People with Disabilities - National Survey of Recreation and the Environment

by
Dr. Bryan P. McCormick,
Dept. of Park and Recreation Administration, Indiana University
Prepared for the National Center on Accessibility 

The National Survey on Recreation and the Environment (NSRE) is the most recent study of outdoor recreation of the US population. The study was conducted by the US Forest Service from January 1994 through April 1995 and included 17,216 Americans over the age of 15. All respondents were asked if they had a disability and over 1,200 people answering the survey identified that they had a disability. This report presents summary information on the characteristics, outdoor activity participation, and attitudes of people with disabilities in the NSRE survey.

People with Disabilities in the NSRE

A total of 1,252 people with disabilities were included in the NSRE which represented 7.7% of the total NSRE sample. The most frequently reported disability overall was that of physical disability. This category included people who reported mobility problems. The second largest category of identified disabilities were "illnesses." Included in this illness category were such ailments as heart conditions, diabetes, and cancer. Following these two categories of disability, the "other" category represented the third largest category of those with disabilities. Among the disabling conditions specified in the category of "other" were arthritis (11.6% of category), asthma (11%), back problems (8.8%), epilepsy (6.8%), and Multiple Sclerosis (3.6%). Together, the three categories of physical disability, illness, and "other" accounted for 80% of all disabling conditions reported. As a group, people with disabilities tended to be older than people without disabilities in the survey. In addition, people with disabilities, although reporting higher education, were less likely to be employed than people without disabilities at all age levels. Not surprisingly, people with disabilities as a group reported lower annual income than people without disabilities.

Activity Participation Patterns of People with Disabilities

Since age was related to the presence of a disability in this study, two indicators of participation were possible. First, total rates of participation can be reported. Yet, since rates of participation tend to be lower among older age groups and people with disabilities were, on average, older than people without disabilities total participation rates may not reflect the clearest picture. As a result, age-averaged rates of participation were created by calculating the average rate of participation across seven age categories.

Sports Activities - Based on age-averaged participation rates, people with disabilities clearly participated at lower proportions in all sports activities as compared to people without disabilities. The second trend that was evident was that patterns of participation in various sports activities were similar across both groups. For example, walking had the highest proportion of participants for people with and without disabilities, and football, baseball and soccer had the lowest proportions of participants among both groups. When all outdoor sports activities are considered as a group, the rate of non-participation among people without disabilities remains fairly constant (between 10-15%) across most of the age groups. However, among those respondents with a disability, older age groups show a larger proportion of non-participants than younger age groups. As a result, it appears safe to conclude that over the age of 55, people with disabilities participate at much lower rates in physical activities than those without a disability. Yet, for people under the age of 55, people with a disability appear to participate in one or more physical activities at higher rates than people without disabilities.

Swimming Activities - Age-averaged participation rates indicated that approximately 52% of people with disabilities and 55.5% of people without disabilities reported swimming outdoors in the previous year. In addition, beach swimming was the most frequently identified type of swimming activity followed by pool swimming and outdoor swimming in sites other than pools. This pattern was true for both people with, and without disabilities. Furthermore, across all site types, a smaller proportion of people with disabilities participated in swimming activities than people without disabilities. However, when age groupings are considered, the greatest differences in participation rates are seen in the middle age groups and the smallest differences seen in the oldest and youngest age groups. In fact, in this sample people with disabilities under the age of 25 and over the age of 75 participated in swimming activities at higher rates than people without disabilities.

Outdoor Recreation Activities - Overall, in certain outdoor activities a smaller proportion of people with disabilities participated than people without disabilities. However, when age groups were considered there was little difference (2 or less percentage points) between the two groups in participation in the activities of boating, camping, fishing and hunting. In addition, in the activity of nature study, people with disabilities appeared to participate at higher rates that people without disabilities regardless of the participation rate used. Finally, in snow and ice activities and day hiking, participation rates of those without disabilities are higher than those with disabilities regardless of participation rate used.

