Vulnerability Among Older People Ageing with Deafblindness

Simcock, Peter and Manthorpe, Jill and Tinker, Anthea (2022) Vulnerability Among Older People Ageing with Deafblindness. Journal of Social Work. ISSN 1468-0173

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Summary: Vulnerability is an under-examined concept in social work. Scholarly activity principally concentrates on policy analysis and theoretical debate; less attention is given to lived experience of vulnerability from the perspectives of particular groups, impoverishing understanding of the phenomenon. This paper presents findings from the first United Kingdom based study of the lived experience of vulnerability from the perspectives of older deafblind adults. Adopting a qualitative design, data were collected via 18 semi-structured interviews with eight participants (aged between 49-83), undertaken between October 2014 and July 2016. Data were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Findings: Participants interpret vulnerability as layered, describing what they feel vulnerable about, what they feel vulnerable to and when they feel vulnerable. The latter layer is predominant: vulnerability experiences are time-limited, and situation and setting specific. Situational and pathogenic sources of vulnerability include the responses of other people, particularly the experience of being misunderstood or perceived as incapable. The layers of vulnerability are not discrete: they can be combined and avoidance of one vulnerability can exacerbate another.

Applications: Findings strengthen arguments against categorising particular groups, including deafblind people, as permanently and immutably vulnerable. Such categorisation, focused solely on impairment, provides an inadequate understanding of experience. Policymakers should consider adopting a layered approach to defining vulnerability. Assessment of these layers and how they interact may offer social workers enhanced understanding of deafblind people’s experiences and assist in determining what matters to them. Assessment should explore coping strategies, and assumptions of incapability based on impairment be rejected.

Item Type: Article
Identification Number:
2 May 2022Accepted
5 July 2022Published Online
Uncontrolled Keywords: Social work, older people, qualitative research, safeguarding, disability
Subjects: CAH15 - social sciences > CAH15-04 - health and social care > CAH15-04-01 - social work
Divisions: Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences > School of Education and Social Work
Depositing User: Peter Simcock
Date Deposited: 07 Jul 2022 13:40
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2022 13:40

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