Accessibility of resource constrained urban communities for female wheelchair users in the South African context

Background: Wheelchair users living in resource-constrained communities are faced with many physical, social and attitudinal barriers in their environment, which impacts on their access to and participation in their communities and society as a whole. Although legislation regarding access exists in South Africa, poor implementation of appropriate accessibility standards has been noted. Methodology: This study followed a descriptive, explorative qualitative design to guide the exploration of female wheelchair users’ experience of accessibility in the physical and social environment. Purposive sampling was applied, and five participants who matched the inclusion criteria were included in the study. Inductive data analysis was done using descriptive and in vivo codes. Validity strategies of trustworthiness, authenticity and credibility were applied throughout. Results: The following three themes emerged from the data: “Not able to go where I want to go”, “With others, I can go wherever I want to go”, and “Attitude towards disability impacts participation”. Conclusion: The predominant barriers to access for wheelchair users in resourceconstrained communities exist in the physical environment. Structural challenges related to not having enough space for the wheelchair, poor quality of terrain, and the absence of ramps to enter facilities or buildings were found to be some of the main limiting factors to accessibility. The social environment, although not without its own challenges such as negative community attitudes, offers more facilitators to access. Family support was found to be a vital facilitator to overcoming barriers in the physical environment, and to promoting occupational performance. Personal factors of the individual such as coping strategies and level of acceptance of disability was also found to influence the individual’s access and participation.
A research report submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Occupational Therapy to the Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Therapeutic Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,2022