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Community accessibility for people with SCI tackled

Study looks at how local neighbourhoods can improve lives for people with paralysis



The community factors that impact independent living for people after spinal cord injury are the subject of a new study designed to make positive changes to the lives of those living with paralysis. 

The study aims to generate actionable information about how communities shape the experience of people living with SCI. 

The five-year project will address factors including the accessibility of public places and opportunities for social inclusion, which impact heavily on a person’s ability to live independently.

“The goal of this project is to study how where someone lives shapes their disability experience,” said Dr Amanda Botticello, of Kessler Foundation, who is leading the multi-site study. 

“The knowledge we gain will inform ongoing policy efforts to make public places more accessible and to ensure social inclusion for people with disabilities.”

For people living with SCI, the challenges or support they face in their community can impact on employment opportunities, healthcare access, mental health and independent living. 

“Unfortunately, many community places remain inaccessible, placing people with spinal cord injury at risk for poor outcomes,” said Dr Botticello.

The US study, supported by a $4.5million federal grant, brings together a number of nationally-significant sites to work collaboratively, including Craig Hospital, Baylor Scott & White Research Institute and the University of Alabama – Birmingham. 

The sites are part of the Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems (SCIMS) program – the largest network of research centres devoted to SCI in the world – which creates opportunities for critical collaboration between clinicians and researchers from across the US.

The study’s objectives are to:

  • Improve the capacity of the national SCI Model Systems (SCIMS) database to conduct ongoing research on geographic disparities in outcomes by creating the SCIMS-Environmental Factors Datasets (SCIMS-EFD)
  • Generate robust estimates of geographic, racial/ethnic, and rural-urban health disparities using the SCIMS-EFD
  • Identify the processes that shape health disparities by engaging with people with spinal cord injury as they navigate community places using smartphones and wearable technology.

Anticipated outcomes of the study include a database resource that will improve the surveillance of the needs of the spinal cord injury population conducted by the SCIMS program. 

“Combined with the information gained directly from people with spinal cord injury about environmental barriers they encounter in daily life, the new database resource will help rehabilitation professionals and policy makers determine where to target resources to help improve the lives of people with spinal cord injury,” said Dr Botticello. 

“They may focus their efforts on disadvantaged groups, disadvantaged communities, or both.”