Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Terry Mitchell

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This study explored the use of touch in the L’Arche approach to care-giving for people with developmental disabilities. The intent was to explore the nature of touch, and the protective and risk factors of this alternative care setting, to promote a safe and respectful environment that enhanced protective factors and minimized risk. The author was interested in the scientific research on the value of touch, ethics in relationships with power differences, the prevention of abuse, and the prevalence of respectful expressive/affectionate touch between people with disabilities and their caregivers. The study engaged one L’Arche community in Ontario, Canada, through a participatory, ethnographic, case study design. The data collection involved six weeks of participant observation, 11 interviews and two focus-groups (N = 19). Creating an inclusive research experience was important to the author, who sought balanced participation in all research methods between residents with developmental disabilities and staff. Amongst the participants were eight staff, seven residents, and four key-informants. The findings of this study revealed that the nature of touch in care-giving at L’Arche is very complex. The protective factors included capacity-building around touch, boundaries, and communication, and the role of community and long term relationships of mutuality. Risk factors included vulnerability, lack of communication and not respecting boundaries, dual roles, cultural differences and inconsistencies amongst L’Arche communities. It is hoped that the findings of this study will be transferrable to other care settings, in order to create respectful and safe environments for people with developmental disabilities.

Convocation Year


Included in

Psychology Commons