Category Archives: News

Home Usability Program works to address immediate housing needs for people with disabilities

Wheelchair user trying to maneuver within confined kitchen space.

For people with disabilities, usability issues can be both within and outside of the home.

The need for accessible housing far exceeds the availability. While there are disability advocacy groups working to make changes in housing policies at the national level, those changes don’t happen overnight. In the next few decades, the need for affordable, accessible housing is only going to increase as the American population ages. In rural areas, where people are already more likely to be unemployed, living in poverty, elderly, and have a disability, this housing need will be especially severe.

“People can’t always move into accessible, affordable housing, or at least not right away,” says Lillie Greiman, RTC:Rural Research Associate. “So we’re asking, ‘What can we do to help those people right now?’”

To address immediate housing issues for people with disabilities, RTC:Rural researchers are working with partners at the University of Kansas on the Home Usability Program. The Home Usability Program helps people with disabilities to assess usability issues with their homes, and connects them with the resources they need to make changes.

Closeup of a person's hand on a lever-style door handle

An example of an improved usability issue: replacing round door knobs with easier-to-use lever door handles. Picture from www.HealthyCommunityLiving.com.

The Home Usability Program is part of the Research and Training Center on Promoting Interventions for Community Living (RTC/PICL), a collaboration between researchers at the University of Kanas and the University of Montana. Dr. Craig Ravesloot, RTC:Rural director, co-directs the center with Dr. Glen White at the University of Kansas. Greiman is the Project Director of the Home Usability Program.

Currently, researchers are in the first phase of the Home Usability Program, says Greiman. The program is partnering with two Centers for Independent Living, one in Montana and one in Kansas, to work with individuals to make usability improvements to their homes. Participants must be over 21, have a physical disability, and live in the community.

First, the team works with the individual to identify usability issues within their homes. Then, the researchers work with the local CILs to develop a network of local resources that can help address those issues. The focus of the program is to identify smaller-scale improvements that can be made quickly and relatively inexpensively—for example, installing new faucet handles on the sink for easier use, or grab bars in the bathtub.

Ultimately, the Home Usability Program will consist of two parts: a screening tool for people with disabilities to use to identify usability issues in their homes, which includes recommendations on how to solve some common issues; and a guide for CILs to develop their own networks of local resources to help consumers make these usability changes.

“The Home Usability Program is about giving you control over your home environment, making it easier and safer to use your home,” said Greiman. “If people have usable homes, they can live independently and participate in their communities.”

A drawing of two cartoon houses.

The Home Usability Program works with Centers for Independent Living to help people with disabilities make improvements to their homes.

To learn more about the RTC/PICL and the Home Usability Program, check out:

Research & Training Center on Promoting Interventions for Community Living

Home Usability for People with Disabilities

Success Story: Home Usability for People with Disabilities

RTC:Rural Researcher Offers Graduate Seminar on Rural Disability and Health

Rayna Sage talking into a microphone

Dr. Rayna Sage, RTC:Rural Research Associate, presenting at the 2017 APRIL conference in Spokane, Washington.

RTC:Rural Research Associate Dr. Rayna Sage, who is also an adjunct instructor in the Sociology department at the University of Montana, is offering a graduate-level seminar for the Spring 2018 semester called “Special Topics in Rural Disability and Health.” In the seminar, students will produce rapid literature reviews on topics of interest to the RTC:Rural.

“The first few weeks we’ll be getting a good foothold in disability literature,” said Dr. Sage. “I want to focus on how interdisciplinary the field is.” Students will learn about disability as an identity and as a product of the environment. They’ll also learn the history of disability rights and the Independent Living Movement, as well as how disability functions in the health care system. There will be an emphasis on experiences in rural America.

The main course objectives are to produce rapid literature reviews on topics that are related to RTC:Rural research interests. After choosing a topic, students will research the existing literature on that topic, and produce reviews of these papers. They will work closely with RTC:Rural Knowledge Translation staff to turn their literature reviews into materials that can be used by service providers, policymakers, advocates, and other researchers. These materials will be published on the RTC:Rural website.

