Mutual recognition in paid support relationships

Prof. Karen Fisher1, Prof. Sally Robinson2, Dr Laura Davy3

1Social Policy Research Centre UNSW, Sydney, Australia, 2Disability and Community Inclusion, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, 3UNSW Canberra, Canberra, Australia

Mutual recognition within paid support relationships is demonstrated as key to the wellbeing of people with intellectual disability and disability support workers. This paper examines how to build their capacity to create and maintain mutuality within their paid support relationship, meaning reciprocal caring about, respecting and valuing each other.

The project used participatory action research methods with disability organisations, people with intellectual disability and support workers (3 pairs) all participating in workshops for the design, development and evaluation of training resources (Inclusion Melbourne DesignLab and People With Disability Australia). It developed capacity building resources to enhance mutuality in support relationships, specifically a training manual and activity guide. The resources can be used by disability service providers, support workers, policy makers, people with disability, and their families and allies.

The research found that many people are comfortable with articulating their needs and preferences directly with support workers and managing the working relationship from the outset. Some people needed assistance, time and other methods of asking about what they want so they can communicate changes they would like to make. People with intellectual disability said that activities with their workers were a useful, concrete way of exploring their preferences. Some support workers also said they learnt new things about the person they supported and their interests through the activities.

Implications from the research are that it is possible to operationalise the seemingly esoteric concept of mutual recognition into concrete training activities that model the mutual caring, respect and value that they seek to explore.


Karen Fisher researches social services in Australia and China, including disability and mental health community services; inclusive research and evaluation methodology; and social policy process.

Sally Robinson contributes to research and evaluation in social policy, focusing particularly on safety and harm, accommodation and social exclusion concerns of people with disability.

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