Space, place and relationships: understanding belonging and connection for young people with cognitive disability in regional communities

Chief Investigator

Sally Robinson


National Disability Research and Data Working Group

School or Research Centre

Centre for Children and Young People

Lead Partner Organisation

Southern Cross University

Other Partner Organisations

UNSW Social Policy Research Centre. Strathclyde University. NSW Council for Intellectual Disability. Children with Disability Australia.


Sally Robinson, Southern Cross University, PO Box 157, Lismore NSW 2480, Australia. sally.robinson@scu.edu.au


cognitive disability, children, young people, belonging, social inclusion, regional Australia


The project applied ideas from social geography to explore understandings of belonging and connection with young people with cognitive disability. Using these methods meant recognising the places, people and spaces which jointly influenced young people's understanding of themselves and their feelings about belonging and connection.

Thirty young people with cognitive disability took part in participatory research in three regional towns in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. They researched belonging and connection using a range of accessible research methods including photographic data, pictorial mapping and interviews.

All thirty co-researchers contributed substantially to the project, through interviews, workshops, analysing their photographic data, and in public exhibitions of their work.

An easy English online survey was also completed by twenty-six young people with cognitive disability in additional regional communities.

The ethics of the research needed careful consideration and planning, including building in staged consent at multiple points and strategies for maintaining confidentiality in small communities.

Data Collection Start Date


Data Collection End Date



Social geography methodologies were used. The study was mainly qualitative, and used mixed methods across three sites, with multiple contacts with research participants.

Research relationships were developed with 30 young people using existing community engagement and support programs in three regional communities in three states. These young people were involved in narrative interviews and participatory photography projects based on photovoice. Individual and small group interviews were also conducted with support staff. In each location, the core project components of mapping interviews, photography, analysis interviews, and exhibitions took place.

Subsequently, an accessible, on-line questionnaire was consultatively developed and distributed to other young people with cognitive disability.


Regional NSW, Victoria and Queensland.


For permission to access this dataset please contact Southern Cross University, Centre for Children and Young People or sally.robinson@scu.edu.au.

FoR Code

160512 Social Policy

Viewing Instructions

733 digital photographic images 80 digital photographic images supporting ethnographic notes 29 digital images of concept maps 66 interview transcripts 26 valid surveys 2 workshop poster (collective belonging and connection conceptualisation) 1 NVIVO set of coded data 3 final reports of analysed and reported data. The files have unique file names and are organised in folders which need to be retained. Files are named according to the de-identified participant code and site name. Young people's data is organised according to participant in folders, which are in turn organised according to site. The data at the level of participants photography and interview transcripts is confidential, and not able to be shared.

Data Processing

With the consent of young people (and where relevant, their parents or guardians), interviews were digitally recorded and later transcribed. Visual material (e.g. maps) was photographed, and young people offered the option of keeping their map. Young people's photos from Flickr were downloaded and securely stored, along with their captions. All data from interviews and the photographic and mapping material was coded for shared meaning using NVIVO software. Codes were categorised, or grouped, into themes according to the emerging new knowledge about key concepts. The analysis of these themes created new categories of ideas about belonging and connection which were tested by exploring the way that certain themes intersected, and the way that multiple themes interacted. For example, the category of 'being known' emerged from a combination of the themes of feeling comfortable/secure, friendship as a facilitator of inclusion, supportive relationships with paid workers, and being respected. These categories were catalogued and used as the foundation for our findings.