Dr. Sage is excited for students to learn about how disability intersects with other social statuses like race, gender, and class from interdisciplinary perspectives including sociology, geography, public health, psychology, and economics while also assisting students in building important writing skills they can take into their academic and professional lives.

For more information, check out the course description flier:

SOCI 595: Special Topics in Rural Disability and Health

Healthy Community Living now in pilot phase

Healthy Community Living logoHealthy Community Living (HCL), RTC:Rural’s multi-media health promotion program to improve the health and wellbeing of people with disabilities, is excited to be moving into the piloting phase of curriculum development.

RTC:Rural researchers work closely with experienced CIL staff, peer experts in independent living philosophy, and staff from the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) to develop, test, and refine the HCL curriculums. To learn more about the role of the Development Team and the Participatory Curriculum Development process we used to create the HCL curricula, check out “Consumer interviews add to Participatory Curriculum Development project.”

Development Team

We want to acknowledge the tremendous work and collaboration of our Development Team:

  • Pamala Mondragon and Jamie Hardt from Independence, Inc. in Minot, North Dakota
  • Rich Skerbitz and Liz Amys from North Country Independent Living in Superior, Wisconsin
  • Dustin Gibson in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Brittany Hepler from the Dale McIntosh Center in Anaheim, California
  • Kimberly Heymann from Alliance of People with disAbilities in Seattle, Washington
  • Ken Mitchell, Kim Gibson, and William Daniels from disAbility Link in Tucker, Georgia
  • Dori Tempio from Able South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina
  • Sharon Washington and Christine Cook from Blue Water Center for Independent Living in Port Huron, Michigan

Thank you Development Team, it’s been wonderful to work with you all and we so appreciate all of your time and energy devoted to HCL.

The HCL Development Team and RTC:Rural staff.

The HCL Development Team and RTC:Rural staff at a HCL training in Missoula, Montana.

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RTC:Rural is thankful for opportunities to share research at fall conferences

RTC:Rural is wrapping up the fall conference season, which began Oct. 20-23rd in Spokane, WA at the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) conference. Since then, RTC:Rural researchers have represented rural disability at five other conferences around the country. Below are some of our take-aways, and we also shared some photos on Facebook!

Montana Healthy Communities

Dr. Catherine Ipsen, Director of Employment Research; Dr. Meg Ann Traci, Montana Disability and Health Program (MTDH) Project Director; Dr. Rayna Sage, Research Associate; Lillie Greiman, Research Associate; and Andrew Myers, Research Associate, attended the Montana Healthy Communities conference, which was held November 1-2 in Helena, Montana. The conference brought together community development and health leaders from across the state to explore the future of community health improvement.

“A lot can be achieved working at the local level, particularly in rural communities,” said Lillie Greiman. “At the local level, rural communities understand the role of the environment in health, and engaging with others who live and work in rural helps us better understand both the similarities and uniqueness of rural communities across the country.”

American Public Health Association

researcher explaining poster to conference participant

Dr. Rayna Sage presenting her poster at APHA 2017

Dr. Meg Traci, MTDH Program Director, Helen Russette, MTDH Program Coordinator, and Dr. Rayna Sage, Research Associate, attended the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting & Expo, which was held November 4-8 in Atlanta, Georgia.

A variety of RTC:Rural research was presented at the conference including:

Also at the conference, Dr. Tom Seekins, RTC:Rural Co-Director, was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award, which Dr. Traci accepted on his behalf.

Association of University Centers on Disabilities

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Dr. Tom Seekins honored with Lifetime Achievement Award from American Public Health Association

RTC:Rural co-director Dr. Tom Seekins was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Public Health Association (APHA). The award “is presented to a person who, over the course of his or her career, has made a major contribution to the improvement of health and quality of life for people with disabilities through research, teaching, advocacy, or practice.”

To see a captioned video of Dr. Seekins’ acceptance speech, click on the embedded video below.


