Abstract

This qualitative research was designed to understand how the social integration process in the workplace unfolds with adults who have intellectual disabilities. Participant observation and interviews permitted an in-depth examination of 10 integration situations within a company, with regard for the actions and perceptions of the stakeholders. Analyses revealed various intertwined processes, in which the focus persons and their colleagues together sought an optimal adjustment, or coadaptation, with support from a job coach. The study of these interactive processes led to the emergence of a theory of coadaptation, a process that defines and builds social and professional integration. This theoretical development revisits the interactive process within the socioecological perspective of disability and the concept of support and its assessment.

For more than 20 years, socioprofessional integration services from a social adaptation and integration perspective have been offered to adults with intellectual disabilities. A job coach teams up with the focus person to find a job or a productive occupation then helps him or her learn how to work and function in this setting. Moreover, the job coach interacts with the focus person's colleagues to help tailor the individual's adaptation. The importance of the on-site job coach usually declines as the person and his or her colleagues reach a satisfactory mode of functioning. Concurrent with the improvement of the social integration of persons with disabilities, their social participation and inclusion, at a conceptual level, is viewed as a result of an interaction between persons with disability and their environment. The social and professional integration process itself, however, has remained relatively ignored, even though workplace integration has been the object of much empirical research. Thus, the purpose in this qualitative study was to gain an understanding of how the social and professional integration process unfolds within the context of the interactive relationship between the focus persons and their colleagues. To plan this study, I considered both the recent evolution of the conceptual perspectives of disability and the main thematic of the previous studies on socioprofessional integration.

The conceptual perspective of disability has evolved considerably in the last decade, from the medical model to the socioecological model (Tate & Pledger, 2003). Predominant for a long time, the medical (or individual) model suggests that the physical, cognitive, or mental status of persons with a disability might be enough to explain the difficulties they could meet in every day activities (Jason & Laub, 2006). During the 20th century, however, the theorists of various disciplines have abandoned the medical model. Instead of assuming that objects were isolated and individuals separated or independent, they developed a greater interest in studying the relations among the objects, people, or concepts (Minow, 1990). The conceptual advances in the field of disability followed, and the socioecological perspective of disability (Tate & Pledger, 2003) became preponderant (Fougeyrollas, Cloutier, Bergeron, Côté, & St-Michel, 1998; World Health Organization, 2001). In accordance with this perspective, the functioning, integration, and social participation of individuals with a disability derive from the interaction of their own personal features and the characteristics, more or less facilitative or restrictive, of their environment. For example, people who use a wheelchair may visit a restaurant in their neighborhood because an entrance ramp makes it accessible. Here, the interaction between motor disability and environment appear to favor full participation in or integration into society. Under the influence of the socioecological perspective, the researchers were, therefore, encouraged to study persons with disabilities in light of the interactive person/environment process (Tate & Pledger, 2003). According to the authors, however, little information on person/environment interaction appears to be available. In general, the study of the processes has received very little attention from researchers (Bronfenbrenner, 1996).

Despite attempts to achieve a more global understanding of social integration on the basis of a socioecological perspective (Bouchard & Dumont, 1996), the empirical studies on socioprofessional integration have instead dealt with a specific theme. First of all, the stakeholders' actions and the social integration strategies at work have been a main focus of research. The term stakeholders refers to individuals involved in an integration situation (e.g., the focus person and his or her colleagues, the job coach from the professional integration services).

Some researchers have examined the nature, content, or frequency of social interactions between the persons with a disability label and their coworkers (Ohtake & Chadsey, 1999; Rusch, Wilson, Hugues, & Heal, 1995). The various roles played by coworkers in the person's integration has also been a focus of inquiry (Rusch, Johnson, & Hugues, 1990). Other researchers centered their empirical investigation on the job coach's actions that fostered colleagues' support of the focus person (Butterworth, Whitney-Thomas, & Shaw, 1997; Hagner, Butterworth, & Keith, 1995). Rather than acting directly with the person, the job coach became a consultant to his or her colleagues, helping them adjust tasks, suggesting methods that would facilitate interactions with the person and proposing changes of certain elements within the culture of the culture of the work environment (Butterworth et al., 1997).

