University of Montana Rural Institute

Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities – RTC: Rural

The Executive Summary and Research Summary document covers. Both say "Research that Leads to Solutions for Rural Americans with Disabilities," and feature images of a map of disability rates by county across the US. The Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities (RTC: Rural) conducts research on disability as part of the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities at the University of Montana.

RTC: Rural is funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) to improve the ability of people with disabilities to engage in rural community living.

Read our 2-page Executive Summary: RTC:Rural- Research that Leads to Solutions for Rural Americans with Disabilities (PDF)

Read our 10-page Research Summary: RTC:Rural Research Summary_2017 (PDF)

As a NIDILRR-funded program, the Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities strives to ensure people with disabilities participate in all stages of the development and implementation of research projects.  Our goal is to make sure research results and products are useful and relevant to people with disabilities, their families and service providers.

Learn more about RTC: Rural, our staff and history by checking out our About Page. Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

    Advocacy and Voting Resources for People with Disabilities

    Advocacy and Independent Living

    Four people pose in front of a disability rights flag. Three of the people have visible disabilities. As we approach the 2018 midterm elections, disability advocates are continuing their work to make sure that lawmakers and policy influencers know how different issues affect people with disabilities. Advocacy is an important part of the Independent Living and Disability Rights movements, and has been since the beginning.

    Individuals with disabilities are the best experts on their wants and needs, and have the right to make their own choices to fulfill those needs. If they are unable to fulfill a want or need, advocacy is the answer. An important part of advocacy, no matter if the goal is to help one person or many, is establishing a confident voice, developed and supported in a community of peer support.

    There are many ways to help people with disabilities develop advocacy skills, and one of those is RTC:Rural’s Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit. The Toolkit is a collaboration between BASE, an affiliate of Summit Independent Living in Missoula, MT, the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL), and RTC:Rural staff, and was developed in response to the needs and interests of CILs and other stakeholders.

    Advocacy Toolkit Facilitator Guide coverThe Toolkit is available free of charge by following this link to the Rural Disability Resource Library:

    Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit

    The toolkit materials, facilitated in a workshop format, give participants the opportunity to explore their voices, build confidence, and display their skills both verbally as well as in written form. The intent is to provide a safe space among peers and trusted facilitators to introduce the concept of both group- and self-advocacy.

    The Toolkit includes a facilitator guide, worksheets, and PowerPoint slides to guide facilitators through conducting the workshop. The workshop is designed to be conducted as three 2-hour sessions or modified for different lengths of time as needed.

    The Advocacy Toolkit also includes the following How-To Guides, which can be used as stand-alone resources to help individuals and groups advocate in their communities.

    How-To Guides:

    • Writing Effective Letters to Decision Makers
    • Creating Your Personal Testimony to Influence Policy Change
    • Finding and Using Data for Advocacy

    There are also examples of persuasive writing and personal testimony. Other advocacy-related resources are listed in Appendix C of the Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit Facilitator Guide.

    Advocacy and Voting Resources

    For those who want to use their advocacy skills to comment on a national or state-level issue, here are some resources that may be useful:


    On May 20, #CripTheVote is having a Twitter chat about “Making Activism Accessible.” Visit their blog post for more information on how to join, to see the questions, and to participate. Even if you don’t use Twitter, there is still a way for you to follow along in real time—click on the following link for more information:

    #CripTheVote May 20 Twitter chat: Making Activism Accessible

    Continue reading about Advocacy and Voting Resources for People with Disabilities

    “We’re here to help each other live better with our disabilities:” First Living/Working Well Facilitator Peer-to-Peer Series Call a Success

    A circle of clip art people surrounds the Living and Working Well with a Disability logo, Peer-to-Peer Series written underneath. RTC:Rural’s new Peer-to-Peer Series call for Living Well and Working Well with a Disability Facilitators was held on April 26, 2018. Twenty-six participants joined the conference call and shared their experiences, challenges, and successes as facilitators. The topic of the first call was managing group dynamics.

