Student advocacy or student control? Employing digital imagery ethnography with students with disability to invite student voice and independence.

Year: 2012

Author: Price, Deborah

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Student advocacy is well documented in education when working with students with disabilities and underpins promotion of human rights to have opinions heard (UN 1989). The effectiveness of educators and educational systems at maximising advocacy continues to be a challenge. This paper describes an ethnographical place-based critical inquiry conducted in one special education school located in Adelaide, South Australia. Thirty-seven students verified with a disability aged 13-19 years, used digital cameras to capture images of important places and spaces, engaged in interviews and then produced a photo story. Analysis of the methodology identified enabling factors of using digital imagery to promote student voice, particularly student excitement in operating digital tools, freedom to make decisions of importance to them, increased verbal descriptions of images, confidence and clarity in decision making, descriptive reasoning and student engagement. Of significance were some barriers to maximising student voice and advocacy including; complexities of severity of disability; provision of access to cameras (student responsibility and timetabling); overprotection of significant others, pre-empting student choice; and, underestimation of student abilities. Implications from this study may inform use of digital imagery to enhance students with disabilities authentic voice and educate professionals in true advocacy rather than protective control.