Research into maximising life choices of people with a spinal cord injury

Social isolation Disability Well-being Medicine Indigenous health Australia

Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA) commissioned the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to carry out research about maximising life choices of people with a spinal cord injury. The research was supported by Ageing Disability and Home Care, Department of Family and Community Service NSW. This report outlines the methods, findings and implications of the research.

The research involved a literature review, one-to-one interviews, roundtables and an on-line survey (Section 3). Total participants were 111, including 83 in the online survey. Hard to reach groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders, people living in regional locations, born overseas or from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, were well represented in the survey. Overrepresented were women, older people and people with higher levels of education (Section 4).

The Personal Wellbeing Index was used to measure people’s quality of life. The scores were within the normal range for Australians, although the average score for participants was, as expected, lower than the Australian average in most cases (Section 4).

The research was conducted using a number of methods including appreciative inquiry about people’s goals. The findings of the research have been analysed and organised using the social inclusion framework in order to identify whether people have the opportunity to participate fully in society and how they are able to maximise their life choices (Section 5).

The data presented in this report (Section 6 and 7) are from the interviews, roundtables and on-line survey; they are qualitative (interviews, roundtables, survey) and quantitative (survey). We were able to quantify from some of the qualitative data because of the common responses. This data should be used with caution because the responses were not from a closed list of prompts. The breadth of the analysis is based on the information provided by participants and therefore may not be comprehensive across all themes of social inclusion.

Access to resources to maximise opportunities and capabilities are necessary for people to be able to make life choices and experience social inclusion. Research participants said that physical and emotional wellbeing are fundamental to being able to access opportunities. Furthermore, two-thirds of participants said the role of the family in terms of emotional, physical and financial support was the most important resource in being able to achieve goals.

The key implications arising from this research (Section 8) are the need to:

  • support to maintain and improve health
  • support participation in family and social life
  • provide support to family and friends
  • promote workforce participation and training
  • improve information resources
  • increase financial security
  • improve government policy
  • increase accessible housing, facilities and transport.


The implications are of equal importance in terms of supporting a menu of resources for people with a spinal cord injury to enable them to maximise life choices. People have different priorities depending on their individual situation, which changes over their life time.

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