Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Journal of Applied Communication Research 31:1 (February 2003), pp. 1–26.

doi: 10.1080/00909880305374


Copyright © 2003 National Communication Association; published by Routledge/Taylor and Francis. Used by permission.


While social support is often conceptualized as a temporary need in crisis situations, people with visible physical disabilities face an ongoing challenge of balancing the need for instrumental social support against receiving unwanted help on a daily basis. Our goal was to study instrumental support interactions from the perspective of support recipients; in this case, people who are disabled, focusing on how physical assistance is communicatively managed with strangers and newer acquaintances. A qualitative/interpretive analysis was carried out on transcripts of in-depth interviews with 30 participants who had visible physical disabilities. Participants and interviewers discussed how help was communicated and managed with nondisabled others. Results detailed the physical assistance needed by people with disabilities, assistance initiated by persons with disabilities, assistance initiated by nondisabled persons, and how people with disabilities manage unwanted assistance. Practical applications for communication and behavior of both people with disabilities and nondisabled persons are discussed.