Abstract

An ethnographic approach was used to study adaptation to independent living of a 53-year-old woman with cerebral palsy in a West Coast Canadian city. The subject’s adaptation through her use of technology (including augmentative communication systems and a powered wheelchair), activity routines, and social supports was documented with the life history method. Short-term accommodations to disruption or breakdown of stable adaptations were observed through participant observation. The criterion of function alone was found insufficient to account for the subject’s choice of adaptive techniques, routines, and social supports. Adaptive choices appeared to depend on the subject’s desire to be perceived as able, especially as mentally competent, to the greatest extent possible. The way field experiences may be used to challenge professionals’ assumptions, in this case, concerning disability and treatment, is modeled for future ethnographic research in occupational therapy.

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