Others investigators have been interested in stakeholders' perceptions of social integration at work. Chadsey-Rush, Linneman, and Rylance (1997) revealed a consensus among stakeholders about the acceptance of the person by the workplace administrators and colleagues, and the feelings of support engendered by them. According to Sitlington and Easterday (1992), employers who had gone through an integration situation perceive the presence of a person with a disability label within their workplace more favorably.

A few investigators concentrated their inquiry on the stakeholders' actual experience and measured the satisfaction of employers (Shafer, Hill, Seyfarth, & Wehman, 1987) and of the person being integrated (Melchiori & Church, 1997; Test, Hinson, Solow, & Keul, 1993). Chadsey-Rusch, O'Reilly, Gonzalez, and Collet-Klingenberg (1992) measured the loneliness of the focus person being integrated in a workplace.

The conditions favorable to socioprofessional integration have also been investigated. If, according to Pierce, McDermott, and Butkus (2003), increases in salary and work hours predict job tenure for new hires with disability labels, Tannila, Rantakallio, Koiramen, von Went, and Järvelin (2005) found that adults with intellectual disabilities had a lower rate of employment and longer periods of unemployment.

In short, authors of these empirical studies often examined only one aspect of social integration at work pertaining to the stakeholders' actions, perceptions, or actual experiences. Thus, they only offered a fragmented vision of this phenomenon. Some researchers, although establishing correlations between certain factors and outcomes of integration, failed in offering a more global perspective that takes into account all of its facets and related processes inherent to its construction.

The socioecological perspective provides a more global understanding of the overall phenomenon of social and professional integration. According to Chadsey, Linneman, Rush, and Cimera (1997), this perspective aims at maximizing congruence or adjustment between the individual and his or her environment, in an interdependent relationship, by modifying the individual, the environment, or both. However, these studies were geared more towards the personal and environmental factors that determine integration or social participation than the interaction process (between these factors) per se. In spite of an honest attempt to take the environment into account, these scientific researchers treated social integration as a single outcome that could be measured from the focus person. The absence, to date, of this interactive perspective of the person/environment is caused, in large part, by the way interaction is positioned as an object of research. In fact, the concept of the person/environment interaction creates a split, which places the focus person external to the environment and considers both as having parallel dynamics, in spite of their mutual interaction.

In conjunction with the development of social thought during the previous century, Minow (1990) showed how certain premises of American legal theory and their expression in institutional and social norms reinforced, in various contexts (e.g., academic, professional, legal), the unfavorable and marginalizing treatment of persons with disabilities and members of racial and religious minorities. Legal theorists assume that individuals are autonomous and independent of each other. Consequently, just as in the medical model, a difference in one person became a problem intrinsic to him or her. In addition, the solutions foreseen for the problem of the difference rested on distinctions established by an abstract, dichotomous (normal/abnormal) and predefined categorization, without regard for the context and the perspective of the persons themselves. For example, an individual's ability or inability to work could be assessed from the absence or presence of an intellectual disability without taking into account the person's abilities and potential contribution and the arrangements that would facilitate his or her access to work. Conversely, Minow proposed the social-relations approach of difference. This alternative orientation, which is focused on inclusion, inspired several researchers interested in integration and the positive recognition of socially disadvantaged groups in connection with a racial or ethnic difference (e.g., Killen, Lee-Kim, McGlothlin, & Stangor, 2002), a learning difficulty in the school setting (Ho, 2004), a cognitive disability (Olney & Kim, 2001), and a mental illness (Johnstone, 2001). The social-relations approach of differences highlights the interdependence that connects all individuals to others in a given situation. Failure to consider the perspective of different persons and to include them in social life deprives other citizens of their particular contribution and vice versa. Using a contextualized understanding of the relationships between different persons and placing said persons within a dynamic of interdependence, the social-relations approach fosters an understanding of the process of social integration, starting from the relationships of mutuality that connect the focus persons and the other stakeholders in a situation of integration, by considering their point of view and their actions.

In the present study my aim was to understand how a social integration situation is constructed by considering persons with disability as an integral part of their environment—rather than separate from it, as seen in the dichotomous person–environment relationship. In response to the limitations of the socioecological perspective for describing the person/environment relationship, my goal was to offer a theoretical understanding of the social integration process in a workplace setting derived from empirical data. For the purpose of this study, I defined social integration as a situation of mutual adjustment between a focus person and those around him or her in the life context they shared in relation with other people external to this context.

