According to a survey conducted by the National Organization on Disability (2004), individuals with disabilities felt 27% less satisfied with life than individuals without disabilities. Multiple factors affect our feelings toward life satisfaction such as family, community, school and work roles. When individuals do not feel satisfaction with life, their level of motivation to participate and contribute in these areas also decreases. General feelings of poor health may also be a consequence. Individuals with disabilities participate less often in leisure and recreation opportunities. Since individuals with disabilities are more likely to feel less satisfied with life, we need to explore how participation in leisure activities can benefit and contribute to feelings of satisfaction and overall wellness among this population. While multiple facets may affect satisfaction levels, leisure is a major contributor to feelings of health, wellness and high quality of life.
Leisure is a means through which improvements can be made in areas such as physical, psychological and social wellness. Shank, Coyle, Boyd and Kinney (1996) believe recreation, leisure and play improve quality of life as well as “improve and maintain physical and psychological health and well-being” (Shank, et al. p. 190).
As McCormick (2004) explains; many individuals with disabilities aren’t given freedom regarding their leisure or recreation activities. McCormick (2004) also states; many individuals without disabilities have developed a passion for a particular leisure activity; individuals with disabilities should have the same opportunity to form such feelings. McCormick (2004) explains; Project GAIN (Golf: Accessible and Inclusive Networks), a program through the National Alliance for Accessible Golf, is a community based program which utilizes golf to facilitate community inclusion (McCormick, 2004, p.1).
McCormick (2004) also states that; Individuals with disabilities often face increased constraints to participation in leisure and recreation. Attitudes, inaccessible environments and a limited understanding of possibilities prevent individuals with disabilities from benefiting from leisure and recreation. Health and physical functioning are the biggest barriers to leisure for individuals with disabilities (McCormick, 2004, pp. 1-5). Transportation, money and time are also identified as barriers. Architectural barriers are slowly receding with the assistance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enacted in 1990. The ADA provides individuals with disabilities civil rights protections and guarantees equal opportunity. Society, however, is slower to change. The stigma of having a disability, especially a disability others can see, still exists. Attitudes have been slowly changing by educating the public about disabilities.
West (1984) states; unfortunately, individuals with disabilities are less likely to be involved in community recreation programs when stigmatizing attitudes are present (West, 1984, p. 25). Identifying barriers or constraints to leisure is the first step to overcoming them.
According to Humphrey (2000); one of the most serious consequences of having a disability is that it tends to increase social isolation and reduce community participation. This is not because people with disabilities do not want to be more involved or to participate more. One problem is that many people with disabilities do not feel their participation is welcomed by community organizations (Humphrey, 2000, p. 2).
Humphrey (2000) explains; the results of a nationwide survey of Americans with and without disabilities conducted for the National Organization on Disability and made possible by a grant from Aetna U.S. Healthcare. The survey was conducted on the Internet with nationwide samples of 535 people with disabilities and 614 people without disabilities between March 22 and April 5. The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive using its nationwide panel of approximately 6.4 million adults who have agreed to be surveyed online. Both the samples of people with and without disabilities have been weighted to be representative of all Americans with and without disabilities. In so far, as there may be differences between the weighted data from this online survey and the total population, both online and offline, these should in no way affect the differences between the two samples of people with and without disabilities that were surveyed (Humphrey, 2000, pp. 2-4).
Humphrey (2000) shows; Major findings of the survey include: More people with disabilities (35%) than people without disabilities (21%) say they feel “not at all involved” in their communities. For people who are very or somewhat disabled (as opposed to those with slight or moderate disabilities), this number rises to 40%. People with disabilities are more than twice as likely as those without to say they are “not at all satisfied” with their level of community involvement (23% vs. 11%). People with disabilities (31%) are more likely than people without disabilities (21%) to say that they feel strongly that they are not a contributing member of their communities (Humphrey, 2000, pp. 4-6). Humphrey (2000) also states that; People with disabilities are more than twice as likely as people without disabilities to say that they feel isolated from other people (46% vs. 23%). People with disabilities are much more likely than people without disabilities to say they feel left out of things in their communities (48% vs. 32%). People with disabilities are more likely than people without disabilities to say that they are not regularly invited to give their opinions on community issues (65% vs. 54%), (Humphrey, 2000, pp. 4-6).
Humphrey (2000) explains; when people who want to be more involved in the community are asked why they are not as involved as they would like to be people with and without disabilities give very different answers. For Americans without disabilities the most important single reason, by far, is that they feel they do not have the time (76%). Only 34% of people with disabilities say this (Humphrey, 2000, p. 6). Humphrey (2000) states that; The main reasons given by people with disabilities for not being as involved in their communities as they would like to be are that they do not feel encouraged by community organizations to participate (54%), that they don’t have the income necessary to participate (53%), or that they are not aware of what activities exist (46%). People without disabilities are substantially less likely to give these answers. People with more severe disabilities are particularly likely to feel that community organizations have not encouraged or invited them (64%), (Humphrey, 2000, p. 7).