R-6: Personal and Environmental Factors Influencing Community Living for People with Disabilities

Participation in society is critical to the well-being and citizenship of persons with disabilities. This study explores where individuals with disabilities participate in the community so that we may better understand the relationships between community participation and living and environmental factors. The researchers used data from two surveys, the Characteristics of the Respondent (CORE) and Survey of Participation and Receptivity in the Community (SPARC). The findings of this study can provide information for making changes in access and community supports.

The purpose of this research is to better understand the community participation of individuals with disabilities by examining relationships between community participation and community living and environmental facilitators. The project analyzed data collected using a system of measurement (the CORE and SPARC) to explore the relationships between community participation and environmental facilitators, as well as person (demographic), health-related, geographic and impairment factors.

The Characteristics of the Respondent (CORE) was designed to help researchers understand what personal factors influence participation for people with disabilities. The measurement tool inquires about personal demographics, benefits received, any disabling conditions (physical, visual, hearing), primary diagnosis for each identified disabling condition, and any current or past secondary conditions.

The Survey of Participation and Receptivity in Communities (SPARC) measures the quality of participation at specific community sites (including doctors’ offices, shopping malls, pharmacies, exercise facilities, grocery stores, restaurants and public transportation facilities). In the SPARC, participants are asked about their community participation with respect to: importance, control, choice, satisfaction, personal factors (pain and fatigue), support to do activities (use of assistance, use of assistive technologies), physical factors in the environment, interpersonal responses of people at the site, and use of transportation to visit the site. If the participants indicate they do not visit a site, they are asked to identify common barriers to their visiting that site.

This study included a web-based survey of 670 people between the ages of 18 and 75 who live in the community, have access to a computer/telephone, can read at or above the sixth grade level, can enter responses into a web-based survey or direct another individual to enter their responses into a web-based survey, and have a mobility, visual or hearing. Participants were recruited from a variety of organizations that work with people with disabilities, such as Independent Living Centers, ILRU and disability-related websites (Pride Mobility, Wheelchairjunkie, etc.).

The results of the survey have illustrated the differences in how people with motor, visual or hearing limitations evaluate their participation at different types of community sites. Each limitation group reports different environmental barriers at the same types of sites. The environmental features that were included in the 1995 ADA accessibility guidelines are very often present at most community locations, but the environmental facilitators that are important for people with visual and hearing limitation were not frequently reported.

The perceived quality of communication at a community site was used as an indicator of how respondents were treated – i.e., the site’s receptivity level to people with disabilities. The survey respondents reported that their communication with community site employees (e.g., doctor’s office staff, grocery store workers) varied by type of site, but were generally positive. In cases where the respondent perceived the employees to be unwelcoming (e.g., avoided them, spoke to them like a child, solved problems without their input), this poor receptivity contributed more to the person’s evaluation of their participation at the site than did physical features. 

Pain and fatigue were reported as a secondary condition by a majority of the respondents but the influence of pain or fatigue on participation at most sites was found to be negligible.

Project Background

Purpose of the Study, Anticipated Benefits, Methods and Hypotheses

More Information about the Design of the Research

Sample, Data Collection and Measurement, Data Analysis

Principal Investigator: David B. Gray, PhD

This is one of six projects that uses existing data (Core A) to analyze how barriers to and experiences of community living may differ across socio-demographic and geographic groups.