Designing with and for people with learning disabilities

A 60 minute Case Study by:

Jenni Parker


Ali Fawkes


About this Case Study

For the past 18 months we have been working with VoiceAbility - a national charity that supports people who face disadvantage or discrimination to have a voice that counts - on a project called 'Speak Out Online' (working title). Funded by the Department of Health's Innovation, Excellence and Strategic Development Fund, the project aims to improve the dialogue between decision makers, service providers and people with learning disabilities, improving health and social care services and quality of life as a result. We have worked with 3 local authorities in England to explore the use of technology as an enabler to give people with learning disabilities a voice.

As service design lead on the project, Jenni led the team through the full human-centred design process. This included ethnographic user research, co-creation and prototyping with people with learning disabilities, their supporters and 3 local authority partners (Gloucestershire County Council, Liverpool City Council and South Tyneside Council). This has resulted in the development of a digital diary tool that has been co-created and tested with people with learning disabilities.

During the project we developed and delivered a range of creative engagement activities designed to empower people with learning disabilities to have a meaningful contribution to the process, whilst also having fun. This involved them in activities such as drama; participatory filming; drawing and making; designing soap operas and creating photo diaries of their lives. During the process we continuously iterated on methodology based on what worked and didn't work, leading to pivotal insights about how to engage people with learning disabilities in a truly meaningful way.

During the research we engaged 18 groups of people with learning disabilities around the country, covering a wide range of ages, backgrounds and abilities, including people with profound and multiple learning disabilities. We deliberately targeted groups both within council services (day centres, respite, residential) and outside them (advocacy groups, technology groups, art groups, colleges, a library drop-in, a pub - and a disco run by and for people with learning disabilities).

The project is ongoing, with the current focus on developing and testing the digital diary tool, and working with the 3 local authorities on wider systems change to ensure that the insights generated from people's digital diaries feed into their decision making and commissioning processes on an ongoing basis.

About the Speakers

Jenni Parker

Jenni Parker is the founder and director of Humanly, a design studio dedicated to social impact.

Prior to founding Humanly, Jenni worked as an independent design consultant and an innovation consultant at FutureGov. She was awarded the title of Service Designer of the Year 2015 at the Young Digital Leader Awards.

Jenni has led design and innovation projects with organisations in the third, public and private sectors in the UK and internationally, and has carried out user research, co-creation and prototyping activities in 11 countries in 4 continents. Her past clients include 15 UK local authorities as well as the Ministry of Justice, BBC Media Action, Mind, the Nike Foundation and UNHCR.


Ali Fawkes

Ali Fawkes is an enthusiastic, dedicated and experienced creative worker with extensive experience of working with children and adults with a wide range of needs. She is passionate about increasing the opportunities for people with learning disabilities and autism to communicate and be heard, and divides her time between working at VoiceAbility and freelance consulting.

Ali gained a masters in education from the University of Cambridge, providing her with a set of research skills and academic communication skills, teamed with knowledge and practical experience of a wide range of communication techniques.

Ali's combination of experiences and skills in art, education and consultation and co-production with people with learning disabilities gives her a diverse and creative approach to developing ways to engage and involve people with learning disabilities in design and development processes.