A study can be valid and the results may still be unreliable, because some methods – particularly interpretive methods – allow for a great deal of latitude in observation and interpretation.” (Spicker, 2008, p.222)


Therefore, because I am using the qualitative approach of in-depth interviews, reliability is less important for this study than a purely quantitative study would be.



Pilot Study:


My pilot study will consist of a short pilot questionnaire, designed to test the questions in my main questionnaire.   Based on the responses of the respondents, I will have a good idea of whether my set questions were effective or not.  This will be accompanied by one or two semi-structured interviews, which again will test the questions I have planned.  The interviews will give me an opportunity for immediate verbal feedback from the interviewees.  Did they feel that my questions were relevant?  Were they too invasive?  Did they detect that I have a particular bias?  Based on this feedback, I will make any necessary adjustments to the questions for the main study.




Data Analysis:


The quantitative data from the study, obtained from both the surveys and elements of the semi-structured interviews can be presented in the form of graphs and tables, which will illustrate whether or not there are any differences between the specified sub-groups – for example, gender, ethnicity, economic group, disability type, etc.  This data will be analysed in a quantitative manner, and the results will be able to be displayed as statistics.

The quantitative data will serve as grounding for the qualitative research.  The qualitative data will be focussed more on the experiences of the participants, and the way they feel regarding the potential barriers in the system.  The semi-structured interviews will be recorded and transcribed in order to be analysed in detail.  The transcriptions will be compared and contrasted against each other.  In particular, I will look for common themes running through each interview, and highlight these as significant.  Some of the information from the semi-structured interviews can be displayed in tables and graphs, but mainly the data from the interviews will be analysed in the form of a written report, which will consider both the recurring themes of the interviews, as well as individual information, which may be unique to one particular interviewee.





Ethical Issues:


Because I have decided to interview adults rather than children, I have avoided the more serious ethical considerations associated with using children as participants.  However, there are still ethical issues to be considered.  The main ethical consideration will be the potential for causing offence or upsetting the participants.  When interviewing the parents or guardians of service users, I will need to be fully aware of the sensitive nature of the issues surrounding both ethnicity and disability.  When interviewing social work practitioners, I need to ensure that I do not make sure that none of my questions imply in any way that social services are guilty of institutional racism, or that the interviewee themselves may be guilty of racism.  Unless it is backed up by evidence, such an accusation would be offensive and unethical.  It is certainly not the purpose of this study to cause offence to any of the participants, particularly where racial issues are concerned.



Reflective Account:


Although my research question is highly specific, there are many other questions that are implied with this research.  Because of the complex nature of the issues, it can not be expected that all of these questions with be adequately answered.  I do not know for certain what the results will be, and perhaps some of the results will not be as expected.  For this reason, this is an important subject to investigate.

The methods I have proposed to use are the most appropriate for the subject, because they will provide a deep insight into the issues, while retaining elements of traditional scientific enquiry.  By combining qualitative and quantitative methods, this study will offer more than one form of data.  By adopting an action research approach, I will be able to collaborate with the participants in enquiring into these important issues.  This study will build on the broad range of literature and research which has been conducted on issues surrounding ethnicity and disability, and the way in which social services deal with minority groups.







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Ethnicity of Birmingham Residents:



Disability Discrimination Act (2006):



Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000):



Mental Health Act (2007):






Appendix 1:




Ethnicity of Birmingham Residents


According to the 2001 Population Census 70% of the City’s population indicated that they had a white background, compared with National and Regional averages of about 90%.

Almost 20% of the City’s population were from one of the Asian groups. Residents from the Black groups made up about 6% of the population.

For the first time, the Census provided information about people with Mixed Backgrounds. About 3%of the City’s population indicated they had a Mixed Background, the majority sharing Black Caribbean and White Backgrounds. Chinese and Other groups accounted for about 1% of the population.

Ethnic GroupResidentsGroup TotalPercentage (%)
White & Black Carribean15,6471.6
White & Black African1,4480.1
White & Asian6,3080.6
Other Mixed4,5510.5
Asian or Asian British190,68919.5
Other Asian10,0861.0
Black or Black British59,8356.1
Other Black5,7990.6
Chinese or Other ethnic group11,2151.1
All People977,099100

Source: Census 2001, [Key Statistics for Local Authorities]Crown Copyright 2003. Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the controller of HMSO.


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