Social participation is challenging for people with Visual Impairments (VI). It is important to realize that social participation is an interplay between person and environment, possibilities and obstacles. In order to improve social participation of persons with VI, data of our national longitudinal study were used to investigate 1) the extent of social participation, 2) the interrelationship between the participation areas and psychosocial characteristics and 3) pathways to successful/non-succesful social participation.
Approximately 300 adolescents and young adults with VI were interviewed in three waves (1997, 2005 and 2010), using a Computer Assisted Telephone Interview. Open-ended questions and (valid and reliable) questionnaires were used to measure participation in three domains of participation: education/work, relationships and leisure activities. Furthermore psychosocial characteristics (i.e. autonomy, stigmatization, well-being) were measured.
The results showed that most young people with VI find their way in education and a large group of them had (part-time) jobs. However, they encounter problems in leisure activities and relationships, concerning dating experiences, network size, sexual experiences, mobility and amount of peer-activities. These problems are negatively related to psychosocial characteristics like self-esteem, acceptance of impairment and loneliness.
Social participation seems to be an interplay between personal and environmental characteristics. Furthermore, social participation does not imply the same for every young person with VI. Concerning leisure activities and relationships, it seems that young persons with VI are not able to reach their wanted participation, so social participation has to be learned. Therefore, it is more than a right, it is an art!