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Assessing and Comparing the Accessibility of Community Environments: A Feasibility Study

Environmental Contexts and Disability

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

Publication date: 4 November 2014



The Americans with Disabilities Act was established to promote universal access to community environments. Accessibility is not included in established community assessment systems, however, and there are few data comparing accessibility across cities. This lack of data hampers public policy, restricts consumer choice, and limits the development of a science of the environment and participation.


We developed a protocol for directly observing accessibility of public places and rated 226 randomly selected businesses in 19 towns in Montana.


Combining accessibility ratings across nine categories of accessibility, Montana’s small cities and towns achieved an overall accessibility rating of 2.66 on a four-point scale; equivalent to a D +  using a civil engineering grading framework. Exploratory analyses showed significant relationships between accessibility ratings and community economic variables. Surprisingly, our analyses showed a negative correlation with percent of city residents with disability.

Practical implications

It is feasible to assess accessibility of communities in a standard format. Systematic and longitudinal assessments of the accessibility of community infrastructure can contribute to community planning and development. There is a need to create a program to routinely monitor community environments as they change, integrate the findings into public policy and practice, and use the data as a basis for advancing a science of the environment.




This project was supported, in part, by a grant (H133B030501) from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education. The opinions expressed reflect those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the funding agency. The authors gratefully acknowledge our collaborators: Meg Traci, Director of the Montana Disability and Health Program; and the staff and consumers of Montana’s centers for independent living. We also acknowledge Dan Denis for his help in developing the sampling framework and drawing the sample of businesses.


Seekins, T., Arnold, N. and Ipsen, C. (2014), "Assessing and Comparing the Accessibility of Community Environments: A Feasibility Study", Environmental Contexts and Disability (Research in Social Science and Disability, Vol. 8), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 55-70.



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