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Professor of Disability Studies , University of Bristol

I am a Disability Studies researcher with key interests in ways of conceptualising change in policy and practice, on the terms of disabled people themselves. I am privileged to be an executive editor of the international journal Disability & Society, a post I have held since 2007, as well as Head of the Norah Fry Research Centre since 2013. I have worked for over forty years with people with learning disabilities (intellectual disabilities) in various capacities, always with a view to promoting and facilitating people’s own voices. My reflections on the links between policy, practice and change in Intellectual Disability are contained in my latest book (Williams, 2013).

My current work lies largely in the field of personalisation, choice and control, and spans a wide range of individuals, disability groups and intersections of identity. Disabled people in the UK, across Europe, and internationally still face many challenges and barriers, including institutionalisation, prejudice, poverty and injustice. I believe that research can address and help to change lives.

Two central themes come together in my research, both represented in my 2011 book, Disability & Discourse. These are:

a) Inclusive and emancipatory research: including disabled people as active researchers;

b) Analysing naturally-occurring communication.

My research about communication and interaction falls within the field of applied conversation analysis (CA). I have presented at the two most recent international conferences in CA, and have an upcoming panel at the International Pragmatics conference in Antwerp in 2015. CA is a disciplined research approach which aims to reveal the basic order of interaction that underpins social life, and as such is open to exciting developments to be applied to real interactional problems that face disabled people of all ages. For instance, what happens when frontline support workers interact with people with dementia? How are medical practitioners equipped to understand their encounters with people with intellectual disabilities?


  • –present
    Professor of Disability Studies , University of Bristol