Designed to Deter

Community Barriers to Physical Activity for People with Visual or Motor Impairments


      People with disabilities are more likely to be obese, in poor health, and get less physical activity than the general population. However, research on community factors for physical activity has generally either excluded most people with disabilities, or overlooked relevant factors of community accessibility. This exploratory study investigated environmental factors affecting people with motor impairments and people with visual impairments in urban neighborhoods.


      Quantitative and qualitative methods were used with a nonrandom sample (n=134) of users of four types of assistive mobility technologies: guide dogs, long canes, and motorized and manual wheelchairs. From July 2005 to August 2006, the sample participated in two telephone surveys. Between the surveys, a stratified random subsample (n =32) engaged in an ethnographic phase of observation and interviews.


      Most participants in all groups using assistive mobility technologies rated their neighborhoods as accessible, although they also reported many specific barriers. Users of assistive mobility technologies differed in the amount of reported physical activity and on specific barriers. Problems with sidewalk pavement and puddles/poor drainage were the most frequently mentioned environmental barriers, by 90% and 80%, respectively. Users of assistive mobility technologies were more similar on main strategies for dealing with barriers. All groups reported having to plan routes for outings, to alter planned routes, to go more slowly than planned, or to wait for a different time.


      Despite legislative requirements for accommodation, people with disabilities face barriers to physical activity, both in the built and social environments. Determined people with disabilities were able to overcome barriers, but required additional expenditure of resources to do so. Community design that can include people with disabilities requires detailed understanding of barriers specific both to types of impairments and to different types of assistive mobility technologies.
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