Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Health and Human Sciences

First Supervisor

Dr Robert Jackson


The purpose of the study was to examine the experiences of both people with disabilities and elderly people and to identify their perceptions of quality as it relates to living in a service or being supported by a service to live in the community. The study was naturalistic in design and used a phenomenological approach and inductive analysis. It involved immersion in living services for a two year period, in-depth interviews with people living and working in services and participant observation. Fifty service users between the ages of twenty-one and ninety-six, and twenty-six service workers between the ages of twenty-six and fifty-four were informants in the study. The study comprised of three phases, the first phase involved repeated in-depth interviews with service users in two disability and two aged care living services to examine the experiences of people living in services and their perceptions of quality. As a result of the consistency with which relationships with key staff members emerged in the context of quality experiences, selected service workers who were named by service users were also interviewed. The findings in this phase indicated that relationships experienced by service users in their encounters with service workers were more significant in service users' evaluation of quality than tangible acts of physical and environmental care. Relational experiences of people living in services were variable. Some informants experienced consistent validation and socio-emotional support, whilst others experienced role distancing and negative communication experiences. Service workers who were interviewed as a result of being identified by service users in the context of quality, attached importance to the relational domain in the acts and behaviours of providing a service. They also attached personal meaning to their roles as service workers and shared the view that their role as service worker was underpinned by an ethos of communality. The second phase of the study involved accessing another five disability and five aged care services to collect further data to support or refute the findings from phase one. As a result a large data bank was established to confirm the consistency with which relational experiences in living services were linked to perceptions of quality by both service users and service providers. Acts and behaviours which were consistently present in the context of quality were also identified and the need for emotional support in the living context was further confirmed. The third phase of the study involved an in-depth analysis and identification of commonly experienced categories of relationships between service users and workers. Relationships were categorised into ethical and technical living service experiences and exemplars used to illustrate findings. Data analysis indicated that service experiences lie on a continuum, with mutually supportive relationships between service users and workers at one end, and physical and psychological abuse at the other. Experiences were variable in singular service contexts. This highlighted the individual nature of service relationships between service users and workers and the need to articulate human service as relationship. It also highlighted the inadequacies of using standard measures to evaluate quality in living services.