State of the Science

The Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities at the University of Montana conducts a state-of-the-science (SOS) conference on the status of rural disability and rehabilitation research. RTC: Rural researchers work with SOS Collaborators to present research from across disciplines and then engage various disability stakeholders, scientists and experts to discuss innovative methods to move the field of disability and rehabilitation forward.

State of the Science Collaborators are cross-disciplinary researchers and experts who present and/or participate in online discussions regarding emerging and innovative scientific research methods. Collaborators enhance our interpretation and understanding of RTC research findings and contribute methodological improvements. In addition, Collaborators may find an opportunity to learn about and perhaps integrate disability issues into cross-disciplinary studies, and may also join RTC: Rural researchers in co-authorship activities.

If you are interested in participating in the RTC State of the Science program, contact

Summary of 2014-2016 State of the Science Colloquia

The World Health Organization has adopted a new view of disability that is more dynamic than ones in the past. It includes the role the environment plays in creating disability and specifies participation as the gold standard of outcome measures. Nonetheless, surprisingly little research has been conducted on these critical topics.

One obstacle to advancing a science of the environment and participation involves the research concepts and models applied to study it. Most concepts and methods come from fields whose methods are relatively static: self-report, cross-sectional, retrospective, and correlation. Yet, a dynamic model of disability requires a dynamic model and methods to match its nature. Ecological sciences offer such a model.

RTC: Rural is sponsoring a state-of-the-science (SOS) on “An Ecological View of Disability for an Era of Community Living: Toward a Science of the Environment and Participation” in order to discuss the opportunities of studying disability using cross-disciplinary methods. The Colloquia on the Science of Environment and Participation are a series of on-going conversations whose purpose is to identify priorities for the larger State of the Science conference.

Presenters for the SOS Colloquia include:

David-Gray-2Dr. David Gray, a professor of neurology and occupational therapy at the University of Washington in St. Louis was a longtime advocate and champion of the rights of people with disabilities. Dr. Gray was a close collaborator with the RTC: Rural and participated in projects that advanced the science of participation and the environment for people with disabilities. Since his presentation at the first SOS Colloquium, we regret to share that Dr. Gray passed away.



Paul.LukacsDr. Paul Lukacs is a professor in the Department of Wildlife Biology at the University of Montana. His research focuses on the development and application of quantitative methods to ecological problems. He strives to connect ecological theory to wildlife management problems in order to improve wildlife management and test ecological theory.



CraigDr. Ravesloot is a Clinical Psychologist and Associate Research Professor of Psychology at the University of Montana where he directs disability and health research for the Rural Institute on Disabilities. Dr. Ravesloot has over 20 years of experience in research, program development and evaluation of services for people with disabilities funded through the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Public Health Service (PHS).



Wayne.FreimundDr. Wayne Freimund is a professor in the College of Forestry and Conservation at University of Montana and has served as the Director of the Wilderness Institute and the Chair of the Department of Society and Conservation. Additionally, he has co-led the International Seminar on Protected Area Management since 2000. His current research focuses on the effects of mass transportation on national parks and monitoring visitor perceptions of soundscape resources.



Ton_Seekins_UpdateTom Seekins is professor of psychology and has been Director of the Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities at the University of Montana since 1993.   He received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in 1983. His research emphasizes issues of rural health and disability, rural community and economic development, rural policy, and disability among American Indian tribes and reservations.  He has served as President of the American Association on Health and Disability and as President of the National Association of Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers.



diep.daoDiep Dao is an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Montana.  Building from a background in Geomatics Engineering and GIScience, Dr. Dao’s research interests lie in the development of new approaches for spatial data analytics, spatial modeling, geo-computation, and geo-visualization that can be broadly applied within GISciences and its interdisciplinary settings. She is the author and co-author of various publications which have achieved over 240 citations. Her most recent research projects relates to spatial network analysis, spatial data analysis for crime and health geography.


photo of Lillie GreimanLillie Greiman is a Research Associate with RTC:Rural and focuses on housing, community participation and spatial and demographic analysis. She earned her MA in geography at U of MT where she was a Fulbright student researcher in Fez, Morocco, studying women’s relationships to food and the spaces of food production.


photo of Bryce WardBryce Ward is Associate Director at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the U of Montana. Bryce has a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University and a B.A. in Economics and History from the U of Oregon. Bryce’s areas of expertise include econometric analysis and applied microeconomics — including health economics, labor economics, urban and regional economics, public finance, and environmental and natural resource economics.



Andrew MyersAndrew Myers is a Research Associate with RTC:Rural focusing on geography and participation research. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in City and Regional Planning from California Polytechnic State University and a M.A. in Geography.



