This paper presents findings from participatory action research with disabled people's organisations in european countries. The project ‘european research agendas for disability equality’ (eurade) sought to engage civil society organisations as agents of change in influencing future priorities for european disability research. The paper examines findings from a consultation with 68 organisations in 25 countries and illustrates how the research priorities identified by representative organisations of disabled people were used to impact on european-level research funding. The findings demonstrate the potential for mainstreaming and targeting disability issues in research that will have an impact on the lives of europe's 65 million disabled people, using social model and rights-based approaches. They also demonstrate how effective partnership between academia and activism adds to the social relevance and impact of research practice.