Method

In order to meet my objectives, I used a qualitative research design, inspired from grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). This methodological approach allows investigators to globally capture a lesser-known phenomenon and allows a clearer theoretical understanding by considering the actions, the representations, and actual experience of the stakeholders.

Sampling Strategy

I thoroughly examined 10 situations in which adults having a diagnosis of intellectual disability were integrated into the workplace. These situations were initiated and supported by one of the three public rehabilitation centers that participated in the study. Each situation was chosen on the basis of the characteristics that distinguished it from the preceding ones. Each row in Table 1 presents the person's primary characteristics specific to each of the 10 studied situations. Similarly, Table 2 presents the primary characteristics of the workplace and the conditions of integration. Tables 1 and 2 provide row-by-row comparisons of situations of integration; therefore, it gives a general idea of the primary sources of diversity in the creation of this sample of situations. For example:

Table 1

Focus Person's Characteristics in the Integration Situations

Focus Person's Characteristics in the Integration Situations
Focus Person's Characteristics in the Integration Situations
Table 2

Workplace Primary Characteristics and Conditions of Integration in the Situations Studied

Workplace Primary Characteristics and Conditions of Integration in the Situations Studied
Workplace Primary Characteristics and Conditions of Integration in the Situations Studied

Situation 2, in a day-care setting, involved D., a person who was serious, reserved, and capable of expressing herself. D. worked part time and was isolated from her colleagues—all of them women— who were not inclined to talk with her. Situation 3 stands in contrast to the preceding situation. Despite his difficulty with speech, Ro, was a very demanding young man who worked full time alongside his colleagues, all of them men. Although the coworkers may have wanted Ro. to be less talkative, they did not avoid interacting with him; doing so helped to relieve the boredom of an often repetitive job in an industrial setting. The diversity of the dynamics and contexts of integration in this study made it possible to optimize the richness of the empirical data on the basis of the emerging theory.

All of these situations involved individual integration, with the exception of Situation 6, in which Cl. was integrated simultaneously with 8 other persons with intellectual disabilities. Each of them performed tasks in different departments and benefited from the constant presence of the job coach at the company. In the other situations of integration, which involved individuals who had been in the situation for a longer time, the job coach regularly visited the workplace to help them and guide their colleagues in providing efficient support. These follow-up visits lasted from 10 to 60 minutes and varied between twice a day to twice a month (see Table 2), depending on the time required for adjustment between the person and his or her colleagues.

Data Collection

Data were gathered through participant observation; I spent approximately 14 to 36.5 hours in each work site, depending on its complexity. Field notes, on average, contained 2,269 lines per site and were produced to provide a description of the situation, activities and interactions. Data collection was also conducted through interviews in action (Carrier & Fortin, 1997) to obtain pertinent information on the integration process in each workplace. Interviews in action are based on many systematized informal conversations that occur during observation periods and events in progress. This brings a concrete and immediate character to the interview and is particularly suitable when interviewing people with intellectual disabilities (Carrier & Fortin, 1994). For each integration situation, I also conducted semi-structured formal interviews with all of the principal stakeholders. Interviews were aimed at discovering stakeholders' points of view regarding the focus person's placement and maintenance, the evolution of the support provided by colleagues and job coach, the challenges encountered and strategies used to optimize the person's functioning, and the perceived signs of social integration. Finally, each job coach completed two questionnaires having to do with characteristics of the target person and the work site. The diversity of data-collection methods permitted a triangulation of information necessary to ensure a certain rigor during analysis.

Data Analysis

Qualitative analysis of the collected and transcribed information was carried out concurrently with the data-collection phase. Information was analyzed line by line, based on its explicit content. In spite of its linear presentation, the process of analysis was iterative and its three phases were sometimes interwoven. In the first phase, with the help of NU·DIST software, I developed a system of minor categories and then indexed the data using these categories. Information concerning the stakeholders, workplace, and integration conditions was organized into an arborescent system of 103 categories on a descriptive level. A second categorization (170 categories) was subsequently developed on a higher conceptual level to reveal signs of integration arising from the contribution of various types of stakeholders and the impact of integration conditions. Figure 1 shows, as an example, a portion of the categorization developed during the course of the study. The development of minor categories was based on the principles of exhaustiveness and homogeneity: Each unit of information collected was classified in at least one category containing information of a comparable nature.

