Narrating Developmental Disability: Researchers, Advocates, and the Creation of an Interview Space in the Context of University-Community Partnerships

Niamh Mulcahy

Abstract


This paper examines the narration of developmental disability through interviews between participants, researchers and members of community organizations serving the disabled population, in the context of university-community collaborations. These kinds of collaborations are extremely important for researching vulnerable or hard-to-reach populations, which often face lower levels of physical, mental and social well-being as a consequence of shame, stigma or discrimination. Community collaboration can thus be invaluable for reaching members of marginalized populations, who may be difficult to locate or otherwise avoid contact with outsiders, because it provides members of a research team with local knowledge of a population, a means of accessing possible participants, and legitimation for the project. I suggest, however, that although the researcher’s externality may initially invite skepticism toward the investigation from participants, it can also benefit them by providing a forum for catharsis. Based on a pilot study I conducted with a community advocacy organization for the disabled, I note that some participants expressed an appreciation for being able to discuss certain emotions and experiences during interviews with an outsider who was not involved as a caseworker. I conclude that the presence of a trusted community advocate and a researcher at an interview affects a participant’s narrative by providing a safe space for participants to voice their stories to outsiders.

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