Making choices about support services: disabled adults’ and older people’s use of information


Dr Kate Baxter
Social Policy Research Unit
University of York
York YO10 5DD


This paper explores how disabled adults and older people find and use information to help make choices about services. It presents findings from a qualitative longitudinal study in England. Thirty participants had support needs that fluctuated, meaning that additional services might be needed on a temporary basis; and 20 had the sudden onset of support needs resulting from an accident or rapid deterioration in health. Each disabled adult or older person was interviewed three times between 2007 and 2009, using a semi-structured topic guide. They were asked to discuss a recent choice about services, focussing, amongst other things, on their use of information. Interviews were transcribed and coded, then charted according to emergent themes. A wide range of choices and sources of information were discussed. These were dominated by health and to some extent by social care. Key findings are that information was valuable not just in weighing up different service options, but as a precondition for such choices, and that disabled adults and older people with the gradual onset of support needs and no prior knowledge about services can be disadvantaged by their lack of access to relevant information at this pre-choice stage. Timely access to information was also important, especially for people without the support of emergency or crisis management teams. Healthcare professionals were trusted sources of information but direct payment advisers appeared less so. Ensuring that practitioners are confident in their knowledge of direct payments, and have the communication skills to impart that knowledge, is essential. There may be a role also for specialist information advocates or expert lay-advisers in enabling disabled adults and older people to access and consider information about choices at relevant times.