Figure 1

Example of a tree-structured organization of categories

Figure 1

Example of a tree-structured organization of categories

During the second phase of analysis, I identified major categories, each corresponding to a process observed in the social integration situations. All minor categories were related to at least one of the following processes: the tasks/person adjustment, the management of difficulties, the person's integration in the social life of the work site, the management of difference, the collectivization of the integration. The tasks/person adjustment and management of difficulties processes were retained for a thorough analysis because of their importance regarding workplace integration. The analysis of these two processes overlapped with the analysis of two other major categories: the collectivization of the integration and the management of difference. Finally, an in-depth examination of the major categories led to the third phase of the analysis that consisted of recognizing the concept of coadaptation as a central process towards which the analyzed processes converged. This central category integrated the processes studied and provided a broad outline of the general model. The term coadaptation as used here was borrowed from the natural sciences, where it is in common use. Introduced through the theory of evolution, it designates the mutual adaptation of two species, two parts of the same organism, or two genotypes that operate together and seems to have evolved so as to maximize this collaboration (Ridley, 2003). In this study, coadaptation designates the process of mutual adjustment between a focus person and the other stakeholders in relation with other people external to the life context they share. Coadaptation is oriented towards the establishment of interdependence to the benefit of all stakeholders, in a given situation of integration.

Results

In this section I present a general overview of the theory of coadaptation without presenting a detailed description (which space does not permit) of the processes analyzed and the contribution of each stakeholder. This model, shown in Figure 2, initiated an understanding of social and professional integration as the quest for an optimal mutual adjustment or coadaptation between a focus person and those around him or her.

Figure 2

General model of the social and professional integration, a theory of coadaptation

Figure 2

General model of the social and professional integration, a theory of coadaptation

The Coadaptation Process

In all situations, the integration of a person with intellectual disabilities in a workplace was begun in response to the person's expectations (or to the expectations of others) and the motivations of the employer. In Situation 10 (see Tables 1 and 2), C. had dreamed of working in an office, a workplace similar to that of her mother, who was a secretary. For the manager, C.'s contributions improved the productivity of the secretaries, who were freed from simple tasks that they considered tedious.

The arrival of these individuals at the workplace readily generated occasions of mobilization and interaction for them and their colleagues. This involvement of different stakeholders brought a necessarily social and collective dimension to integration. Invariably, they had to invest in the tasks/person adjustment and also in the management of difficulties. The person's colleagues, with the support of the job coach, tried to identify the problematic situations and foresee the adjustments required to find a way of interacting with or helping the individual function within the enterprise. For example, in the kitchen of a cafeteria (Situation 9), F.'s colleagues noticed that she reacted to unexpected situations by crying and screaming. To counter this reaction, the job coach and the manager structured F.'s tasks into a predictable work routine. The expected outcome of this solution was only partly achieved because some of the coworkers who worked near her continued to ask her to do things that interfered with her routine. After discussion with the job coach and the manager, they decided that any requests that unavoidably had to be made of F. would be made by her manager. Often, the focus person, the job coach, and the employer were the only stakeholders at first. Nevertheless, the analysis indicated an on-site collectivization of the integration. Indeed, insofar as the job coach supported coworkers' participation and input in the decision-making regarding the tasks/person adjustment and the management of difficulties, the integration tended to become, over time, a collective experiment shared by the focus person and all of the coworkers who interacted with her. This collectivization resulted in an improvement of the commitment and the degree of cohesion among the focus person's colleagues in their way of coping with her.

Furthermore, the management of difference was also inherent to the tasks/person adjustment and the management of difficulties. Through their actions and representations, the coworkers dealt with the focus person's differences in a more or less implicit or deliberate way to reduce disadvantages or, sometimes, to emphasize positive aspects. In the previous example with F., the adjustments made served to neutralize an upsetting difference (crying and screaming). F. became less anxious and more appreciated, creating a more pleasant working atmosphere.

The coadaptation process corresponded to three transformation orders: adjustments observable in the focus person, his or her colleagues, or in the work context they shared. These transformations, often iterative, stabilized to an optimal adjustment that was deemed satisfactory by all the stakeholders. On the other hand, the absence or insufficiency of suitable and stabilized adjustments that help to reduce the unfavorable aspects of the person's differences can contribute to the emergence or maintenance of avoidance or depreciation, ultimately leading to the exclusion of the focus person by certain coworkers. Due to the length of the integration situations that were examined (average of 4.6 years), avoidance or undervaluing were rarely found during the study. An exception was in Situation 6, a large store into which Cl.'s integration took only 15 months. Because it was obvious that CI. had Down syndrome, a speech impairment, and considerable shyness, it quickly became evident that Cl. and her coworkers were not developing a rapport. Cl.'s colleagues justified avoiding her by saying that they were afraid of having to make her repeat herself several times, which, they feared, would make her very angry.

