News & events


11 December 2020

DCES’s Tim Hart to co-lead prestigious UKRI COVID-19 research concerning persons with disabilities in South Africa

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

Following National Disability Rights Awareness Month in South Africa, we are pleased to announce that an international consortium of researchers and disability service providers is embarking on a national online DATAFREE survey to understand the socio-economic, wellbeing and human rights related experiences of people with disabilities in COVID-19 times in South Africa. This project is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Newton Fund.

The consortium is led by Dr Mary Wickenden of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), in the United Kingdom. Mary is an internationally recognised scholar and has worked on disability experiences, rights and policy in South, Southern, Eastern and West Africa, as well as Asia and the UK.
Dr Tim Hart of the Democratic, Capable and Ethical State Division of the Human Sciences Research Council is the South African Co-investigator and project manager, in partnership with Ms Nthabiseng Molongoana, of the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD). Both Tim and Nthabi have years of research experience, have written on disability rights and experiences, and are themselves persons with disabilities. Several other South African research team members are persons with disabilities of all races and gender, ensuring that the research is inclusive. Other co-investigators include Dr Stephen Thompson (IDS), Dr Yul Derek Davids and Ms Thuli Olorunju of DCES and Ms Therina Wentzel du Toit and Mr Andre Kalis of NCPD.

The research proposal review panel “agreed that this was a strong proposal that covered an important topic and knowledge gap. The PI and team were deemed to have the necessary expertise to deliver the project, with strong policy partnerships and stakeholder engagement. The methodology was clear and well defined”.

Tim Hart and Narnia Bohler-Muller of DCES are “delighted that this consortium has come together to contribute to research on COVID-19 and persons with disabilities experience and perceptions thereof. A much-understudied topic, making the UKRI award crucial to moving forward during and after the pandemic. We believe that the study and the strength of the partnership can ensure that the voices persons with disabilities are heard and thereby raise awareness of their rights and their diversity”.

The consortium is established to ensure rigorous and robust research that recognises and reports on the voices of all persons with disabilities who volunteer to participate in the study. The team has developed a digital survey tool to cover various impairments. This is designed by persons with diverse disabilities to ask about the specific challenges and experiences people may have had during the pandemic and the lockdown and their ideas about the future. The research team will use ICTs such as feature phones, smartphones, tablets and computers to engage with persons with disabilities to complete the online survey, to avoid the risk of contact during the coronavirus period and to adhere to lockdown regulations. The survey will be DATA FREE in that mobile phone and data users will not pay for the data use while completing the survey.

Unfortunately, little of COVID-19 research, conducted to date, portrays the particular circumstances of persons with disabilities from a personal experiential perspective. Many surveys are answered by service providers and professionals in the field of disability and not by persons with disabilities. Most previous studies have not attempted national coverage. However, it is important to understand the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic and particularly the lockdown on persons with disabilities and their experiences and perceptions about this pandemic when residing in different areas, under different conditions, in South Africa. The voices of persons with disabilities are diverse and there is a need to ensure that persons with disabilities are not overlooked generally in South African society and particularly in future occurrences of national disasters and mitigation legislation.

Although this study is independently funded, the research team will be providing feedback at different stages to all stakeholders, including having at least two webinars during this 9-month study to share our findings with different audiences. Online facilities will be provided to accommodate persons with disabilities.

We encourage all national, provincial and local disability support organisations, alliances, private organisations, employers and the state to assist us and encourage employees and clients to participate in this crucial study. A web-link to the survey will be sent out in mid-January 2021 when the survey will go live. The study was recently approved and given clearance by the HSRC Ethics Committee.

We encourage as many persons with disabilities and the parents of children with disabilities to participate in the online survey and the feedback sessions. More information about the grant and regular updates can be found at the UKRI news website.

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

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