The experience of flow by people living with disabilities: A meta-study of qualitative research

Sara Mohr, Debbie Kramer-Roy, Paul Boyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Experiencing flow, an optimal psychological state, can support health and well-being. A developmental perspective on flow so far examines strategies to facilitate these experiences in the face of developmental losses such as ageing. People with disabilities experience restrictions in participation and thus fewer occupations that potentially induce flow. Therefore, contributions to this perspective can be gained from disabled people’s experiences. Thus, this meta-study synthesises qualitative research literature to determine the contribution to a developmental perspective on flow in people with disabilities.

Following a systematic search of four databases (PsycInfo (EBSCO), PubMed, CINAHL (EBSCO), Scopus) 10 qualitative, peer-reviewed studies were included, and critically appraised. Findings as well as methodologies, and underlying theories were analysed and synthesised.

Various methodologies have been used to explore flow experiences of people with disabilities. Incongruencies between underlying theories and chosen methods, as well as lack of researcher reflexivity impacted the trustworthiness of some studies. All studies originated within occupational therapy research and were located in the global North, implying assumptions about occupation and well-being and a rehabilitation framework. The individuals’ choice and control, and adaptations of environment and occupation emerged from the meta-synthesis as important factors to experiencing flow.

To enhance opportunities for flow in the lives of people with disabilities, a shift of perspective from individual impairments towards issues of accessibility and occupational justice is needed. Based on this meta-study, critical disability theory and participatory frameworks are recommended for future research to explore strategies to enhance access to flow inducing occupations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Occupational Science
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2023


  • Occupational science
  • Disability
  • Flow theory
  • Positive psychology
  • Qualitative meta-study


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