Figure 2 is a graphic chart of the general model of social integration, developed within the work context, namely, a theory of coadaptation. However, reality being more complex than what is depicted in this figure, the various processes could occur simultaneously and mutually influence one another. The tasks/person adjustment strategies and the management of difficulties strategies, presented below, illustrate how these various transformations are intertwined.

Tasks/Person Adjustment Strategies

The tasks/person adjustment was found to be the most effective intervention possible regarding the quality of the focus person's work and the production of adequate behaviors and attitudes during the execution of her tasks. As can be seen in Figure 3, analyses revealed that the tasks/person adjustment was at the intersection of three interrelated and complementary strategies: tasks selection, jobsite training, and tasks accommodation. Tasks selection consisted of identifying the tasks available and those which the person could execute, often after some training or after tasks accommodation. For example, in Situation 8, the shipping-related tasks chosen by J. capitalized on his physical strength and did not produce complaints about his sloppy attire. Jobsite training referred to the strategy allowing a person to assimilate the necessary behaviors to execute the selected tasks. Tasks accommodation was focused more on allowing for a modification of the conditions of tasks realization tailored to the person's characteristics rather than on the improvement of the person's competence. For example, R., who was working in a stable (Situation 1), traced an asterisk on a board near the telephone when there was a phone call for the manager during his absence. Upon his return, the manager would see the asterisk on the board and would then ask R. who called him. This task accommodation helped R. counter his difficulties to remember at the proper moment about the manager's missed call.

Figure 3

Complementarity and overlapping of the tasks/person adjustment strategies

Figure 3

Complementarity and overlapping of the tasks/person adjustment strategies

The three tasks/person adjustment strategies were interwoven within three mixed adjustment strategies: situational assessment, job creation, and supervision. Situational assessment combined both tasks selection and jobsite training to provide insight into person skills and interests. Related to situational assessment, tasks selection was made following an attempt at training the person and assessing his or her capacity to learn or execute a task before its selection. Job creation consisted of retaining a group of tasks or parts of tasks appropriate for the focus person. This was the case for Ro. (Situation 3), who was assigned to simple tasks related to factory maintenance: putting away small parts and packaging finished products. Frequently, this amalgam consisted of an assortment of tasks that previously were executed by different employees. Finally, supervision encompassed a set of direct interactions with the person during execution of tasks that helped to overcome a person's incapacity or insufficiently integrated training. Supervision went hand in hand with tasks accommodation or prolonged jobsite training. For example, in Situation 4, A. was not able to acquire the habit of washing his hands when he entered the dishwashing room of the cafeteria. One of his colleagues nearby developed the habit of reminding him. Thus, the colleague's prompt was sufficiently effective that A. could follow the sanitary rules and keep his job.

Although each of these strategies was effective in one or another situation, the stakeholders intuitively had a tendency to invest more in tasks/person adjustment strategies that were less demanding. They initially opted for job creation because it significantly reduced the subsequent operations of jobsite training, supervision, and tasks accommodation. This latter strategy was frequently selected because it often required only a temporary investment on the part of the coworkers and job coach, rather than a repeated effort as would be the case with supervision, which is based on direct interactions. However, in spite of their redundant and long-term nature, the supervision interactions were essential in all of the integration situations studied.

Jobsite training operations aimed at an adjustment by improving a person's competence. However, analysis indicated that the tasks/person adjustment strategies required adjustments especially from the person's coworkers or of the work context itself—physical or organizational. Job creation is the development of a new job within the work place. Furthermore, the person's colleagues contributed to supervision and to tasks accommodation, to varying degrees, by modifying their way of interacting with the person or by transforming their work context.

