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Does successful interaction relationship hold the key to community participation? Promoting communication between people with severe intellectual disabilities and their communication partners
Katja Vuoti, PhD student, Finnish Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Citizenship means that one is capable to fully participate in all dimensions of social, political, cultural and community life. However, people with severe intellectual disabilities are very rarely given a chance to influence in which community they want to belong to and which people they want to deal with. Furthermore, their opportunities to influence in decisions affecting their communities are scarce.
Most people with severe intellectual disabilities usually have complex communication needs, which is one of the main barriers affecting in the leadership of their own life. The only way to know really what people with severe intellectual disabilities want is to observe them during daily situations and draw conclusions whether they are happy or not. Thus, taking part in decisions is not as straight forward as asking their opinion about things. This makes the interaction partners - usually the front line service staff - face an highly ethical question: do the opinions and messages of people with severe intellectual disabilities come through and do these opinions really make a difference? Therefore, in addition to staffs' communication skills, their work identity, attitudes and moral values and the values of the community around them have an impact in the interaction situations.
Therefore, the Communication and Technology Centre (Tikoteekki) of the Finnish Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities implemented a communication project during the years 2005 - 2008 promoting interaction and communication between adults with severe intellectual disabilities and the front line service staff. 31 members of staff from three Finnish organisations which provide facilities for people with severe intellectual disabilities participated in this project. The staff filled out an questionnaire exploring attitudes towards interaction before and after the project and also in a six month follow up. Furthermore, two carers from each organisation was interviewed to find out whether they felt that the project had an impact in the interaction situations with people with severe intellectual disabilities.
It was hoped that successful interaction relationship could establish real opportunities for people with severe intellectual disabilities in influencing in their own lives and in their communities. This paper will present preliminary findings from the questionnaire data and staff interviews. It will also discuss whether the interaction relationship between staff and people with severe intellectual disabilities can be changed and what this requires from the community and especially from the front line service staff.
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