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Keywords:

  • Digital archives;
  • exclusion;
  • hidden history;
  • Ireland;
  • institutional practices;
  • narratives;
  • redress;
  • resilience

Accessible summary

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    Older people with intellectual disabilities have been telling their life-stories in Ireland.
  • • 
    People remember being taken away from their family and community. People talk about sad memories of times in institutions.
  • • 
    People talk about the kindness of friends and family.
  • • 
    These stories tell staff that older people want to talk about their past and need help to do this. Doing life-story work will help staff to find out what older people who are in services in Ireland need to make their lives meaningful and comfortable.

Summary

This article draws on life-stories told by older people with intellectual disabilities for a research study in the Republic of Ireland. Research participants recalled their experiences of confinement, coercion and exclusion that resulted from their being labelled as having intellectual disabilities. Participants also recalled the positive interactions with workers and family members that sustained them during these difficult times. Extracts from these narratives show how past medical and social processes interlinked to classify members of this group as ‘deficient’ or ‘lacking’ in some way. Life-stories collected in this project illustrate the value of a narrative approach to exploring how services might begin to enhance the quality of support currently provided to older people with intellectual disabilities. However, life-story work in a service setting is far from straightforward, and support is needed for staff involved in this process.