Management of Difficulties

Management of difficulties describes the stakeholder's efforts in solving a situation they judged problematic as well as making reported improvements in relation to the given situation. Compared to the tasks/person adjustment, where the stakeholders were concerned with the person's participation in the enterprise's activities, management of difficulties is centered more on the relational aspects of the person's functioning. In a few cases, stakeholders reported difficulties concerning interactions between intolerant colleagues and the focus person or related to the target individual's transportation. Still, the most frequent and the most critical difficulties, described as being permanent or recurring, were related to the person's socioprofessional functioning: behaviors considered to be aggressive (e.g., confrontation or excessive hard-headedness) or dependent (e.g., requests for attention); repeated forgetfulness; heightened anxiety vis-à-vis changes; unpredictable or impertinent expressions of oneself; fluctuating motivation. Seeing these types of problems, the job coach and colleagues were initially inclined to direct their efforts towards trying to bring about changes in the focus person. In addition, when adjustments occurred and were well-learned by the individual, these changes appeared as a result of the job coach's actions or in response to coworkers or family. For example, in Situation 5, G., who was usually on time, started showing up 15 minutes late in the morning. By contacting the person who supervised him at home, the job coach discovered that G. had not changed the time when he left for work in spite of his recent move to an area farther away. The problem was eliminated when G. understood that he had to leave earlier and was helped to set his alarm clock appropriately. However, this scenario underscored the fact that these adjustments made by the person were insufficient to eliminate most of the difficulties pertaining to his or her functioning.

As with tasks/person adjustments, the results revealed a predominance of solutions based on contextual adjustment (physical or organizational) or by adjustments made by colleagues. For example, in a nursery (Situation 2), D.'s eating disorder behavior was kept under control when staff agreed not to leave food lying around once the meal or snack time was over. This contextual adjustment by colleagues helped improve the focus person's functioning in the nursery, not by eliminating the undesired behavior but rather by neutralizing it, in other words, by countering its occurrence. Likewise, in some situations where it was impossible to eliminate or neutralize certain difficulties, they were solved by accommodation on the part of the focus person's colleagues, as illustrated in the following example from Situation 3. For 5 years, an annoyed factory employer had asked Ro., in vain, not to enter his office without knocking. The employer managed to tolerate this inconvenience because he was generally satisfied with Ro.'s output and took pride in taking part in Ro.'s integration. In short, the study results demonstrated that difficulties related to the person's socioprofessional functioning were solved by their neutralization or by an accommodation by coworkers rather than by their elimination, which would require an adjustment on the part of the focus person.

Coadaptation: Mutual and Asymmetric Adjustment

The various processes examined converged upon an optimal coadaptation; the achievement of optimal social integration. Results of this study suggest that coadaptation, defined here as a mutual and continued adjustment, tend to stabilize following achievement of an optimal socioprofessional functioning of the person, improvement of support from colleagues, reduction in the support required from the job coach, and the establishment of a reciprocal rapport between the person and his or her colleagues. For example, in Situation 10, over the past 6 years, C. felt that reciprocity did exist with her colleagues: “They talk to me, listen to me, and give me attention; for my part, I offer them my assistance.” C. was happy to perform tasks that were useful but that the secretaries considered tedious. Consequently, when C. was away, the secretarial staff was the first to notice her absence and feel its effects.

Discussion

Rather than examining only some elements, in this qualitative study I offer a comprehensive understanding of the social integration process in the workplace as a whole, on the basis of actions and from the point of view of the stakeholders. Results of this study enabled the conceptualization and development of an empirically founded model: a theory of coadaptation. Borrowed from the natural sciences, the concept of coadaptation, although adopted by technological engineering, has hardly been used in the social sciences, where it is seldom treated as a central concept (Carrier & Fortin, 2003) but, rather, as a secondary one (Loconto & Jones-Pruett, 2006; Ziegler, 2005) or an implicit one (Strayer, Verissimo, & Manikowska, 1996). In the natural sciences, where it is in very widespread use, coadaptation invariably designates the mutual adaptation between two entities of the same order (e.g., between one species and another) in a way that optimizes the collaboration. Thus, in a situation of social integration, coadaptation designates the mutual adjustment that operates between a focus person and other stakeholders that optimizes the development of interdependence to the benefit of all. The theory of coadaptation alters the view of the social participation or integration of persons with disabilities and of their needs for support. In summary, in this section, I presented three of the principal propositions that result from the theory of coadaptation.

