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Different Approaches to Measuring the Environment

Disability emerges from the interaction between a person’s impairments and barriers in the environment. Thus, an understanding of disability that can best inform public policy must include data on the environment.

A detailed exploration of measuring the environment can be found in Altman, B. (Eds) 2016, International Measurement of Disability: Purpose Method and Application, Springer.

Environments are complex, and data on them are more difficult to make internationally comparable than data on people’s difficulties with basic activities. There are two basic approaches to measuring the environment.  

Briefly, they can be summarized as:

(a) Describing the entire environment. Respondents are asked to characterize various aspects of the environment in regards to their accessibility and inclusivity.

(b) Describing the lived environment. Respondents are asked to characterize those aspects of the environment that they come into daily contact with and that present them with the biggest barriers in their daily life.

The advantage of the second method is that it can identify existing bottlenecks that are limiting participation on a daily basis. An important issue, though, is that it may not account for barriers that influence the decisions people with disability make about how to interact with the environment. For example, inaccessible buses may not be identified as a problem for someone who feels that the barriers to working or participating in the community are so high that they do not even try to leave the house.

As capturing the entire environment is a huge task, the Washington Group has begun working on environmental modules for certain sectors. Other tabs in this website refer to work modules that are currently in various stages of development on education, employment, and civic participation.

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