The ecological model describes disability as a dynamic interaction between a person and their environment (WHO 2001; NIDRR 2013). However, scientific understanding of this interaction, specifically the role of environmental factors, is still lacking (Magasi et al. 2015). Further, previous research has shown disability rates to be significantly higher in more rural areas (von Reichert, Greiman, & Myers 2014). Person-environment (P-E) fit offers one way of investigating the interaction between people with disabilities and their rural communities. We used a measure of P-E fit to examine how disability is associated with fit, and how fit may be shaped by environmental factors.
How do people with disabilities perceive fit in their rural communities?
How are environmental barriers associated with fit?
We selected 11 rural communities stratified by population size and demographically representative of the four U.S. census regions (West, Midwest, South, Northeast). Surveys were collected from 285 people in separate households across these communities. More detailed information about the sampling methods and sample characteristics can be found on the Ecology of Participation research project page.
Person – Environment Fit
P-E fit was measured using an adapted version of the General Environment Fit scale (Beasley, Jason, & Miller 2012). Respondents rated on a scale from Strongly Disagree (1) to Strongly Agree (4) for each item.
Demands-Abilities (DA) – person’s ability and the demands of the community
- Example: “I have the ability to meet the demands of my community.”
Needs-Supplies (NS) – personal needs and what the community provides
- Example: “My needs are met by the community I live in.”
Unique Contribution (UC) – contribution a person makes to their community
- Example: “My unique differences add to the success of my community.”
Interpersonal Similarity (IS) – similarity between a person and other individuals
- Example: “The other residents in my community are different from me.”
Value Congruence (VC) – values and goals between a person and their community
- Example: “The values of my community are a good fit with my values.”
Environmental barriers were measured using an adapted version of the Disability and Health Perceived Barriers scale (Murphy-Southwick & Seekins 2000). Respondents rated on a scale from Never (1) to Routinely (4) how often they encountered barriers to getting out into the community in the past 7 days.
Home Entrance: “It was easy to get in and out of my home.”
Home Safety: “I feel safe leaving my home.”
Building Access: “Buildings were accessible to me.”
Transportation: “I didn’t have transportation.”
Curb Cuts: “My community had too few curb cuts.”
Weather: “The weather was too bad to get out.”
Attitudes: “People’s attitudes toward me were positive.”
Impairment and P-E Fit
People with disabilities, on average, reported poorer fit than people without an impairment. The largest differences across impairment groups occur in the Demands-Abilities domain. By contrast, the smallest differences are observed in the Interpersonal Similarity and Value Congruence domains. Z scores are also reported to provide a more standardized comparison across domains.
Mean Fit Scores by Impairment and Domain
Figure 1. This graph shows mean scores for each fit domain across each impairment group. DA and NS are scored out of 24, UC out of 20, IS and VC out of 12.
Z Scores for Fit by Impairment and Domain
Figure 2. This graph shows Z scores for fit domains across impairment groups.
Environmental Barriers and P-E Fit
For people with a mobility impairment, lack of environmental barriers were positively associated with DA and NS fit. For example, for every standard unit increase in DA scores, people were 106% more likely to also report that buildings were routinely accessible to them. Additionally, for each standard unit increase in DA scores, people were also 48% more likely to report that their home entrance was not a barrier. For every standard unit increase in people’s ratings that their needs were met by the community, they were 76% more likely to indicate that people’s attitudes toward them were positive.
Odds Ratios by Barrier and Fit Domain, Mobility Impairment
Figure 3. This graph shows the odds of not encountering environmental barriers by fit domain for people with a mobility impairment (*p<.05; **p<.01).
- People with disabilities reported poorer fit between the demands of their community and their abilities as well as their personal needs and what the community provided.
- People with disabilities also indicated feeling relatively similar to other residents and sharing some of the same values as their community.
- People with a mobility impairment who perceived a positive fit between their abilities and what the community provided were less likely to experience environmental barriers.
Additional information is available on our Ecology of Participation Website