The meaning of play and work for young people with physical disabilities

Year of Study: 1991

This qualitative study involved interviewing 20 adolescents with and without physical disabilities to explore their memories and perceptions of play and work. The goals of the study were:

  1. to examine the relation between play and work in children and adolescents
  2. to understand the meaning of play versus work
  3. to uncover any differences or similarities in the content or context of play experiences for young people with and without physical disabilities.

Similar themes emerged in both groups of adolescents, including the importance of membership in a peer group and the significance of choice (versus obligation) in any activity. The findings indicate a need for service providers working with adolescents to facilitate meaningful play experiences.

Several themes related to the meaning of play and work for young people emerged from this study. The themes that have the greatest impact on occupational therapists working in children's treatment centres are discussed. They include:

  1. The importance of membership in a peer group and the need for adolescents, especially those with disabilities, to self-initiate participation in group activities;
  2. The perceived needs of adolescents with physical disabilities to become competent players and their suggestions to facilitate this;
  3. The significance of choice (versus obligation) and other characteristics of activities that affect an adolescent's perception of play versus work;
  4. The potential role of play and work in the process of occupational choice.

Research Team

  • S Sahagian-Whalen
  • C Toal


The findings indicate a need for occupational therapists and other professionals working with young people to:

  • broaden their views of play and work
  • consider the play- and work-related character of any activity
  • be more cognizant of their role in facilitating meaningful play experiences.

Project Update

Pollock, N., Stewart, D., Law, M., Sahagian-Whalen, S., Harvey, S., & Toal, C. (1997). The meaning of play for young people with physical disabilities. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64, 25-31.


Clinical Relief Program, CanChild (then NCRU) - $4,500 (1991)