04 SES 02 C, Within And Beyond School Walls: Social And Work Transition Of Disabled Students
This study explores the sociocultural learning that takes place when young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities take working roles where they are motivated to invest effort and where they have relational support to sustain their participation. Employment is the key form of social co-operation in high income countries, yet is currently inaccessible to young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including in countries with policies aiming to promote their participation (Qian et al., 2018; Redley, 2009). There has been little policy engagement with alternative routes to social inclusion (Grover & Piggott, 2015). The lives of young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are therefore impoverished by the absence of positive attributes of work as well as by the absence of income (Channon, 2014; Lövgren & Bertilsdotter Rosqvist, 2015). In considering questions of learning and social inclusion, the type of life that people are able to live – their freedom to do and be the things they have reason to value - is centrally important, hence this study follows a Capabilities approach (Nussbaum & Sen, 1993; Sen, 2010) in evaluating the value of working arrangements.
In sociocultural accounts of learning, work, learning and social inclusion are fundamentally linked (Lave & Wenger, 1994; Rogoff, 2016). They understand learning as a process of negotiating a role in a community and its practices, and highlight the role of relational support in learning (Matusov, 1998). For people with significant support needs, dedicated personal assistance may be key to successful participation in many environments (Mladenov, 2012).
The study aimed to explore how participation in work, and the learning involved, might further the capabilities and social inclusion of young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It involved a small group of young people who were working with the support of a PA, their PAs, a co-worker and a key supporter. Young people were videoed at work on three or more separate occasions. The study drew on the perspectives of young people themselves, in visually supported one to one interviews and in dialogue with others involved in their work. Video clips were used to support reflection and dialogue exploring how participation in work, and the learning involved, might further their capabilities and social inclusion.
Analysis is ongoing, but learning in this way was perceived as advantageous. Initial results show that young people took advantage of personal characteristics such as special interests (e.g. in animals) or traits e.g. love of order to find their roles and motivate their learning. They were able to take agentic adult roles in preferred environments. They saw their work as their most significant activity and as outlining an identity and function in society. They were conscious of making contributions to shared goals and recognised ways in which their roles fitted into wider contexts.
PAs saw themselves as making independent contributions to workplace goals as well as giving dedicated peer support. They saw their roles in relational rather than instrumental terms, for example, as a ‘best friend’ with the aim of making the best life for [the yp she supported] that she can.
Co-workers saw PAs acted, bridging gaps in communication and understanding for young people and co-workers across learning challenges. They recognised their changing understanding of young people’s characteristics and aptitudes. For example, one said, ‘I don’t deny that I wasn’t keen on having him here … but he and PA are a real asset and I was wrong.’
Five young people working, paid or unpaid, with support from a PA were recruited. For each participant, the Personal Assistant, a co-worker and a key supporter, usually a mother, also participated. Young people were filmed at work following a collaboratively devised plan, to highlight what was important to them about working and the learning involved. They then selected clips to be used as the basis for Video Stimulated Recall Reflection and Dialogue (VSRRD) sessions. Video Stimulated Recall Reflection and Dialogue (VSRRD) is ‘think-aloud’ interview technique, designed to enable interviewees to relive an original situation with vividness and accuracy (Nind et al., 2015). It was used to reinforce the attention, memory and communication processes involved in interviewing. Young people took part in one to one sessions with the researcher and in collaborative discussions with other participants. The video acted as a stimulus to prompt and support reflection and dialogue between participants and researcher about what was visible in the video and what participants could infer or reconstruct of invisible internal processes. VSRRD sessions were also videoed to show simultaneously interviewees and the video clip under discussion. In this way participants’ communicative behaviour as well as their words were recorded. As fieldwork was interrupted by Covid 19 lockdowns, interviews with key supporters took place remotely before VSRRD sessions, in a departure from the original plan. Following a communicative perspective on reality, the object of study was the reflections of the participants, with knowledge understood as being constructed through interaction and dialogue (Puigvert et al., 2012). Videos were uploaded to NVivo for analysis, with transcriptions of remote interviews and field notes. Thematic analysis involved an iterative mix of deductive and inductive coding. Following Sen’s capabilities approach, analysis attended to the question of participants’ capabilities.
Young people with Intellectual and developmental disabilities miss opportunities for learning and participation that occur as people cooperate with others in the practices of their communities. Participants in this study opportunities not available to them through competitive employment, using the support of a PA to make their contributions successful and sustainable. Participants valued their work highly, referring to their increasing competence and recognition over time. They were conscious of contributing and being recognised as contributing in their chosen fields. Most represented themselves successfully, changing perceptions of what they were capable of being and doing. All participants saw the working arrangements as having value in terms of learning by and about the possible social roles of people with significant support needs. The capacity to work and be supported in work appears to have significant potential to change the occupational possibilities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, allowing them relational autonomy and freedom to pursue interests and activities that are otherwise inaccessible. Taking such roles may increase their ‘real freedoms’, in CA terms, to shape their lives and the society in which they live. Structural prohibitions to participating in the jobs market and widespread expectations of reduced availability of employment for all people, make the case for policy to support people with intellectual and developmental in work that is productive rather than paid.
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