Adventure Activities - Adventure activities showed the lowest rates of participation among both people with and without disabilities. Furthermore, relative rates of participation were similar across both groups regardless of whether age-averaged or total participation rates are used. For example, primitive camping had the highest rates of participation for both groups and orienteering had the lowest participation rates. In all activities in this category, the averaged rates of participation indicated that people with disabilities participated at higher rates than people without disabilities. In contrast, total participation rates reflected the opposite pattern, where people without disabilities participated at higher rates than people with disabilities. When differences in participation rates were examined across age groups, it appears that people with disabilities participate in adventure activities at higher rates than those without disabilities among people under the age of 35. Over the age of 35, the only clear pattern is that as age increases, differences in participation rates between people with and without disabilities decreases.

Watercraft Activities - Powerboating was one of the most popular activities for both people with, and without disabilities. Approximately one-quarter of all people with disabilities had participated in powerboating in the past 12 months. This figure was similar for people without disabilities regardless of whether total or age-averaged participation rates were used. In addition, participation rates in physically demanding activities such as water skiing and jet skiing showed that people without disabilities had higher rates of participation regardless of which participation rate was used. When less physically demanding water-craft activities are examined, the relative rates of participation vary depending on total versus averaged rates. For example, total rates of participation in canoeing indicated that people without disabilities participated at a higher rate than people with disabilities, but when age-averaged rates of participation are compared there appears to be no difference. Another example of the relative differences in participation based on the two rates is seen in rafting, where a higher proportion of people without disabilities participated if total participation is used and a lower proportion participate (compared to those with a disability) if the averaged rate is used. Finally, among water-craft activities where very low rates of participation are seen (sailing, rowing, windsurfing, surfing), the differences between the two groups remains relatively small regardless of which participation rate is used.

Nature Study Activities - As compared to other activity categories, participation in nature study activities presented a somewhat different relationship with age. For example, visitation to nature centers showed a steady increase in visitation rates from the youngest category through to the 35-44 age category, then a fairly steady decline with increasing age. Given that people with disabilities in this survey tended to be older than people without disabilities, total participation rates tended to show people with disabilities participating at higher rates than people without disabilities in most nature study activities. However, when age-averaged participation rates were considered most differences were reduced. Overall, in all nature study activities, people with disabilities participated at higher rates than people without disabilities.

Cultural/Historical Activities - Cultural and historical activities were among the most frequently reported activities by both groups. Slightly less than half of all respondents had visited an historical site, and approximately one-third had attended a concert in the past twelve months. Visitation to archeological sites showed a lower rate of participation; however, approximately one-fifth of all respondents has visited an archeological site. As with other activities, total and age-averaged participation rates presented conflicting information. In order to obtain a clearer picture of differences in participation rates, participation differences in visiting historical sites and attending concerts were compared. Overall, in the two youngest and the oldest age categories, people with disabilities had higher rates of participation than people without disabilities; however, in the middle age categories there was either no real difference, or people without disabilities participated at higher rates than people with disabilities.

Summary of Participation Data - Overall, the presence of a disability does not appear to have a consistent relationship to rates of participation in outdoor activities. As noted previously, age appears as a confounding variable in this relationship. As a result, both total and averaged rates of participation were presented for activities. When total rates of participation are considered, it must be remembered that people without disabilities are considerably younger, as a group, than people with disabilities. Furthermore, in virtually all activities cited above, younger people participated at higher rates than older people regardless of whether or not they reported a disability. Finally, when age is factored into the examination, a general pattern does tend to emerge. At the youngest and oldest age categories, people with disabilities appear to participate at higher rates than people without disabilities. In contrast, in middle age categories, people without disabilities tend to show higher rates of participation than people with disabilities; however the magnitude of difference is usually 1%-5%.

Days Spent in Outdoor Recreation

As a part of the NSRE some respondents were asked about the number of days they participated in selected activities in the previous twelve months. Only those people who reported participation in an activity were asked follow-up questions regarding the number of days they participated in an activity. Thus mean days of participation reflects days of participation among only those who had participated at least once in the activity in the previous twelve months. In addition, unlike the frequency of participation data, days of participation were not systematically related to age. Thus total means could be used to compare people with and without disabilities on the number of days in which they participated in various outdoor recreation activities.

