Built environment instruments need to be specific-disability-focused

By Jennifer Gray, PhD
Northern Illinois University

The term “built environment” refers to human-made structures, such as urban and rural design, recreational structures, and walking and biking paths. For people with disabilities (PWDs), the built environment can help or prevent ability to be physically active. There are many instruments that measure the built environment with regards to its effect on physical activity. However, little is known on how these instruments are actually helpful for people with disabilities.

What did you do in your research?
We examined instruments related to the built environment and physical activity and assessed their applicability for PWDs. Ninety-five instruments were reviewed based on walkability, bikeability, and recreation with respect to disability and universal design (UD).

What did you find out?
About one third of all instruments included some disability-specific items. Only a few UD principles were used across all instruments. One-half of the instruments met the reliable criteria. With respect to instrument impact and use, just over one-half of the instruments have articles cited in the peer-reviewed literature.

What are the take-home messages?
New and revised built environment instruments must include more focus on specific populations, incorporation of all UD principles, quality and measurement specificity. These instruments can help build communities that allow for PWDs and the population-at-large to lead healthy, active lives.

To learn more about these findings contact
Jennifer Gray.

Full Journal Article
Gray, J.A., Zimmerman, J.L., Rimmer, J.H. (2012). Built environment instruments for walkability, bikeability, and recreation: Disability and universal design relevant? Disability and Health Journal, 5(2), 87-101.