Self-perceived participation amongst adults with spinal cord injuries: the role of assistive technology

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Ripat, Jacqueline Dawn
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Informa HealthCare
IOS Press
The purpose of this research was to develop a theoretical understanding of the influences on participation for individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) from a self-perceived perspective, with particular focus on the role of assistive technology (AT) in self-perceived participation. The theoretical underpinning, symbolic interactionism, was used to gain an understanding of the ways that adults with SCI ascribe meaning to the interaction between themselves and their unique environments in a process of participation. A grounded theory study of 19 adults with SCI was conducted. Participants engaged in individual in-depth interviews, used photovoice as a framework for taking photographs of aspects of their environment that promoted and restricted participation, and engaged in focus groups. The constructed grounded theory is summarized as follows: Negotiating the Body-environment Interface is a continuous process for those living with a SCI. Despite the relative stability of their changed body, they Live in a Changed World, one perceived differently after SCI. Four sets of strategies are used by individuals to interact within their unique environments: creating an accessible proximal environment; using AT and adaptations; advocating and educating; and gaining information and knowledge. Strategies were selected to engage in a Process of Participation, a process that consisted of a sense of inclusion, autonomy, accomplishment, and reciprocity. Intervening conditions were the physical (architectural, natural), socio-cultural (social supports, societal attitudes), and institutional (services, policies) environmental aspects that served as barriers or facilitators to the process of participation. The study has added to the growing body of literature on self-perceived participation that forefronts the sense of connectivity and engagement people feel within their environment. The findings highlighted how AT holds unique meaning, and how decisions around use of technology for participation is influenced by personal factors, and physical, socio-cultural, and institutional environments. A new definition of AT was constructed that acknowledges the environmental influences and importance of self-perceived participation as an outcome of AT use. This research highlights the instrumental role of the environment in supporting self-perceived participation of adults with SCI. Further research on developing ways to create inclusive and supportive environments for assistive technology users is warranted.
self-perceived participation, assistive technology, assistive technology-environment interface, spinal cord injury
Ripat, J. & Woodgate, R. (2011). The intersection of culture, disability and assistive technology, Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology. 6(2): 87–96. doi: 10.3109/17483107.2010.507859
Ripat, J., & Woodgate, R. (2011). Locating assistive technology within an emancipatory disability research framework. Technology and Disability 23(2): 87-92.