Including adults with intellectual disabilities in research: Scientists' perceptions of risks and protections

Katherine E. McDonald, Colleen A. Kidney, Sandra L. Nelms, Michael R. Parker, Ali Kimmel, Christopher B. Keys

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Social and cognitive characteristics of adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) place them at risk for inappropriate inclusion in or exclusion from research participation. As we grapple with how to include adults with ID in research in order to secure their right to contribute to scientific advancements and be positioned to derive benefit from ensuing knowledge, it is critical to consider scientific gatekeepers' perspectives on risks of and protections for including adults with ID in research. We surveyed 199 Institutional Review Board members and intellectual disability researchers in the United States to identify their perceptions of specific risks and necessary protections in (hypothetical) research studies. The research studies varied as to whether they included adults with ID in the research sample and the level of harm to which research participants were exposed. Results suggest that identification of psychological, social, and legal risks and necessary protections varied by the disability status of the sample, the level of risk, and the role of the person reviewing the study. For example, participants identified more psychological, information control, legal, and social risks in higher harm research studies. Participants reported a need for more protections in high-harm studies as well as studies that included adults with ID. In some instances the nature of identified risks and protections and respondents' characterization of these risks and necessary protections suggested concerns related specifically to adults with ID. Implications for practice, policy, and future research related to access to research participation are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)244-252
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Human research ethics
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Research participation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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