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  4. Working together, making friends

Working together, making friends

Zoe Hughes
National Institute for Intellectual Disability, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Friendships between 'staff' and 'service users' have had a chequered history. Many services for people with learning disabilities have encouraged different approaches to such friendships. Over time, some have encouraged these friendships, while others have put in place policies disallowing staff to speak to 'clients' of the service outside of the work environment. For those of us working with people with disabilities, sometimes it can be hard to get to know the people we work with as 'real people'.

While oral history is not a new way to work in the UK, in Ireland it is a relatively new and untried activity. Services for people with disabilities are organised in such a way that the priority is often making sure the kitchen floor is washed every day as opposed to having a cup of tea and a chat. Opportunities for getting to know the people we spend time with are lost in the day-to-day running of a house, rather than a home.

Supporting people with disabilities in researching and telling their life stories can create these types of opportunities that are not seized in everyday life in a service. As a follow-up from a national life-story project that ran in Ireland from 2008-2010, my PhD is revisiting the storytellers and staff involved in that original project, and finding out what the experience was like for them. What is coming out of these conversations with both staff and storytellers, is that once the life story project was running, more storytellers became involved in some of those services, supported by staff there.

In this presentation, I am going to focus on the staff perspective. Not because it is more important that the experience of the storytellers, who have disabilities, but because of what it tells us about storytelling, as an activity. The stories of staff that are doing this type of work, show that one of the most important outcomes, for them, is how much they have learned about the people they have known for years. The staff now describe the people they have done this work with as friends and colleagues, rather than service users or clients. The words of both staff and storytellers will be used to illustrate these points throughout the presentation.

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About the Group

If you woud like to get in touch with the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group, please contact:

Liz Tilley 
Chair of the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group
School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes
MK7 6AA

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