Dr. Seekins was also honored at the 2017 Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) conference in Spokane for his support, involvement, and contributions to the Rural Independent Living and Disability Rights Movement.

Honoring Tom Seekins

The following is reprinted from the 23rd APRIL conference program with permission.

Dr. Tom Seekins and Dr. Glen White posing after Dr. Seekins accepts his award from Dr. White.

Dr. Tom Seekins (left) accepting his award at the APRIL 2017 conference from Dr. Glen White (right).

Dr. Tom Seekins was one of the very first people I met when I began my work with APRIL.  I owe him a huge debt of gratitude.  He, along with Dr. Devva Kasnitz and Linda Gonzales wrote our Rural Transportation Demonstration grant through the Department of Education which allowed APRIL to finally hire staff, i.e. me!!  Tom is such a genuine and gentle soul.  His soft-spoken manner and kind face represent home to many of us.  He is not only a steadfast supporter of APRIL but a trusted and respected voice and scholar in the Rural Independent Living field and for People with Disabilities as a whole.  His dedicated life’s work has helped us all understand the distribution of people with disabilities throughout our country and our communities and also highlights the continuing struggles that people with disabilities in Rural America deal with in trying to access services.  His contributions are invaluable.

Tom Seekins is the kind of person you would want around in a crisis.  He has a calming effect and a grounding energy that is so valuable and rare.  It has been my sincere honor to have worked with him for 17 years.  I am a better, more thoughtful person because of it.”

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Stakeholder Engagement Brings Value and Insight to Researchers at APRIL 2017

two people pointing at a poster and a map

RTC:Rural researcher Lillie Greiman showing our Network Analysis poster

RTC:Rural staff recently traveled to Spokane, Washington, for the 23rd annual Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) conference.

“Attending APRIL gives us a chance to connect with the real people, both service providers and consumers, who work on the ground every day,” said RTC:Rural Research Associate Lillie Greiman. Those connections allow RTC:Rural staff to share, gather feedback and solicit input on our research and resources.  Added Research Associate Andrew Myers, “The APRIL conference gives us the opportunity to hear about the lived experiences of people with disabilities in rural communities all across the county, and these stories can help inform our research and improve the work we do.”

Tools for Today and Tomorrow – Presentation

workshop participants listening to a panel of speakers

RTC:Rural research Tannis Hargrove presenting about the Healthy Community Living program

Researchers shared information about new and current RTC:Rural projects and products in a packed workshop called Asking Question Leads to Solutions: Tools for Today and Tomorrow, which highlighted some of the many RTC:Rural products and tools that have been developed as a result of our research. Presenters provided information about:

All of these resources can be found on the Rural Disability Resource Library website.

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New Rural Disability Resource Library website launched!

logo of the rural disability resource library websiteRTC:Rural just launched a new website, the Rural Disability Resource Library. The website was created to be an easily accessible and searchable set of resources for people with disabilities who live in rural areas. It contains fact sheets, how-to guides, info for conducting workshops, web resources, and much more.

Who is it intended for?

Many different people will find the resources on this website useful. There are resources for people with different types of disabilities and their family members. Some resources are also designed for people who serve those with disabilities, such as policy makers and care givers. The resources listed here have been designed for, or are useful for, those who live in rural areas but could also be useful for people living in more urban areas.

Why a rural resource library?

Rural towns are different than cities and the people who live there sometimes have different needs. There are lots of resources available online for people with disabilities, but it can be difficult to sort through them and find ones that are most useful. Also, very few resources exist that have been designed with rural communities in mind. This website helps make the job of finding relevant resources easier for people who live in rural areas, and those who serve them.

Webinar: Strengthening Public Health Workforce Competencies in a Rural State

Professional headshot of Dr. Adriane Griffen

Dr. Adriane Griffen, Senior Director, Public Health & Leadership, Association of University Centers on Disabilities.

This webinar for public health and disability service providers about including people with disabilities in public health plans and efforts was held October 17, 2017.

