LAWRENCE — All people deserve the chance to thrive in a community, but for people with disabilities, there are often obstacles to participating.
A new special issue of the Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community explores various aspects of this topic. Two researchers at the University of Kansas Research and Training Center on Independent Living, or RTC/IL, edited the thematic issue, “People with Disabilities and Community Participation.”
According to Glen White, one of the issue’s guest editors and RTC/IL director, many people with disabilities remain isolated in their communities, despite advances in independent living and deinstitutionalization. Independent living focuses on supports that enable people to live in the community. Deinstitutionalization moves people from nursing homes to living in the community.
White said the five studies included in this issue focus on improving the lives of people with existing disabilities and those who are aging into disability.
“As researchers in the disability field continue to investigate interventions that reduce barriers and create more opportunities to fully participate, they will positively affect many of the more than 57 million Americans with disabilities,” White said.
Jean Ann Summers, the other guest editor and RTC/IL research director, said the special issue examines community participation from multiple angles.
“We present research that focuses on the characteristics of individuals, like secondary health conditions, that create problems with how people live in a community,” Summers said. “Other articles examine external factors that affect how people with disabilities are able to participate in their communities.”
For example, one study about accessible parking illustrates the way environmental changes can improve the ability of people with disabilities to get out and about.
“A community needs to be welcoming and accessible,” Summers said. “This, combined with supportive programs, helps empower people. You need both.”
According to contributor Craig Ravesloot, director of the Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities at the University of Montana, community participation is not only something people crave, but also it is a benefit to their health.
“For people with disabilities, the community environment often dictates their participation," Ravesloot said. "Where facilities are inaccessible, people with disabilities participate less, and less participation is not good for one’s health. This journal highlights the fact that we must address community issues to prevent many health problems.”
Ravesloot added that the research in this issue is meaningful for all people.
“Because disability is part of the normal human experience across the lifespan, we need to understand how society — including medical professionals, social service agencies, families and friends — can best provide support that facilitates full participation of all citizens,” he said.
One of the articles focuses on the role of centers for independent living, or CILs, which are nonresidential resource centers that provide services and training to people with disabilities.
“CILs empower and include people,” Summers said. “The research on CILs that is included here looks not only at the services that need to be delivered, but the way they’re delivered, too, for maximum effectiveness.”
Now that the journal is published, Ravesloot wants it to get people — particularly researchers — talking.
“These articles provide important starting points for areas of research that have not received much systematic attention by researchers,” Ravesloot said. “I hope this journal issue creates interest and new research questions.”
A complete list of articles — including those by KU authors — is available online.
News release prepared by Allison Crist.