Physical Activities - Only three of the physical activities listed in participation section were included in the days data. Those three activities were walking, bike touring and bicycling. Both walking and bike touring were significantly (albeit weakly) correlated with age. When overall figures of days of participation were compared, there is a statistically significant difference, indicating that people with disabilities actually spend more days per year walking than people without disabilities . Total figures indicated that, on average, people with disabilities reported walking 130 days per year whereas people without disabilities reported an average of 106 days walking per year. However, aside from the two youngest age groups in which the difference in mean number of days of participation are equal to or greater than group mean differences, mean number of days of walking in the past year are similar. Across age groups, the average difference in days of participation is about 18 days per year. In addition, both people with and without disabilities show a trend such that older age groups tend to spend more days walking per year than younger age groups. Overall, it does appear that people with disabilities spend more days walking, per year, than people without disabilities. In contrast, no real differences were seen in the number of days spent bicycling or bike touring among people with and without disabilities.

Swimming Activities - Overall, people with disabilities spent time in swimming activities at rates equal to, or higher than, people without disabilities for most activities. The only activity in which age was related to days of participation was that of non-pool swimming. When days spent in non-pool swimming was compared across age groups, it was seen that in most age groups people without disabilities spent more days, on average, in this activity than people with disabilities. Furthermore, the greatest differences were seen in the two oldest age groups.

Outdoor Activities - In general, people with disabilities reported levels of participation in the outdoor recreation activities surveyed equal to, or greater than, people without disabilities. The activities in which respondents with disabilities reported the most days of participation, on average, were horseback riding, cold water fishing, fresh water fishing and day hiking. Areas where the picture was less clear was in developed camping, saltwater fishing and freshwater fishing. In developed camping, overall means indicated that, on average people with disabilities spent more days in developed camping without disabilities. However, people without disabilities reported greater average days of participation in all age groups except the 35-44 and 45-54 categories. Since people with disabilities tend to be older than people without disabilities, and older people tended to report more days of participation in developed camping, people with disabilities appear, in general, to have higher average days of participation as compared to people without disabilities. However most of this difference is accounted for by the middle age categories. Although mean number of days in freshwater and saltwater fishing were found to be related to age, this relationship was weak. As a result, overall means were adequate indicators of participation. Overall means indicated that people with disabilities spent more days, on average in these two activities than people without disabilities.

Adventure Activities - For most adventure activities, people with disabilities actually reported more days of participation than people without disabilities. Only in rock climbing did people without disabilities report more days, on average, engaged in rock climbing as compared to participants with disabilities. Since the number of days spent primitive camping was found to be related to age, reported days of participation was examined across age categories. In general, people with disabilities reported a higher number of days spent primitive camping, on average, than people without disabilities up to retirement age. Over the age of sixty-five, people without disabilities spent more days, on average, engaged in primitive camping.

Watercraft Activities - In examining these activities as a group, no clear pattern is seen favoring one group over another. In some activities people with disabilities reported higher frequency of participation; whereas in other activities people without disabilities reported more frequent participation. However, none of these differences were found to be statistically significant. As a result, there appears to be no difference in the number of days spent in watercraft activities by people with and without disabilities.

Nature Study Activities - The number of days spent in most of the nature study activities were positively correlated with age. Given that people with disabilities were typically older than people without disabilities, it would be assumed that people with disabilities would report greater days spent, as a group, in these activities. This assumption is partially supported in that people with disabilities do appear to spend significantly more time engaged in viewing birds and viewing outdoor life than people without disabilities.

Cultural/Historical Activities - Data were collected on three activities related to participation or visitation in cultural and historical activities. Overall, people with and without disabilities spent roughly the same number of days visiting archeological sites and historic sites. In comparison, people with disabilities spent significantly more days engaged in sightseeing than people without disabilities. However, days spent sightseeing was significantly related to age. When sightseeing was examined across age groups, it was found that among both people with and without disabilities there is an increase in reported days spent sightseeing across increasing age groups up to age 65-74. Thereafter both groups show a decline in reported days of participation in the oldest age group. Furthermore, with the exception of the oldest age group, people with disabilities demonstrated, on average, more days spent sightseeing over the year than people without disabilities. Thus the difference in days spent sightseeing does not appear to be a function of the differences in ages of the two groups.

