Offering choices to people with intellectual disabilities: an interactional study

At the level of policy recommendation, it is agreed that people with intellectual impairments ought to be given opportunities to make choices in their lives; indeed, in the UK, the Mental Capacity Act of 2005 enshrines such a right in law. However, at the level of practice, there is a dearth of evidence as to how choices are actually offered in everyday situations, which must hinder recommendations to change. This qualitative interactional study, based on video recordings in British residential homes, combines ethnography with the fine-grained methods of Conversation Analysis to identify some conversational practices that staff use to offer choices to residents with intellectual disabilities. We describe the unwanted consequences of some of these practices, and how the institutional imperative to solicit clear and decisive choice may sometimes succeed only in producing the opposite.