The full NSRE
report is available for purchase from the NCA.
Bryan P. McCormick
Dept. of Park and Recreation Administration
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.
Days Spent in Outdoor Recreation
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
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
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%.
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
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
Barriers to Participation in Outdoor Recreation for People
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
people with disabilities participated at rates equal to, or
somewhat lower than people without disabilities.
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.
nature study activities, people with disabilities participated
at rates higher than those of people without disabilities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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