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People with learning disabilities and the construction of interpersonal relationships

By Ruth Danielle Wilson


Interpersonal relationships play an important role in our sense of self and satisfaction with our lives. Literature suggests that people who have learning disabilities have\ud limited opportunities to make and maintain interpersonal relationships; however few studies have questioned how this situation has developed and how it may be maintained. In addition much research has largely excluded first-hand accounts of people who have learning disabilities.\ud \ud In this study I interviewed staff and service-users at a centre which provided day services to people with learning disabilities, about interpersonal relationships. I\ud analysed the data using discourse analysis. Drawing on this data I argue that dominant discourses which view people who have learning disabilities as being 'childlike' and/or qualitatively different to those who do not have learning\ud disabilities, supported constructions of relationships that worked to limit the power and opportunities of service-users. These constructions were influenced by historical ideas about relationships and about people who have learning disabilities, which continue to influence service-provision through social and political pressures.\ud Participants also however drew on alternative discourses, and alternative ways in which relationships could be constructed. These constructions emphasised reciprocity and enabled service-users to engage in relationships in which power was more equally distributed. The existence of these alternatives offers hope for a different way of understanding relationships, where one or more person has a\ud learning disability. I discuss these findings with reference to the wider literature and argue that learning\ud disability services must engage in a process of critically questioning taken-forgranted 'truths', if they are to circumvent the influence of disempowering discourses\ud and open up opportunities for more empowering practices.\u

Publisher: School of Medicine (Leeds)
Year: 2007
OAI identifier:

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