Disabling barriers, restrictive contextual factors for people with disabilities

Friday, November 1, 2013
First author:
Nijhoff T.

Minor disability studies (in Dutch), University of applied sciences Utrecht, Utrecht, the Netherlands

All authors:

Taco A. Nijhoff, Rina Nijkamp, Monique Groeneweg and students

Empowerment & Environment
environmental factors, participation


In the minor disability studies (DS) students from different courses and disciplines learn what it is to live with an impairment in today's society. The goal is that they learn to work together with disabled people (meeting and collaboration) and learn how to create new opportunities for support to ultimately improve quality of life of disabled people and to make active participation in society possible for everyone. Hindering contextual factors  for participation (disabling barriers) were examined in all areas of life (e.g. labor, politics, education, leisure, social services and networks).


In the minor DS students immersed themselves into the lives of people with disabilities by reading experience stories and doing experience assignments. Subsequently students investigated different environmental factors according to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (products and technology; natural environment and human-made changes to environment; support and relationships; attitudes; services, systems and policies). The research method depended on the chosen topic. Thereafter they were holding interviews with disabled people to investigate the influence of an environmental factor on participation of people with disabilities. Results were described in portfolios.


In a wheelchair students experienced many physical barriers in accessibility of public buildings, transport and public services. The adaptive task was to perform all the usual daily activities but no one succeeded to do all. Students were surprised by the variable reactions from unknown bystanders. 

Difficulties or impossibilities for participation for disabled was found in mobility, public space, cinema’s , fitness centers, shops, public transportation, toilet facilities, museums, restaurants and housing facilities due to inaccessibility and lack of information or support. 

Interviews revealed that people with different and comparable disabilities share similar experiences like incomprehension of others, dependence on support but they can demonstrate different coping styles and mixed emotions.


Disability is an adaptive challenge which comes along with many emotions. Processes of exclusion, forms of support and adaptation to the constraints will be discussed.