The webinar, entitled Including People with Disabilities—Public Health Workforce Competencies, was presented by Dr. Adriane Griffen, Senior Director, Public Health & Leadership, at the Association of University Centers on Disability. This webinar washosted by The Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities and Dr. Meg Ann Traci, RTC:Rural colleague and Director of the Montana Disability and Health Program (MTDH).

This webinar was recorded and you can view the archived video and slides here.

Dr. Griffen provided an overview of the competencies and linkages to public health accreditation and information on local and national resources to help public health organizations strengthen their workforce and better include people with disabilities. The webinar also provided a forum for participants to discuss current resources and strategies being used by others in the field.

The webinar was a Montana-specific version of a previous workforce competencies webinar Dr. Griffen participated in on January 24, 2017. RTC:Rural is pleased to support this webinar as a way to share knowledge between national, state, and local public health professionals and disability service providers about including people with disabilities in public health plans in a rural state like Montana. Continue reading

Exchanging Knowledge and Expertise: RTC:Rural to engage with stakeholders at APRIL conference

Logo for the 23rd APRIL conference. Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for All.

Spokane, here we come!

RTC:Rural is busy prepping for the 23rd annual Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) conference, which will be held October 20-23rd 2017, in Spokane, Washington. This year’s theme is “Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for All.”

As well as having two vendor tables inviting engagement with conference attendees, RTC:Rural staff will give two presentations. The first, “Social Media: Reaching Farther, Working Better” will be about using social media in telecommunication and to promote independent living skills, and the second, titled “Asking Questions Leads to Solutions: Tools for Today and Tomorrow” will be a workshop featuring RTC:Rural research that has led to tools and products.

Social Media: Reaching Farther, Working Better

In this presentation, RTC:Rural Research Associate Dr. Rayna Sage, Communications Associate Justice Ender, and undergraduate student researcher Megan Miller will share tips and tricks on how Centers for Independent Living (CILs) can utilize social media to enhance workflow, bridge main and branch offices, and reach the rural communities they serve. Ender and Miller will also share research and practical tips on how to use Facebook to share information and encourage discussion. Dr Sage will share insights from her one-on-one interviews with young adults in rural communities, and discuss how they are—or are not—using social media to connect around local events.

Asking Questions Leads to Solutions: Tools for Today and Tomorrow

This workshop will highlight some of the many RTC:Rural products and tools that have been developed as a result of our research. Presenters include Director of Knowledge Translation Tracy Boehm Barrett, Director of Employment Research Dr. Catherine Ipsen, Project Director Lillie Greiman, Training Associate Maggie Lawrence, Communications Associate Kerry Morse, and Knowledge Translation Associate Lauren Smith. Continue reading

Free rural transportation toolkit now available from APRIL and RTC:Rural

cover of the document "toolkit for operating a rural transportation voucher program"The Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) and the RTC:Rural are excited to announce that an updated version of the Toolkit for Operating a Rural Transportation Voucher Program is now available to download for FREE. The Toolkit, used to help solve problems in areas that lack transportation options, is available in PDF and text-only versions. Individualized training and technical assistance is available from APRIL for a fee. Contact Billy Altom, Executive director of APRIL, at bwaltom@sbcglobal.net for more information.

Click here to download the toolkit.

What is the Toolkit for Operating a Rural Transportation Voucher Program?

The Toolkit for Operating a Rural Transportation Voucher Program provides a model that describes how to bring together community members and resources to develop and operate a transportation system for people with disabilities in rural areas.

In this model, eligible riders receive a voucher checkbook with an allocation of miles from a sponsoring agency. The agency negotiates with public and private transportation providers to accept the voucher checks as payment for rides, and can help riders organize potential volunteer drivers. Community members may volunteer to become drivers, and will be reimbursed up to the federal maximum rate for mileage reimbursement. In addition, other agencies that provide transportation, such as a council on aging or a developmental disability provider, can also be part of the voucher system. As long as there is room, riders from different sponsoring agencies can ride in the same vehicles. Continue reading