By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research
Natural supports are unpaid, reciprocal relationships who support people with disabilities in their natural environments and communities. Natural supports not only serve as a safety net but also help increase people’s material and social well-being. The aim of this study was to examine the impact of natural support networks on different areas of people with disabilities’ quality of life. To do so, I analyzed Personal Outcome Measures® data from 7,118 people with disabilities (2015-2022).
I found having natural support networks significantly improved every other area of people with disabilities’ quality of life (see figure). For example, controlling for all demographics, the odds of people with disabilities being safe increased by 110% when they had natural support networks, the odds of people with disabilities exercising rights increased by 123% when they had natural support networks, and the odds of people with disabilities participating in the life of the community increased by 243% when they had natural support networks.
The Relationship Between Natural Support Networks and Quality of Life Outcomes
Given the importance of natural support networks, in this study I also examined differences in who was more or less likely to have natural support networks. I found the following people with disabilities were less likely to have natural support networks: women; Black people; people with full/plenary guardianship; people with personality/psychotic disorder; and people in Canada (compared to the United States). While all people with disabilities should receive individualized person-centered supports to facilitate natural support networks, particular attention should be given to these groups to ensure they have equal access to natural supports.
“Our findings suggest natural support networks can significantly improve the quality of life of people with disabilities in a wide range of areas, from health to rights to community integration to self-determination. As such, it is important to maximize people with disabilities’ opportunities to form and connect with natural support networks, including based on their shared interests and desires… Despite these benefits, the majority of people with disabilities (59%) in our sample were not connected to natural support networks… We must ensure all people with disabilities are connected to natural support networks in order to maximize their quality of life” (Friedman, 2023, pp. 13-14).