A conversation analytic study of co-working between a person with learning disabilities and a person without learning disabilities

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Co-working is a unique approach to addressing employment inequalities for people with learning disabilities. It involves a dyad comprising a person with and person without learning disabilities, with equal employment arrangements in terms of status and pay, working together, providing mutual support and skill sharing. Currently, co-working is mainly only seen in disabled people’s organisations that champion the rights of people with learning disabilities. However, this employment set up has potential to increase the numbers of people with learning disabilities in paid work and also in positions of influence both inside and outside disabled people’s organisations.

This study sets out to examine how the co-workers’ interactions impact on equality in co-working and how they both contribute to decision making in the course of their work. Four pairs of co-workers from four different disabled people’s organisations across the UK were videoed whilst undertaking their work and Conversation Analysis (CA) was used to perform a fine grained analysis of their interactions as they proceed, turn by turn.

The findings show that despite having a strong context for equal working, co-workers at times replicated asymmetries and inequalities seen in supporter-service user relationships. However, the co-workers without a learning disability largely displayed an orientation towards ensuring that the voice of their colleague was a central part of any work they produced. At different times, both co-workers exercised authority, but each were deferred to as having specific deontic domains. The co-worker without a learning disability largely had authority to decide upon the work task and the co-worker with a learning disability had authority about matters within their epistemic domain. Some of the approaches to promoting quality in co-working are each co-worker having access to all aspects of work, avoiding replicating established disempowering interactional practices, equal access to IT equipment and accessible information.
Date of Award22 Mar 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorSandra F Dowling (Supervisor) & Val J Williams (Supervisor)

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