Writing the script. The overt and hidden contradictions of supporters’ work in independent self-advocacy groups

Dr Sian Anderson1, Professor Christine Bigby1

1La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia

The role of support workers in self-advocacy groups is complex. The lack of transparency about who controls the agenda within groups is problematized by commentators but evidence is limited about how supporters act, exercise power and are regarded by self-advocates. This study investigated the work of supporters in independent self-advocacy groups and how their work was understood by members

Grounded theory methodology was used. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 25 members of 6 independent self-advocacy groups, in Australia and the UK, and 10 supporters.

Supporters had three roles; supporting empowerment, managing operations, and leading strategic planning. They exercised power, controlling many group activities, but did so in ways that enabled groups to flourish, and scaffolded members’ sense of control.

Supporters shaped groups, developing and resourcing them whilst promoting empowerment and enabling self-advocates to perceive partnerships; regarding supporters work as complementary to their own.


Sian Anderson is a lecturer and researcher in the Living with Disability Research Centre and sessional lecturer in the discipline of Social Work at La Trobe University in Melbourne. She completed a PhD at La Trobe which examined the impacts of engagement in self-advocacy groups on the social identity of adults with intellectual disabilities. Sian is the course coordinator of the Master of Disability Practice at La Trobe.

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