Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Health Sciences


Rehabilitation Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Dana Howell

Second Advisor

Dr. Patrick Kitzman


The aim of this dissertation is to increase the body of research in occupational therapy about how to increase the social inclusion of children with disabilities in faith-based settings. Even since the advent of important legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, which paved the way for community participation for individuals with disabilities, individuals with disabilities continue to face barriers to participating in society. Decreased inclusion for individuals with disabilities is seen throughout all sectors of society. One area of regular societal participation for many Americans is in faith-based settings such as churches, synagogues and temples. It has been reported that even in institutions of faith, individuals, including children with disabilities, face barriers to social inclusion. These barriers range from physical and contextual barriers to attitudinal barriers. Faith participation has been deemed important as it can translate into higher quality of life and can be a place of support for individuals with disabilities and their families. While “community participation” and “values, beliefs and spirituality” all fall within the domain of occupational therapy, exclusion in faith-based settings for individuals with disabilities is an occupational injustice that has largely been unaddressed in the occupational therapy literature.

This dissertation is an amalgamation of research projects centered around the primary aim of increasing social inclusion for children with disabilities in faith-based settings. This dissertation includes a systematic review, a scoping review, a phenomenological study and an intervention study. The systematic review examined what supports individuals with disabilities needed to participate in faith-based settings. This review found that individuals with disabilities needed a variety of supports in order to better participate in faith-based settings. No-cost and low-cost supports (such as a welcoming attitude) that faith-based institutions can implement to support the participation of people with disabilities are discussed. A scoping review was conducted to better understand occupational therapy literature about coaching adults to facilitate the participation of children with disabilities. The results of this study helped to shape the definition and coaching protocol used for the intervention study of this dissertation. The phenomenological study looked at the experiences of faith-based volunteers who worked with children with disabilities in their faith settings. This study found that faith-based volunteers wanted more support in serving children with disabilities, they felt called to serve children with disabilities in their faith settings, but also had differing ideas on what participation for individuals with disabilities looks like in faith settings. Finally, the culminating intervention study is described in which occupational performance coaching- a coaching approach for adults to support children with disabilities that is discussed in detail in the scoping review- is used with volunteers who work with children with disabilities in faith-based settings. This study found that an occupational performance coaching intervention provided by an occupational therapist with faith-based children’s volunteers was effective at increasing the social inclusion of children with disabilities.

These studies reveal the need for more research to be conducted in the area of faith-based social inclusion for individuals with disabilities. Furthermore, the culminating study in this dissertation (chapter 6) provides implications for occupational therapists to use occupational performance coaching with other community-based volunteers with the broader goal of increasing societal inclusion for individuals with disabilities throughout all facets of society. Other future implications for occupational therapy practice and research are also discussed.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)