Revisiting the Interaction Process Within the Socioecological Perspective

The theory of coadaptation places the interactive process at the heart of the social and professional integration between a focus person and other stakeholders. Like the social relations approach suggested by Minow (1990), this coadaptation is observed fundamentally within the social relationships between interdependent individuals who take part in a set of transformations, both in their relationships and in the life setting that they share, which optimizes this coadaptation. This perspective favors the placement of coadaptation, a relational process, at the center of the socioecological model of disability (Fougeyrollas et al., 1998; Tate & Pledger, 2003), which falls short in offering a clear understanding of the person/environment interaction process per se.

Revisiting the Construct of Social Integration

Up until now, most investigators have been interested in personal and environmental factors that, by virtue of their interaction, determine the integration or social participation in the spirit of the socioecological model. From this perspective, integration and social participation are, by definition, individual constructs, exclusively focused on the person's living habits. By examining integration situations in the workplace, I looked at the interaction (coadaptation) process, which involves and transforms not only the focus person but also other stakeholders through joint and continuous challenges of learning to coexist in a satisfactory way. This mutual nature of coadaptation provided this study with a social and collective dimension from the outset. Defined as coadaptation, social integration in the workplace could not be reduced to a mere process of integrating the person into the enterprise's social life. This process, however, which was identified during the second phase of the analysis, has not as yet been thoroughly analyzed and may provide a deeper understanding of the relational aspects of coadaptation.

The extended duration of several of the integration situations selected made it possible to identify the adjustments carried out as well as their stabilization with the expectation of a coadaptation considered optimal for all of the stakeholders. Conversely, the absence or insufficiency of changes conducive to an optimal coadaptation was hardly studied here because it was only rarely observed. Just as in the natural sciences, the theory of coadaptation indicates that it consolidates itself so as to optimize the contribution of each to the benefit of all.

Revisiting the Concept of Support and Its Assessment

Even though it was mutual, coadaptation between the target persons and their colleagues proved to be asymmetric. Given that the focus individuals are limited in their repertoire of adaptive behaviors, the observed adjustment effort came mostly from colleagues. Moreover, a rapport involving reciprocity between target persons and their colleagues was characteristic of optimal coadaptation, thus acknowledging the target individuals' contribution despite their need for support.

The coadaptation process improved the focus person's socioprofessional functioning, which is consistent with the perception that disability changes, depending on the person's functional limitations and supports available within their environment (Luckasson et al., 2002). Moreover, predominance of the transformations within the enterprise's physical and organizational context, and all those engineered and experienced by colleagues, quite clearly highlighted the contextual nature of the coadaptation process. Furthermore, it would appear imperative to challenge the proposal of Thompson et al. (2002), who suggested measuring the intensity of the person's support needs using the Supports Intensity Scale as if these elements were intrinsic only to the person. Furthermore, when considering the context where natural support is sought or provided, an individual measure of the need for support appears insufficient. Focused on moving the process of coadaptation forward, the job coach's support of coworkers was an indirect, but nevertheless essential, support for the person's social integration. Improvement in the manner by which the person was supported by his or her colleagues, contributed to optimal coadaptation. Results of this study suggest that assessing the needs for support from a perspective of coadaptation (i.e., by considering conjointly the needs and resources not only of the focus persons, but also of those around them in the particular contexts in which they mutually evolve).

Finally, the transferability of the research results was limited to integration situations similar to those examined. Future studies are necessary in order to increase the transferability of the suggested theory to other integration contexts (e.g., schools, nurseries) and to other persons belonging to minority groups. In sum, starting from an understanding of human adaptation focused on the mutual adjustment between a focus person and those around him or her in a given social context, I found not only a new vision of social integration but also a new object of research: the coadaptation process in human relations and activities.

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Various organizations contributed to the financing of this project: the Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Société et la Culture, the Fonds pour la Formation des Chercheurs et l'Aide à la Recherche, the Roeher Institute, and the Fondation Desjardins. The translation of this article was financed by the Centre de Réadaptation en Déficience Intellectuelle Gabrielle-Major and the Centre de Recherche Interdisciplinaire en Réadaptation du Montréal Mé tropolitain.

Author notes

Author:

Suzanne Carrier, PhD (carriers@sympatico.ca), Researcher, Centre d'études sur la coadaptation sociale, Centre de Recherche Interdisciplinaire en Réadaptation du Montréal Métropolitain, Centre de réadaptation Lucie-Bruneau, Montréal; Associated Professor, Université du Québec à Montréal