…And, more to the point, why am I interested in them?
People often ask me why I’m interested in everyday decisions, and what I think law has to do with them. After all, you might say, there isn’t much law involved in deciding what to eat for breakfast, or what to wear. We don’t consider the legal implications of choosing between toast, cereal or eggs for breakfast and there probably isn’t much law involved at all. Yet if we think about, for example, choosing to eat a chocolate bar and drink a can of fizzy pop for breakfast, some would certainly disapprove. Some might consider it ‘unwise’ to make such unhealthy choices about what to have for breakfast. There is no formal law that tells us we must make healthy breakfast choices, but there are plenty of social rules (or norms) that suggest we should.
What about deciding what to wear? There are many norms and rules that guide what we wear on a day to day basis. Some people have to wear a uniform, either to school or to work. People who work in business or professional roles often have to wear formal clothes to work. We all have to wear enough clothes to keep us warm enough or cool enough for the weather. Beyond these formal rules there are other social norms that shape our choices of clothes: ideas relating to appropriately gendered clothing (these days, women often wear trousers but how often do you see men wearing skirts or dresses in everyday life?); appropriately modest clothing (“her skirt is too short”; “he shouldn’t be shirtless here”); even appropriately colour-matched clothing (red and green should never be seen, so they say!). Choices about what to wear can transgress these social norms, and clothing choice can be very important in allowing people to express their individuality and identity. But that doesn’t make it easy for people who choose to go against socially normative ideas about what to wear. People who make unusual clothing choices can be laughed at, ridiculed, mis-gendered, and subjected to other forms of abuse.
These sorts of everyday choices are part of what I’m interested in. I’m also interested in the more formal aspects of everyday decisions. These might include choices about where to live; what to do; working and learning; how to spend money; and who to have friendships and relationships with. Law and rules are involved in all of these aspects of life, even though we might not always be aware of how legal rules shape the things that we do.
We don’t often think about law being involved in the decisions we make on a day to day basis. Most people don’t think about law very much at all. But law is everywhere, it shapes the things we do and places limits on our behaviour; it helps us to know what is right and wrong in given situations. It also helps to protect our rights to make our own choices, and protects us from negative experiences like abuse, exploitation and violence.
The focus of the Everyday Decisions research project is on how law shapes the everyday lives of people with intellectual disabilities. In this research, we include people with learning disabilities, people with acquired brain injuries and people with dementia in our understanding of intellectual disability. We want to find out how well the current English law about the rights of people with intellectual disabilities works in supporting everyday decision-making.
People with intellectual disabilities have the right to make their own decisions whenever possible. This right is protected by national law, like the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and international law, like the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In this research project we aim to find out how well this right is protected in practice, by talking to people with intellectual disabilities and their supporters and carers. By doing this research, we hope to come up with suggestions for legal and policy reform that makes sure that intellectually disabled people are as well supported as they can be.