Category Archives: News

New fact sheet: How will the COVID-19 recession impact people with disabilities in rural America?

Financial health, employment, and COVID-19

front page of fact sheet: how will the COVID-19 recession impact people with disabilities in rural America?

While many Americans will suffer in the coming recession, people with disabilities in rural areas are especially vulnerable because they are less likely to have an emergency savings fund, have access to paid leave, or be able to work from home.

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COVID-19: An increased threat to people with disabilities living in rural institutions

Guest blog post by Dr. Meg Ann Traci, RTC:Rural Knowledge Broker.


While rural America is already known to experience higher rates of health disparities than urban, state and local public health data underscore that the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will  continue to harm rural people. COVID-19 is making its way to some of the most rural states of the nation. Just this past week,  Alaska’s Kodiak Island Borough had its first diagnosed case of COVID-19 (April 16, 2020); Wyoming experienced its first fatalities (April 15, 2020); and South Dakota is managing 518 cases identified in a meat processing facility (April 17, 2020).  

Additionally, local and national news headline stories revealed the increased burden of the virus among residents and workers in group quarters such as prisons, nursing homes, and juvenile group homes (non-correctional). The high rates of infection and deaths at a long term care facility in Kirkland, Washington, caught the nation’s attention and refocused the public health response efforts on institutional settings.

Because people living in institutional settings are more likely to report disabilities than the general population and these settings are not evenly distributed between urban and rural areas across the United States, rural people with disabilities have a lot at stake in efforts to address the pandemic and outbreaks in institutional settings.

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RTC: Rural research shows higher risks for rural people during COVID-19

“Not only do you have to travel far to get to beds,” Grieman said, “You’re going to a place where there are more people, where there is also an outbreak, and those beds may also still be in high demand. So, that’s what I find particularly disconcerting.”

RTC:Rural Project Director Lillie Grieman in a recent news article on Public News Service, on why rural people with disabilities are at higher risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rural people with disabilities and barriers to hospital access

Icon of a person in a hospital bed. There is a cross in a map symbol above the bed to symbolize a hospital.
Hospital Bed by Sergey Demushkin from the Noun Project

Rural people with disabilities face many barriers to accessing health care, particularly Intensive Care Units and hospital beds. Hospital capacity varies greatly, as does the prevalence of people with disabilities. Typically, there are fewer hospital beds and higher rates of disability in rural places than urban ones.

Project Director Lillie Greiman discusses some of these barriers in a recent news article- read or listen to the news story through the following link:

Rural Montanans with Disabilities Face Challenges from Home to Hospital

Travis Hoffman, advocacy coordinator for Summit Independent Living, was also interviewed in the article. Summit is a long-time RTC:Rural partner.

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Reaching Consumers During COVID-19 with the Healthy Community Living Program

The Healthy Community Living (HCL) Program is a collection of workshops that support opportunities for all people to live well and participate in their communities.

HCL is usually delivered through in-person workshops. Since in-person delivery of services is not recommended or not permitted right now as we all live with the presence of COVID-19, we’re sharing some ways to make HCL available to consumers remotely.

Limited offer: Access HCL for free now through May 1

HCL CLS LWC Logos - link to website

To help provide another way for people to connect to peer support, and also for CIL staff to access professional development trainings they can do on their own time, HCL is offering a free one-year license, now through May 1.

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Identifying potential hospital bed shortages for people with disabilities

Recent models from ProPublica, Imperial College, and others predict that millions of people who contract COVID-19 will be hospitalized and many hospitals across the country may not be prepared to treat the influx of patients.

COVID-19 molecule

People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to impacts from COVID-19, both directly and indirectly. While data about how this virus will impact the health and well-being of people with disabilities is currently limited, people with disabilities are often at greater risk of chronic health conditions, and thus may be more susceptible to infection. People with disabilities also face disruptions in services for daily needs, which could exacerbate conditions unrelated to COVID-19.

Overall, individuals who experience disability are at greater risk for being hospitalized either because they have contracted COVID-19 or because pre-existing health conditions have worsened.


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Recognizing people with disabilities in the COVID-19 pandemic

Understanding the needs of a community is imperative to effectively plan for any type of emergency response, be it natural disaster or a pandemic. As people around the world are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the needs of people with disabilities should not be overlooked or go unaddressed as members of those communities. To assess the impact of COVID on people with disabilities and their needs, it’s important to understand the prevalence of disability by the functional limitations of people living with disabilities experience in their communities.  

According to the American Community Survey, about 41 million, or 13%, of Americans have at least one type of disability (ACS 2015). The vast majority (38 million) live in households with other people and a significant number of people with disabilities live in group quarters, which includes dormitories, nursing homes, and prisons.

Approximately 78 million people without disabilities live in households with a member who experiences a disability. This means that nearly 25% of the US population lives in a household with a member with a disability.

(See Prevalence of Disability: Individual and Household Context for more about this research).

Graphic showing information about the number of households in the US with disability. Full text description in caption.
Graphic from poster presentation “How far do you travel for CIL services?” by Kourtney Johnson, Christiane von Reichert, and Lillie Greiman for the 2017 APRIL conference.
Text description: icon of a green house in a circle with this text: Households in the US = 116,926,305. Same green house in a circle icon with three figures, one using a wheelchair, with this text: Households with disability* = 29,344,352, or 25%. *All households in which at least one person has a disability. There could be one, or more, people with disabilities in each household. There is a box around the graphic, and on top of the frame is a small figure using a walker as a mobility aid.

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Share your COVID-19 story

How has COVID-19 impacted you and your rural community?

COVID-19 molecule

RTC:Rural is collecting real stories from real people in rural places who are impacted by the current COVID-19 pandemic.

We want to help shed light on what is actually happening in the lives of people with disabilities from the perspectives of consumers, family members, caregivers and service providers. We feel the uniqueness and complexity of individual stories are important to share. The needs of rural people with disabilities should be considered in efforts to address the impact of COVID-19.

Contact us if you are interested in creating and sharing real stories! Our staff can set up an interview time and format that works well for you. Participants can choose whether or not to remain anonymous in the stories we share together.

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COVID-19 Resources

COVID-19 molecule

This short list of resources and information is not comprehensive, just a sampling of what is available.

For the most up-to-date information, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Coronavirus (COVID-19) website.


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Input needed- take the RTC:Rural website redesign survey

Have 2 minutes? Take our survey! RTC:Rural, Research and training center on disability in rural communities.

 RTC:Rural is planning a website redesign, and we want your input!

We’re working with a team of students from the Business School at the University of Montana to redesign our website.

As part of that process, we’re reaching out to gather input from our community of fellow researchers, service providers, and people with disabilities.

It’s important to us that our new website is engaging, usable, and relevant.

By sharing your input, you are supporting student learning and providing valuable information that we will use to improve and redesign the RTC:Rural website.

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Find traumatic brain injury resources in the Rural Disability Resource Library

Looking for traumatic brain injury resources?

Rural Disability Resource Library. RuralDisabilityLibrary.org

Check out the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center posts on the Rural Disability Resource Library, RTC:Rural’s information website. There you can find links to some fantastic resources to support individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and burn injury.

Click here:

The Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC) works to make sure the latest and best research findings are being used in healthcare decision-making. In order to help improve the health and quality of life of people with spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and burn injuries, MSKTC creates resources and products that share relevant research findings with the people who need this information.

The resources and information created and shared by MSKTC are important resources that help support people with disabilities so they can engage in their rural communities. In promoting this shared goal, RTC:Rural helps to share these resources with people in rural communities who can benefit from this information.

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