Somewhere to Live, Something to Do, Someone to Love: Examining Levels and Sources of Social Capital Among People with Disabilities

Christina Dimakos, Stuart B. Kamenetsky, Al Condeluci, Jamie Curran, Patti Flaherty, Jeffrey Fromknecht, Marti Howard, Janet Williams


Social capital has emerged as an important ingredient in the maintenance of physical and mental wellbeing.  Although this construct has been studied within the disability community, a comparative analysis of social capital among individuals with disabilities and the general population is missing from the literature. Also sparse is an investigation into the sources from which people with disabilities draw their social capital. Building on the seminal work of political scientist Robert Putnam, a modified version of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey was administered to 218  adults with high support needs living with a broad range of disabilities and currently receiving support from one of six disability organizations across the United States and Canada. Chi-squared analyses were conducted to test for differences between observed frequencies and expected frequencies obtained from general population surveys on six key measures of social capital.  Results indicate that, in most areas, social capital levels among individuals with disabilities were lower when compared with those of general population respondents.  In cases where social capital levels were higher than or comparable to general population respondents, an incongruity between subjective evaluations and quantitative reports, and/or support received from non-normative sources such as parents and professionals are likely explanations. Our findings support continued efforts by rehabilitation professionals to facilitate community integration for people with disabilities through the promotion of friendships and other social relationships in a variety of contexts. 


disability; social capital; social support; community integration; wellbeing

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