Rural landscapes dominate American geography. Depending on the definitions used, rural areas account for 72% to 97% of the total landmass of the United States. However, only a minority of Americans live in rural areas (approximately 15-19% again depending on the definition). Yet, people living in rural areas represent a higher percentage of people who are unemployed, living in poverty, are elderly, and experience a disability. Further, it has been well documented that individuals with disabilities living in rural areas face unique challenges in acquiring services and supports. For example, rural residents typically rely on services that are more informal and less specialized; must travel farther and pay more for those services; and tend to receive lower quality services than their urban counterparts (Whitener, Weber, & Duncan, 2001; Dabson & Weber, 2008).
While Census data about more urbanized areas have been available in contiguous years, data about rural America have been limited. In particular, disability data for rural areas was not available for 13 years, 2000 to 2013. This knowledge gap impacted our ability to understand or track changes in the needs of people with disabilities living in rural communities. As a result, policy makers and program planners were left in the dark and advocacy effort to highlight the needs of people with disabilities in rural America were been hampered. People with disabilities living in rural areas face unique problems, and resources are very limited to address them. Consequently, there is an urgent need to update analyses of the geographic distribution of people with disabilities living in rural America to provide data necessary for timely and cost-effective policy and program development.
The objective of this study is to depict the distribution and demographics of people with disabilities living in rural areas and the services available to them. This project serves the overarching goal of providing information that will allow improved services for people with disabilities in rural communities by addressing major questions of resource allocation and provide recommendations on policy and program practices.
Policy makers need to consider spatial variations of access to services for people with disabilities, especially in rural areas where resources are limited. For example, how disability services are distributed may matter for rural employment, especially employment of people with a disability. Outcomes of the analysis of location of service providers such as will provide opportunity to strategically coordinate the locations of service facilities and improve service delivery in isolated rural communities. In addition, the analysis will reveal areas of overlapping services and can provide insight into how to more efficiently manage these services.
Understanding migration trends in people with disabilities – who moves, where they come from, and where they go – is important for planning the location of public and private services and programs. Without accurate information, decision makers rely on urban solutions that may not be applicable or cost effective for rural areas. Looking at where movement of the population is occurring, and the direction that it’s moving (rural to urban or otherwise) provides clues to why people might move to or from rural environments. This project will provide an understanding of migration behavior, and will also shed light on potential causes of rural- urban differences in disability levels such as less access to health care services and poorer health outcomes, reduced economic opportunity, and an increasing aging population.
- Project dates: 2013-2018
- Funded by: National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research Grant No. H133B130028
- Principal staff: Tom Seekins, Ph.D., Christiane von Reichert, Ph.D., Lillie Greiman, M.A., Andrew Myers, M.A.
- Related Projects:
What the Research Says…
- Research Findings
Links to Publications:
- Map Facts: Disability in Rural America – 2014 (research brief)
- The Geography of Disability in America: On Rural-Urban Differences in Impairment Rates – 2014 (research brief)
- Disability Patterns in Rural Areas (poster)
- Map Series: Disability across America – updated July 2017 (maps)
- Prevalence of Disability: Individual and Household Context – June 2017 (research brief)
- Data Limitations in the American Community Survey: The Impact on Rural Disability Research – September 2017 (research brief)
- March 17, 2017: “RTC:Rural researchers featured in The Conversation article highlighting rural/urban divide.”
- March 17, 2017: “New tool available to access disability data.”
- April 25, 2017: “RTC:Rural presents geography research on disability and employment rates at AAG meeting.”
- June 6, 2017: “Mapping disability and Employment.”
- April 10, 2018: “RTC:Rural heads to NOLA for annual Geographers conference.”
- September 13, 2018: “RTC:Rural sponsors workshops on restricted-accesses federal data.“