The transition to adulthood for youth with physical disabilities: A qualitative exploration

This qualitative research project examined the experiences, perceptions and needs of youth with physical disabilities in the process of transition from adolescence to adulthood. Findings revealed multiple pathways during the transition to adulthood for both youth with physical disabilities and their parents. Common themes related to the lack of fit between young people with disabilities and the adult environments they were entering. Physical, social and institutional barriers in the environment limited the opportunities of many of these youth to participate in real-life experiences, which in turn influenced their preparation for adult roles.

These barriers were particularly important for youth who had had disabilities since birth. These adolescents' ability to "build their own bridges" to the adult world required the help of external support systems. This need for external support has prompted the collaborative development of community-based transition services for youth with disabilities and their parents. An action plan for such services is described that incorporates concepts of person-environment fit, health promotion, and consumer empowerment with the participants' ideas for transition services.

The study participants included 21 youth, ages 19 to 30 years with a physical disability, 12 parents and 1 service provider, who lived in three regions of south-central Ontario. Purposeful sampling strategies were used to achieve maximum variation and theoretical representativeness. Data collection methods were individual and focus group interviews, and were guided by a set of open-ended probe questions about the nature of the transition process and the participants' needs and ideas for services. Interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim for

analysis. An editing style of analysis sorted segments of text into codes for description and interpretation. Themes emerged about context, the transition process, needs and services through the iterative analysis process.


  • Highlights the importance of collaborating with youth with disabilities and their parents when planning community-based transition services.
  • Provides useful information for the planning and development of community-based transition services in Ontario.

Research Team

D Stewart