Family & Social Activities - Two activities were included in the Days section of the NSRE. In both family gatherings and picnicking, people with and without disabilities reported similar days of participation. Although the mean number of days in both activities spent by people with disabilities exceeded that of people without disabilities, these differences were not statistically significant.

Summary of Days of Participation - Although one might expect that people with disabilities would have spent fewer days engaged in outdoor recreation activities, as compared to people without disabilities, most of the findings in this section indicate otherwise. A possible explanation for this finding may be found in the following section that reports constraints to participation. Although people with disabilities did report higher levels of constraint due to health and physical reasons, considerably fewer people with disabilities reported time constraints as compared to people without disabilities. It seems plausible, that among those who do participate in outdoor activities, people with disabilities may have more time to invest than people without disabilities.

Barriers to Participation in Outdoor Recreation for People with Disabilities

Within the literature of leisure behavior, a growing body of knowledge has begun to develop around the concept of constraints or barriers to participation (c.f., Jackson et al. 1993; Samdahl, & Jekubovich, 1997). In essence the constraints literature has attempted to identify personal and social characteristics that impede one's participation in leisure activity. The NSRE collected information on perceived barriers to participation in outdoor recreation from a sub-sample (approx. 4500) of respondents. An examination that compared the sub-sample to the larger NSRE sample found that the sub-sample of those responding to the barriers items were significantly different from the larger sample. Overall, respondents to the barriers items were likely to be members of an ethnic minority, female, older, with lower level of education and lower income than the overall NSRE sample. As a result of these differences, generalizing the findings of this data should be done with these differences in mind.

Not surprisingly, the greatest differences were seen in terms of barriers related to health and physical functioning. In these two items people with disabilities reported barriers more frequently than people who reported no disability. In fact, over three-quarters of people with a disability cited health reasons as a barrier to participation in recreation, and over half reported a physically limiting condition as a barrier to participation. In contrast, people without disabilities were more likely to report a lack of time as a barrier to participation. One reason for this difference may be the differences in rates of employment for people with and without disabilities (noted previously). Those without disabilities were more likely to be younger, and employed than people with disabilities. It should also be noted that the majority of the sample reported few barriers to participation in outdoor recreation. The barrier of "outdoor pests in activity areas" was the most frequently reported barrier by people without a disability; however just over one-quarter of respondents reported this as a barrier. In addition, aside from the barriers of personal health and physical limitations, the majority of people with disabilities also reported few barriers to outdoor recreation.

Overall, people with disabilities reported barriers to outdoor recreation with greater frequency than people without disabilities. The three exceptions to this pattern were in barriers of lack of time, outdoor pests and lack of available partners. People without disabilities more frequently reported a lack of time and perceived outdoor pests as barriers than people without disabilities. Both groups identified lack of available partners with roughly equal frequency.

Use of Adaptive Devices or Assistance Needed For Participation in Outdoor Recreation

The NSRE also asked respondents were asked if they required assistance and then were able to identify up to 10 possible assistive devices or adaptations they used for participation in outdoor recreation. Overall, 30% of people with disabilities identified that they required some sort of adaptive device, assistance from others or facility modifications to participate in outdoor recreation. Among those requiring special services, respondents with disabilities identified 1.9 different services, on average, they used when participating in outdoor recreation. The use of mobility aids such as wheelchairs, canes or walkers was the most common assistive device used. Approximately 54% of respondents who used assistive devices identified some mobility aid as a necessary device for participation in outdoor recreation. This figure indicates that of all people with disabilities in the NSRE, 11.8% used some sort of mobility aid. The second most frequently identified special service needed was that of a companion or support person. Approximately 49% of all those requiring special services identified that they needed, companions or support persons. This figure represents 10.7% of all people with disabilities in the NSRE. Finally, approximately 38% of those requiring special services identified some sort architectural accessibility as a necessary adaptation. This figure represents 8% of the people with a disability in the NSRE. Overall, the majority of people with disabilities required no special services for participation in outdoor recreation. However, the three most common necessary devices or adaptations were, mobility aids, companions or support persons, and architectural accessibility.

