Date of Award

1999

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Social Sciences Honours

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Howard Sercombe

Abstract

This is a symbolic interactionist study into behaviours surrounding social interaction. The study has two components, asking how people with able-bodies interact with a young person with a disability, and how does the young person, who is non-verbal, respond to and interpret such interactions? Participants were observed and recorded using a digital camera whilst interacting at a social venue. The able-bodied participants were not aware of the camera at the time of filming, and were approached after the filming to participate in the study. Seven participants were later interviewed and asked to explain what they were aware of as they interacted. Lyndon, the young person with a disability, was involved in the planning and implementation of the research from the beginning. Most research undertaken on interactions between able-bodied people and people with disabilities has not been able to move past the way in which people with disabilities are dehumanised during the interaction process (Jahoda, Markova & Catterrnale, 1989). Little attention has been given to the possibility that able-bodied people are unsure of how to go about interacting with people with disabilities (Soder, 1990). The study found that able-bodied people were concerned about being seen to stare at Lyndon (because staring is rude) and thought that asking personal questions about his disability would be impolite. There was a fear of drawing undue attention to him and his disability during the interaction. Participants interacted with Lyndon using a set of projections and abstract assumptions of how they saw him. They constructed these through what they observed in his physical appearance and body language. The themes used to interact with him were; the chosen one, public awareness, pity or tragedy and sexually safe. Lyndon was unable to alter these constructions through dialogue and instead had to accept them or reject them. Lyndon also projected a set of assumptions onto participants he interacted with, yet during the interactions he was unable to convey to the other what they were. In this context, each encounter is masked by people's inability to understand and interpret not only theirs, but the others intention and motivation behind each interaction.

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