Environmental barriers and supports to everyday participation: A qualitative insider perspective from people with disabilities

Joy Hammel*, Susan Magasi, Allen Heinemann, David B. Gray, Susan Stark, Pamela Kisala, Noelle E. Carlozzi, David Tulsky, Sofia F. Garcia, Elizabeth A. Hahn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

211 Scopus citations


Objective To describe environmental factors that influence participation of people with disabilities. Design Constant comparative, qualitative analyses of transcripts from 36 focus groups across 5 research projects. Setting Home, community, work, and social participation settings. Participants Community-dwelling people (N=201) with diverse disabilities (primarily spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and stroke) from 8 states. Interventions None. Main Outcome Measures Environmental barriers and supports to participation. Results We developed a conceptual framework to describe how environmental factors influence the participation of people with disabilities, highlighting 8 domains of environmental facilitators and barriers (built, natural, assistive technology, transportation, information and technology access, social support and attitudes, systems and policies, economics) and a transactional model showing the influence of environmental factors on participation at the micro (individual), mesa (community), and macro (societal) levels. Focus group data validated some International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health environmental categories while also bringing unique factors (eg, information and technology access, economic quality of life) to the fore. Data were used to construct items to enable people with disabilities to assess the impact of environmental factors on everyday participation from their firsthand experience. Conclusions Participants with disabilities voiced the need to evaluate the impact of the environment on their participation at the immediate, community, and societal levels. The results have implications for assessing environmental facilitators and barriers to participation within rehabilitation and community settings, evaluating outcomes of environmental interventions, and effecting system and policy changes to target environmental barriers that may result in societal participation disparities versus opportunities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)578-588
Number of pages11
JournalArchives of physical medicine and rehabilitation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015


  • Environment
  • Focus groups
  • Qualitative research
  • Rehabilitation
  • Social determinants of health
  • Social participation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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