Recessionary tales: an investigation into how intellectually disabled young people, and their families, experienced the economic downturn
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This study presents an original contribution to knowledge through investigating the impact and lived experience of economic recession for intellectually disabled young people and their families in Ireland, who use services from the disability sector. This is important because in 2008, Ireland was hit with the greatest period of economic recession since the great depression of the 1930s. As the longevity of the recession played out, research evidences that the nation’s children may have been hardest hit, rendered significantly poorer, and within this, disabled children and their families were a particularly vulnerable socio-economic group, at significantly enhanced risk of poverty. Yet, in the context of a relative wealth of statistical data on the equality impacts of recession, little attention within research has been given to the lived reality, voices and experiences of disabled young people and their families in recessionary Ireland (Flynn, 2011; Flynn, 2017b). In this way, this study interjects into a comprehensively investigated sphere, albeit maintaining exceptionality, by way of focusing on voices and lived experiences. This study used the purest or most classic application of the Biographical Narrative Interpretative Method (BNIM) from initial interviewing through to completion of the ten stage data analysis process. BNIM draws on the assumption that individuals construct meaning in their lives through narrative. Rather than impose categories for exploration, this method allows themes to be engendered by way of participant’s preference. Self-biographising narrative accounts were elicited through BNIM from a sample of 4 intellectually disabled young people (one constituting a pilot study), 4 of their parent/guardians, and 4 disability social work staff members. Congruent with the conventions of BNIM, a smaller sample of 3 cases were chosen for in-depth analysis. The remaining 8 were analysed through a Framework Method that offered a contextual framework of themes and subthemes. In terms of theoretical and epistemological concerns, the study takes up an Affirmative Non- Tragedy Model that situates itself overall within the broad field of Critical Disability Studies. Among study findings, evidence is presented that lived reality for intellectually disabled young people and their families of the impact of recession is a complex and individualistic amalgam of cultural, material and psycho-social factors. These factors, rather than simply co-existing within a static matrix; incited, aggravated and alleviated one another. This interactive process was complex and temporal, but to an extent was predictable. The combined existential experience (or lived reality) of these factors was subjectively felt to be misunderstood by those in positions of power, leading families to seek comfort in the expertise of one another. Findings were numerous, for instance, insufficient cohesion of view points between families, and those perceived to be in power, may be alleviated by better data and a partnership approach that is meaningfully perceptible on the ground level. Furthermore, austerity appeared in reality to galvanise some backward regression in disability service delivery towards more outdated and inappropriate models. Overall, it is hoped that findings from this study can be put to practical usage for disabled young people, their families, and their allies, through both the increment of academic knowledge, and their application as a technology of advocacy. Furthermore, recommendations made by this study outline the specific contribution to knowledge and future practice made by this study, for instance, related to the development of the existing partnership approach to practice, or the generation of more qualitative data.