of the expectations and opportunities that accompany specific sociocultural environments. Attitudes, assumptions, preferences, and prejudices encountered throughout society help create social-environmental disability risks. For example, in agricultural occupational settings individuals are expected to have certain physical skills, abilities, and characteristics. Because of the physical demands and sociocultural expectations of that environment, the likelihood or risk of a functional limitation becoming a disability is greater than in a cultural setting that assigns less value to these characteristics. Thus job settings can create a social-environmental risk for disability when individuals are required to perform tasks that exceed their physical (or mental) abilities.
Individuals with disabling conditions often report that their independence of action is significantly influenced by the attitudes of those in their environment. These attitudes are reflected both in the way individuals relate to those with disabling conditions and in the public policies that are adopted by society. Paternalism, for example, whereby individuals provide resources but not freedom of choice in the use of those resources, is not uncommon. This practice requires a compliance on the part of those with disabling conditions that affects self-esteem negatively and encourages dependent roles—a result that can contribute to a lack of initiative and independence in social and work situations. It also is not uncommon for persons with disabling conditions to encounter discriminatory attitudes and behavior—for example, being prejudged as unable to assume roles such as worker, spouse, sports participant, or independent resident. It is also not uncommon for those with physically disabling conditions to be treated as though they had mental impairment as well.
Much as social-environmental risk factors stem from sociocultural expectations and opportunities, physical-environmental risk factors have their source in the physical places in which people conduct their daily lives. Like social-environmental risk factors, physical-environmental risk factors also occur in a variety of forms. The risk can occur as a direct result of the physical design of public places or of the individual's workplace or living arrangements. These environments can put an individual at risk for injury or disease, which can trigger a process that leads to disability; they also can place individuals in circumstances in which impairments and functional limitations become disabling. Examples of the former risk include workplaces in which employees are not protected from dangerous machinery, households with slippery floors (or other problems that promote injuries), or exposure to toxicants (e.g., lead paint) and other disease-causing agents. Examples of the latter include inadequate access to the built environment for individuals who use wheelchairs, prostheses, orthosis, or guide or hearing dogs. Inadequate public transportation also can put individuals with impairments or functional limitations at increased risk for disability.