Building on support staff’s warm feelings to enhance their support for self-determination

Ms Charity Sims-Jenkins1, Professor Christine Bigby1, Dr Tal Araten-Bergman1

1La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia

Self-determination for people with intellectual disabilities may be overlooked among numerous competing priorities in the context of disability services, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This PhD study presents a novel way of looking at the role of staff’s perceptions in how they prioritise and intend to support self-determination for adults with intellectual disabilities. Drawing from the stereotype content model, warm and positive perceptions of staff are proposed not only as a partial cause of failures to support self-determination (benevolent discrimination), but also as part of a possible solution. This study aims to measure changes in the perceptions and intentions of support staff after attending a workshop co-delivered by self-advocates. Self-advocates’ experiences of self-determination will be presented using empathy and perspective-taking techniques to build upon any existing warm feelings staff may have.

Methods include meetings and interviews with 5-10 self-advocates to co-construct their narratives of self-determination, a working group of 2-3 self-advocates to co-develop a workshop, co-delivery of the workshop to staff in disability services, and qualitative semi-structured interviews with 15-30 staff before and after the workshop about their perceptions and intentions.

This presentation will discuss relevant theoretical concepts from the literature review, such as self-determination and the stereotype content model, and present findings from the first stages of the project. This includes work with self-advocates on narratives and workshop development.

This research contributes to theoretical knowledge about the links between staff’s perceptions and support for self-determination, and has potential for enhancing staff support.


Charity is a doctoral candidate with the Living with Disability Research Centre at La Trobe University, supervised by Professor Christine Bigby and Dr Tal Araten-Bergman. Charity’s research explores links between the well-meaning and positive perceptions of staff and their practices that reduce self-determination and decision-making for service users.