Surveys of environmental negotiability in homes of disabled persons



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The transactional nature of organism-behavior-environment systems and the importance of environmental context in describing and assessing behavior are accepted truisms in psychology. Extending these arguments suggests that it is crucial to assess the actual interface between a person and his or her environment — that is, the hyphen in the term behavior-environment relationship. The importance and utility of directly measuring behavior and environment becomes very clear in persons with severe disabilities such as spinal cord injury. The purpose of this study was to develop, evaluate and use an objective client-based procedure for recording these relationships in terms of true behavior-environment units. This method is called the environmental negotiability survey. It measures the ability of a person to independently negotiate (use) the major physical elements of his or her residence. The survey provides a way to record and evaluate the characteristics and rates of clients' behavior-environment adaptations soon after their discharge from a rehabilitation hospital. It requires the actual behavioral involvement of the client, and measures directly his or her interactions with the objects specific to the client's own home and daily life. The survey was used to monitor adaptations to the home environment over time for nine persons with recent spinal cord injuries. The study demonstrated the survey's feasibility as a highly reliable, easily used tool for monitoring clients' behavioral adaptations to and modifications of their residences. Data obtained from the longitudinal records show that clients varied widely in their range of abilities and rates of adaptation. Most changes occurred within the first four months after discharge. Negotiability had almost no reversals: once an object was negotiable, it virtually never became nonnegotiable. Thus the environment seems to play a crucial role in supporting and maintaining persons' behavior-environment relationships. Several findings in the study also demonstrated the survey's potential as a long or short term evaluation technique for both programmatic and environmental changes. The environmental negotiability survey provides a practical tool with several uses in the rehabilitation process, and an empirical demonstration of both some principles of behavioral ecology and a new approach to measurement in man-environment relations.