Attitudes Towards Accessibility in Outdoor Recreation Settings

In addition to information on outdoor recreation participation patterns and adaptive devices required, NSRE respondents also were asked about their attitudes towards accessibility in primitive and wilderness recreation areas. Respondents were presented with a short description of both "primitive recreation settings" and the "National Wilderness Preservation System" (NWPS), then read statements about access to each setting. The questions regarding accessibility were only asked of respondents reporting a disability and hence, no comparison to people without a disability is possible. In addition, only about 45% of people with disabilities (approx. 560) answered the accessibility questions. Finally, findings indicated that the nature of disability was not related to views on accessibility. In other words, people with mobility impairments felt the same, on average, as those with other disabilities.

Overall, a large majority of people with disabilities anticipated lower levels of access for people with disabilities in primitive areas, and that in order to maintain the unique qualities of nature in these areas, the level of accessibility for people with disabilities would have to be less than in urban settings. In addition, 88% also felt that levels of accessibility should be established to fit in with the setting. Overall, it appears that people with disabilities supported that accessibility in primitive settings will be less than in urban settings and that it should be in keeping with the environment. In contrast, they disagreed that they desired less access for people with disabilities in primitive settings, and they felt that regardless of how primitive an outdoor recreation setting was, modifications should always be made to accommodate people with disabilities. These findings seem to contradict the previous findings related to level of access and nature of the setting.

Interpreting these apparent contradictions is challenging. It is possible that when it comes to the "desire less access" question, people may have interpreted the question to mean that they would like access in primitive areas to become more difficult than it is currently. It is possible that respondents were reacting to a misinterpretation. It seems that the original intent of the question was to ascertain if people with disabilities sought out less accessible areas as a part of their primitive outdoor recreation. However, the modification questions do not appear to have been as open to misinterpretation. It is possible that people's attitudes towards variability of accessibility level and modification for accessibility represent two different dimensions. This has been born out in another study (Paxton, McCormick & Getz, 1999, May). It seems that although people with disabilities feel that there should be variability in level of accessibility, at the same time modifications should be made to enhance accessibility. Taken to its extreme, this would seem to indicate that people with disabilities generally felt that no area should be completely "inaccessible;" however more primitive areas should be generally less accessible than less primitive areas.

Similarly to attitudes towards "primitive outdoor recreation areas," people with disabilities felt that access for people with disabilities would be less in NWPS areas. In addition, they tended to favor preservation of the environment over accessibility in the NWPS, and there was general agreement that environmental modifications in NWPS areas should be made accessible for people with disabilities. On other aspects of accessibility and the NWPS, respondents were somewhat divided. For example, only 51% of the respondents agreed that trails should be kept narrow in NWPS areas even if the trails were too narrow for wheelchairs. Also, 57% of the respondents agreed that the government should focus on making other primitive areas accessible as opposed to making NWPS areas accessible. Finally, 59% of the respondents disagreed that motorized wheelchairs should be banned from NWPS areas.

One of the greatest missed opportunities in the NSRE was the failure to ask accessibility questions to members of the sample without a disability. As a result, no comparisons were possible between people with and without disabilities on attitudes towards accessibility. Ever since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1992, there has been no nationally representative study that compared the attitudes of people with and without disabilities towards accessibility. Although the NSRE does provide information on the attitudes of people with disabilities towards accessibility in outdoor recreation, it is still unknown if these attitudes differ from that of the general public.

Summary and Recommendations

This report summarizes the findings of the participation, constraints and attitudes of people with self-identified disabilities toward outdoor recreation. In order to further understand these patterns, people with disabilities' patterns were compared against those without a disability. One of the difficulties in this comparison was that there was a significant age difference between the two groups. For example there is a clear pattern of a lower proportion of participants in virtually all activities across increasing age cohorts for both people with and without disabilities. Thus comparing people with and without disabilities, without controlling for age differences, may result in a skewed picture.

