Grey spaces: the wheeled fields of residential care

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Many individuals living in residential care use a wheelchair as their primary means of mobility. Although studies have documented challenges encountered by residents in these facilities, few have addressed the role that wheelchairs, as potential enablers and barriers to mobility and participation, play in their lives. To better understand residents’ experiences, an ethnographic study was conducted drawing on Bourdieu's theoretical constructs of capital, field, and habitus. Participant observations were conducted at two facilities, and residents, family members and staff took part in in-depth individual interviews. Our analysis revealed three themes. Ready to roll detailed how residents used wheelchairs as a source of comfort and means for expanding their social space, while staff could use them as a means to move and control some residents. Squeaky wheels described how residents solicited assistance from staff and family amid having to wait to perform activities of daily living. In, out and about revealed diversity in the places residents went, spaces they shared and the social activities in which they engaged inside and outside their residential facilities. The study findings emphasise how wheelchairs constitute capital that governs many fields of practice for residents and staff and suggest how practice and policy might be adjusted.

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