Addressing the Environmental Context of Disability
People living with long-term functional limitations are very familiar with the influence
of the environment on their lives. Physical structure, economic expectation or social
relationship norms developed within various cultures can either restrict or support the
individual’s full participation in society. The influence of these environmental factors
can vary by the requirements of the participation role or its physical location, by
individual goals and choices, by type of basic action difficulty causing the functional
limitations and other characteristics of the person such as age, gender and race.
Many of the theoretical models of environmental impact on disability organize their
approaches at two different levels, the individual and the societal levels. The immediate
environment of the individual, including settings such as the home (reflecting the
immediate family), the formal or informal workplace, places of worship, locations of civic
participation, and other similar settings which surround the individual create micro
systems in which the individual is personally involved. The person manages the physical,
social and material elements of these contexts which take place in these micro systems as
best they can.
The societal level of environment relates to the structure and organization of larger
social and cultural systems in the community that provide a variety of services for
everyone such as protection, shelter, food sources, education, entertainment, and health
care for the total population. These include transportation systems, policing and
emergency systems, forms of product distribution and health care systems. The
individual only comes in contact with a small portion of the larger systems, but in many
instances the larger systems dictate the general approach to disability within that
system. For example, the organization of a city’s transportation system dictates or
develops the organizational response to dealing with disabled clients, which represents
the macro level of the transportation environment. However, the bus driver who takes the
disabled person from point A to point B interprets company policy through his/her
attitudes or experience and impacts the disabled person’s experience with the
transportation system at the micro level. The experience of the person with disability
with the transportation system then can be impacted by either or both the macro and micro
circumstances. In some instances organizations or systems may not have consciously
considered the needs of persons with disabilities who use their services and so the system
is governed by cultural norms or possibly government legislation that is applied to all
similar systems which may or may not ignore the needs of people with functional
limitations (for example recent NYC taxicab issues).
While both individual and societal environments, can affect the ability of a person with a
functional limitation to participate in chosen social roles, we have very little national
or international data on patterns of environmental barriers or supports, particularly at
the macro or societal level. Most of our information and understanding of
environment/person interactions are based on anecdotal evidence from stories or reports of
personal experience rather than data representing collective experience. Rehabilitation
services often explore the nature of the contexts their clients need to deal with and in
many cases have developed questionnaires to collect extensive environmental information
from their clients. However, the data collected in this manner, while detailed, cannot be
assumed to be generalizable to different types of limitations, different geographic areas
in the same society, or different societal contexts. The data they collect are individual
and reflect the personal experience. From such data, we can compare individual
experiences with transportation, or health care access, but, without larger
representations of the population with disabilities with which to examine the broader
societal patterns, we don’t know if problems that are identified are attributable to the
larger system or to the specific interaction such as that between the individual and the
The objective of this volume of Research in Social Science and Disability is to address
the environmental issues that support or restrict the participation of persons with
functional limitations in society, thus potentially creating their disability either at
the micro or macro level.
We are soliciting articles that address development of an understanding of environmental
patterns that contribute to the supports or restrictions that a person with a limitation
experiences. The following are only a few suggested areas of focus:
1. The nature of environment patterns created by social systems such as policing,
transportation, resource distribution, etc.
2. Examination of the kind of norms that impact environments.
3. The kinds of participation that are most restricted by environmental factors.
4. The nature of the relationship between micro factors and macro factors in specific
environmental areas such as travel, shopping, community participation and others.
5. Examination of the various methods of measurement of environmental factors at the
individual or social levels of environment. Are there gaps in measurement either by type
of limitation, subjective or objective questions, random sampling vs non-random sampling
or other factors?
6. Cross-disability comparisons of environmental barriers or supports and their effects
7. Cross-national comparisons of the types of barrier or supports that exist that
effect participation, particularly participation in obtaining work roles or in the
8. Areas of participation that have seen the most improvement because of improvement
in environmental factors. Or, are all areas of participation equally influenced by
environmental context? What participation areas need the most environmental support?
Please note: This volume series has an interdisciplinary focus on social science research.
Because of that, it is very important that authors avoid the jargon of their discipline
and write to an audience knowledgeable about disability issues but who may not be as
familiar with discipline-specific terminology.
Submissions are due no later than January 15, 2014 and should be sent to BOTH Barbara
Altman, b.altman(a)verizon.net and Sharon Barnartt, barnartt(a)aol.com , co-editors of the
series. If you have questions about this call for papers, please contact Barbara –
b.altman(a)verizon.net Here is the link to the publisher’s style guidelines: