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The Experience of Environmental Barriers among Adults with Disabilities: A National Description

Environmental Contexts and Disability

ISBN: 978-1-78441-263-0, eISBN: 978-1-78441-262-3

Publication date: 4 November 2014



In recent years, recognition of environmental influences in public health has expanded to include more components of the environment such as the built environment, attitudes, and public policies. This environmental attention has addressed the need for healthier housing, schools, roads, and work sites, as some examples. Paralleling the development of awareness of the impact of environment on health and health behaviors, the influence of the environment and its contribution to the experience of disability has become more apparent. This national descriptive analysis of environmental barriers contributes to our understanding of the extent of environmental considerations for the entire U.S. adult population, not just older individuals, and will document those problems for those with self-reported functional limitations (i.e., disability).


This analysis uses the 2002 National Health Interview data to examine physical, social, and policy barriers experienced by the U.S. national population of adults age 18 or over. Focusing specifically on those who report a physical, activity, participation, or mental health limitation, the experience of barriers in the home, workplace, school, and the community is examined using descriptive analyses.


Results indicate that approximately 11% of the population with disabilities and 2% of the nondisabled adult population experience barriers in their daily lives. Severity of limitations and poor health status among those with disabilities increase the experience of barriers. The only sociodemographic factor related to reporting barriers was income. Depending on the kind of limitation, up to 28.6% of the population with disabilities experience barriers. The two most frequently reported types of barriers were building design and attitudes of other people.

Social implications

This analysis provides an indication of how the environment is experienced by adults with disabilities and identifies perceived barriers found in the home, the work/school environment and the community. It starts to provide a baseline for understanding of the environment as experienced by persons with disabilities and suggests the most pressing areas for attention.


To our knowledge, this is among the first nationally representative analysis of barriers that interfere with daily activities experienced by adults in the United States. It highlights the experience of adults with disabilities and describes numerous types of potential barriers.




This research was supported, in part, by the Intramural Research Program at NIH, CC, RMD.


Altman, B.M., Lollar, D.J. and Rasch, E.K. (2014), "The Experience of Environmental Barriers among Adults with Disabilities: A National Description", Environmental Contexts and Disability (Research in Social Science and Disability, Vol. 8), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 33-53.



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