Research Article
Issue Date: March 1991
Published Online: March 01, 1991
Updated: April 30, 2020
An Ethnographic Study of Independent Living Alternatives
Author Affiliations
  • Jean Cole Spencer, PhD, OTR, is Associate Professor and Occupational Therapy Research Coordinator, School of Occupational Therapy, Texas Woman’s University, 1130 M. D. Anderson Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77030. At the time of this study, she was Research Director of the Cooperative Living Project, The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research, Houston, Texas
Article Information
Advocacy / Geriatrics/Productive Aging / Long-Term Care/Skilled Nursing Facilities / Rehabilitation, Participation, and Disability / Research
Research Article   |   March 01, 1991
An Ethnographic Study of Independent Living Alternatives
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, March 1991, Vol. 45, 243-251.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, March 1991, Vol. 45, 243-251.
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The purpose of this ethnographic study was to compare 12 settings in which housing, attendant assistance, and transportation were shared by clusters of young adults with physical disabilities during the early years of the independent living movement. The settings that were studied were (a) a demonstration independent living program established by a medical rehabilitation facility, (b) a university dormitory, (c) four apartment clusters, and (d) six nursing homes. Data were gathered with ethnographic interviews of 109 subjects as well as by participant observation in each setting. Independent living alternatives are compared in terms of their ability to support residents’ engagement in school, work, and leisure activities and their social and cultural similarities and differences. Findings are also reported on how residents viewed their experience in clustered living arrangements and how they believe these experiences shaped their future. Implications of the findings are discussed in terms of public policy issues, including the need for community-based support services, alternative models for organizing such services, and better planning of transitions from institutions to the community.