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How do people with intellectual disabilities in Ireland describe their relationships with support staff and their social networks?

Institution: University of Limerick

Background: Attitudes in Ireland towards people with disabilities are hardening. Through meaningful relationships individuals experience support, well-being, connectedness and belonging. These are experienced differently by every individual. The formation of relationships can be inhibited by obstacles. One of the important relationships identified by people with intellectual disabilities is support staff.
Aim: This research is part of a broader study across four years to understand how people with disabilities navigate stigma to create lasting relationships. The purpose of this strand of the larger study is to identify the important relationships for people with intellectual disabilities and understand how they describe their relationships with staff members.
Methods: A qualitative method was chosen to gather an understanding of the experiences. Six participants with intellectual disabilities were interviewed about different areas in their lives home, work, and their communities. Thematic analysis was completed with NVivo 9 used for data management.
Results: The participants saw staff as trusted, valued supports. Staff enabled community participation and engagement in valued activities. The participants identified that they needed staff to access the community. The scarcity of social networks was recognised, with staff often acknowledged as friends.
Conclusion: Social networks, friendships, employment and activities of people with intellectual disabilities need to extend beyond services and support staff. Perhaps Ireland should take a social capital approach instead of a social inclusion approach by supporting the person’s social networks. Infusing Irish policies with the value of friendships and real social networks has extraordinary potential. Support, encouragement and enablement of people with intellectual disabilities are required to facilitate social inclusion. Occupational therapists and support staff are essential in facilitating change. Occupational therapists philosophy is to be client centred. Being skilled in activity analysis will support work towards full participation in meaningful occupations at home and in the community.

Suggested citation:

. () How do people with intellectual disabilities in Ireland describe their relationships with support staff and their social networks? [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 19th March 2018].


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