Getting Youth Up to PAR: Using Participatory Action Research to Increase Self-Determination Skills. (Teen & Young Adults)

By Sandoval, Jessie; Bryan, Tanis et al. | The Exceptional Parent, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Getting Youth Up to PAR: Using Participatory Action Research to Increase Self-Determination Skills. (Teen & Young Adults)


Sandoval, Jessie, Bryan, Tanis, Burstein, Karen S., The Exceptional Parent


It's not often you find a group of young adults who are willing to spend Saturday mornings working on a university research project. But this is not your typical research project, and these are not your typical young adults. With the involvement of Arizona State University faculty and a strategy called Participatory Action Research (PAR), a group of seven high school and college age students with physical disabilities are studying ways of overcoming the challenges of malting the transition to adulthood.

What is PAR?

In PAR the scientific method is used to find solutions to everyday problems. People affected by the problem, not researchers, select the problems to study and collect the data. By using the scientific method participants systematically test strategies to overcome perceived barriers to attaining individual and group goals.

The process begins with participants identifying and defining a pressing problem. They then gather information to determine what is known and what is not known. They select a testing strategy, decide how to measure the effects of the strategy, implement it, record the results and evaluate the data utilizing graphing and statistical procedures. If the problem is solved, they go on to define a new problem. If the problem is not solved, they select another strategy for testing. Finally, participants may decide to take action by letting others know about the results of their research.

According to the National Council on Rehabilitation Education, PAR has become a strategy for effecting change in the field of rehabilitation services. It was used to develop the Reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act, to document supported employment training job sites, to evaluate programs serving people with severe disabilities, to empower families of children with disabilities and to develop criteria for judging the quality of pediatric care.

Meet the Team

This study to examine perceived barriers to adulthood was conducted by seven high school and college students with physical and/or health and orthopedic impairments. During their sessions, the group learned about the PAR process, testing strategies, data collection, and the need for confidentiality. They learned how the scientific method is used in the social sciences and how the results of studies can impact our daily lives. The members selected a variety of personal goals and devised strategies to achieve them.

Jessie Sandoval is a 20-year-old college sophomore with cerebral palsy majoring in political science.

Casey Walker is a 21-year-old community college student with cerebral palsy.

Jay Dashefsky is a 21-year-old college junior with spina bifida.

Elisha Hilker is a 19-year-old high school student with spina bifida.

Linden Aitken is a 17-year-old high school junior with mitochondrial disease.

Chris Smith is a 19-year-old high school senior who has cerebral palsy.

Nick Luce is a 19- year-old high school student with cerebral palsy. He was a torch bearer in the last Olympics.

Tanis, the project director, was responsible for teaching the PAR process to the team and providing guidance on using it to solve problems. Dave, a young adult with quadriplegia, works for Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL).

The team completed two group projects. The first dealt with transportation. The team located Donna Powers, Executive Director of the Community Forum and an expert in transportation for people with disabilities in the Phoenix metropolitan area. She came to two meetings via public transportation with power point equipment and lunch packed onto her wheelchair. Following a presentation to the team members and their parents on the rights and responsibilities of persons with disabilities in using public transportation, she brought a bus and a driver to the site so that everyone had a chance to get on board and go for a ride. …

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