Additionally, as noted in the "attitudes toward accessibility" section, the NSRE missed an important opportunity in assessing attitudes towards accessibility in outdoor and wilderness recreation areas. Although attitudes towards accessibility were collected for people with disabilities, such attitudes were not assessed for people without disabilities. As a result, direct comparison between people with and without disabilities on beliefs about accessibility is not possible. Although the debate regarding accessibility in outdoor recreation continues, it is still unknown if people with disabilities differ from those without disabilities on attitudes towards environmental modification for the purposes of accessibility. Future study must collect such attitudes from all respondents.

Although the NSRE represents the first time that people with disabilities were specifically included in the survey of outdoor recreation, there are a number of recommendations that should be considered in any future inclusion. First, disability categories used in the survey should be more mutually exclusive. For example, the categories of "cognitive disability" (stroke or head injury) and "physical disability" are not mutually exclusive as a cerebral vascular accident (CVA or "stroke") frequently results in paralysis or weakness in one hemisphere of the body. Thus a person with a CVA has both a cognitive disability and a physical disability. In addition, the category of "illness" represented approximately one-third of all respondents with a disability but included such disorders as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. These disorders are not easily equated in terms of their related functional characteristics. Future studies would be wise to include a measure of functional health for all respondents. Such measures as the SF-12 or SF-36 (Ware, Snow, Kosinski, Gandek,1993) would provide additional insights into characteristics of respondents. Although the identification of a disability may be useful in categorizing respondents, the presence of a disability may have no impact on people's participation in outdoor recreation. The addition of a functional health measure would allow more valuable comparisons among all respondents.

Key Points

Patterns of participation in outdoor recreation were similar across most activities for people with and without disabilities. Activities with the highest rates of participation among people without disabilities also tended to show the highest rates of participation among people with disabilities.

Overall, people with disabilities participated at rates equal to, or somewhat lower than people without disabilities.

In most outdoor recreation activities, people with disabilities in middle age groups reported less frequent participation than people without disabilities; however in the youngest and oldest age groups, people with disabilities participated at rates equal to, or greater than, people without disabilities.

In nature study activities, people with disabilities participated at rates higher than those of people without disabilities.

Although most people with disabilities reported experiencing few barriers to outdoor recreation, barriers of health conditions and physical limitations were experienced by the majority people with disabilities.

Most people with disabilities did not report needing accommodations or assistive devices for participation in outdoor recreation. Among those requiring assistance, the most common assistive devices/accommodations were mobility aids, a companion/assistant, and architectural modifications.

Attitudes toward accessibility seem to indicate that people with disabilities generally felt that no outdoor recreation area should be completely "inaccessible;" however agree that more primitive areas will be generally less accessible than less primitive areas.

In addition, people with disabilities tended to favor preservation of the environment over accessibility in the National Wilderness Preservation System; however, there was general agreement that environmental modifications in NWPS areas should be made accessible for people with disabilities.

References

Jackson, E. L., Crawford, D. W., & Godbey, G. (1993). Negotiation of leisure constraints. Leisure Sciences, 15, 1-11.

Jackson, E. L. & Scott, D. (1999). Constraints to leisure. In E. L. Jackson and T. L. Burton (Eds.) Leisure Studies: Prospects for the 21st Century (pp. 299-321). State College, PA: Venture.

Paxton, T. S., McCormick, B. P., & Getz, D. (1999, May). Access vs. preservation: Disabled wilderness users' perspectives on accessibility in wilderness and primitive settings. Paper presented at the 1999 Wilderness Science Conference, Missoula, MT.

Samdahl, D. M., & Jekubovich, N. J. (1997). A critique of leisure constraints: Comparative analyses and understandings. Journal of Leisure Research, 29,430-453.

Ware JE, Snow KK, Kosinski M, Gandek B. (1993). SF-36 Health Survey: Manual and Interpretation Guide. Boston: The Health Institute, New England Medical Center.

The citation for this article is:

McCormick, B. (2000). People with disabilities: National survey of recreation and the environment. Bloomington, IN: National Center on Accessibility, Indiana University-Bloomington. Retrieved from www.ncaonline.org.