    “A key difference between facilitating and teaching is that as a facilitator, you are not placing yourself in the position of expert or leader,” said RTC:Rural Training Associate Maggie Lawrence, who organized the call. “Facilitators help to guide the session and keep on track, but the control of the curriculum is given to the group. This means that the workshop sessions are heavy on discussion and peer support, and therefore each group can have a different feel and different dynamics.”

    One of the more difficult tasks facing Living Well and Working Well facilitators is navigating and managing group dynamics, as participants bring so many different experiences and stories to the workshop. The process of group cohesion, that feeling of shared understanding, is always changing and can be difficult to foster.

    Facilitators on this call shared experiences of having workshop participants who felt like they didn’t belong, or that they shouldn’t talk because their situation “isn’t that bad.” For example, one facilitator shared, “I have found in a few of my sessions I may have some people living with disabilities that are quadriplegic, paraplegics and wheelchair users, and then I have the individual who may have a visual disability or a slight hearing loss, and they come to me and they say, I feel guilty because my disability isn't as severe as that person's.” Said another facilitator, “[Participants say,] ‘I don’t think I belong here. I don’t feel my disability is severe enough to be here.’“

    How do you both acknowledge and honor difference, and at the same time establish a sense of equity and togetherness? In response, facilitators on the call shared their experiences in helping the participants process this feeling of not belonging and guilt. Shared one facilitator, “… Over time, [participants] realize that it’s just about handling your disability no matter what it is. And as a facilitator, I think it’s good for us to let people know that everybody’s disability is a challenge to them, and it’s not a competition. We’re here to help each other live better with our disability.”

    A group of people gathered around a table having a discussion. Another difficult challenge that facilitators discussed is dealing with what you can’t plan for. For example, six or seven weeks into the workshop a participant or facilitator might have a dramatic life change or a crisis that can affect the whole group. How do you support the needs of the individual and the group as a whole? In response, facilitators shared that they will take time in the next workshop to discuss the event, and let participants share their feelings and experiences in the group. “Recognize that this is a learning experience for the group,” said another facilitator. “Life throws us challenges, and when we’re goal-setting we’re going to meet barriers. We might have crises or acute events happen, and we need to work through it.”

    “What was particularly amazing about the call was to hear how, through skill and trust, these very challenges can lead to huge successes,” said Lawrence.  “One facilitator told the story of a participant who, during the course of the workshop, experienced a divorce and homelessness, but she made such progress with the support of the group and CIL staff that she was able to get an apartment, a job, and become a successful self-advocate. Another facilitator shared that the workshop is sometimes the first time people recognize that their experience and their voice matters.”

    It is clear that Living and Working Well facilitators are immensely skilled, and that opportunities to support one another are very meaningful. “It was wonderful to hear other facilitators’ success stories and some of the challenges they may be having and to be able to share with each other,” said one facilitator.

    The next Peer-to-Peer Series call will be on June 28. Topics discussed will include outreach, recruitment, and program sustainability. These calls are free, and open to any Living and Working Well facilitators, though Lawrence does ask that you register. Stay tuned for a registration reminder in early June! Logo: Living and Working Well with a Disability

    The Living Well and Working Well with a Disability programs are evidence-based, peer-led health promotion workshops provided by organizations that serve people with disabilities. RTC:Rural provides training and certification for Centers for Independent Living (CILs) and other organizations to conduct the workshops. Both programs are based on the Independent Living philosophy, which recognizes that individual choice and self-determination are essential components of living independently in the community.

    Since Living Well began in 1995 and Working Well in 2003, over 1,300 facilitators have been trained in 47 states, in turn serving over 10,000 adults with disabilities. To learn more about the development of Living and Working Well, visit the RTC:Rural website project pages here:

    Interested in becoming a Living or Working Well with a Disability facilitator or provider? Visit the Living & Working Well with a Disability website or email for more information, resources, or to be added to the Living and Working Well listserv.

    Continue reading about “We’re here to help each other live better with our disabilities:” First Living/Working Well Facilitator Peer-to-Peer Series Call a Success


What does RTC: Rural do?

RTC: Rural is a leader in research on disability in rural communities. Visit our About page to learn more.