The first of these colloquia, Measuring Engagement in Context, took place in May 2014 and featured presentations from both Drs. Gray and Lukacs.

Dr. Gray described a study he conducted in which he looked at the participation of individuals in public spaces and whether or not communities were receptive to providing accessibility in the built environment. He noted that in unreceptive environments with inaccessible features, people with disabilities had markedly fewer opportunities to participate and were more isolated from resources.

Dr. Lukacs described the process of tagging and tracking animals and the kinds of inferences researchers can make based on their patterns of movement. As a result of this exchange, participants in this first colloquium wondered about the possibilities of tracking real-time movements of people with disabilities in their environments as a way of better assessing the barriers they face while participating in their communities.

The second colloquium, Ecological Methods and Disability, featured presentations from Dr. Wayne Freimund and Dr. Craig Ravesloot.

Dr. Freimund presented research on national park usage, patterns of tourist visitation and crowding. The studies he reported focused on tracking to see where tourists went and when they went there. Surveys tracked the quality of their experience. He provided graphic maps featuring movement patterns that indicated popular park features and peak usage that assist park rangers in management and oversight.

Dr. Ravesloot presented the preliminary results of a research project on Pain and Participation which also tracked the real-time movements of individuals to see how the experience of pain affected participation. Individuals in the study reported experiencing some kind of disability and most reported experiencing pain on a daily basis. As part of the project, participants were asked to rate their pain, where they were and what they were doing when they experienced it. Participant movements were tracked via GPS and these movements were matched with the survey results to determine when pain influenced a person’s decision to continue participating or return home.

As a result of this conversation, participants agreed that it would be an interesting project to combine the sophisticated movement tracking and mapping techniques used by Dr. Freimund with the real-time qualitative techniques used in Dr. Ravesloot’s work as a way of better understanding activity patterns in combination with behavioral decisions.

The Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities will host future State of the Science Colloquia to identify priority topics for our next State of the Science Conference in which people from around the world will gather for cross-disciplinary discussions about the environment, participation and disability.

Link to Ecological Methods and Disability video

Link to Ecological Methods and Disability transcript

The third colloquium, Methods for Examining Pathways to Participation, took place in September 2015 and featured presentations from Dr. Tom Seekins and Dr. Diep Dao.

Dr. Seekins, presented on the use of Google Earth street view to identify usability features in the built environment. Google Earth street view uses cameras to collect images which can be analyzed to assess features in the built environment that either promote or inhibit the participation of people with disabilities in community life. Such features may include access ramps, curb cuts, hand rails and street parking. In reviewing these images, researchers look for access features as well as the presence or absence of people with disabilities as a way to assess participation. Environmental accessibility is rated on a 5-point scale, with a high rate indicating ease of use. Using what they call the “rule of proportionate presence,” researchers assess the number of people with disabilities in a particular place and consider variance to the proportion of people with disabilities expected in the population. As such, researchers are interested in exploring how the accessibility of the environment may account for the variance in public engagement/participation by people with disabilities in communities and events

Dr. Dao, presented on the transportation geography of internal environments and the evaluation of user accessibility using 3-D models computer models. These 3-D models map interior spaces and routing, giving the user the opportunity to evaluate access issues in the planning phases of new building construction. Factors such as navigable spaces, travel time to internal locations or exits, as well as ease of access to safety features such as AEDs and emergency exits can be plotted using a 3-D model to help ensure all users can move freely and safely within the building. These 3-D models can also be used to evaluate plans for retrofitting existing structures to improve safety and accessibility.

(Video recording of this event is currently unavailable.)

The fourth colloquium, Housing Characteristics, Home Experiences, and Community Engagement of People Who Report Impairment, took place in June 2016 and featured presentations from Dr. Craig Ravesloot, Lillie Greiman, and Andrew Myers from the RTC:Rural and Dr. Bryce Ward from the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Dr. Ravesloot introduced the colloquium to highlight important research being conducted on housing accessibility and how researchers are exploring it in relation to community engagement and the associated cost in levels of personal effort to participate in the community. Lillie Greiman began the presentation by identifying housing inaccessibility using data from the American Community Survey. Then, presenting findings from the American Time Use Survey, Dr. Bryce Ward discussed data on the time and exertion level it takes for people with mobility impairments to engage in certain activities, both in and outside of the home.  He then discussed associated costs of time and exertion in terms of effort to engage, linking it to environmental accessibility and personal capacity.  Andrew Myers expanded the discussion with his presentation on findings from a Health and Home Use survey, implying that people with mobility impairments exert themselves in home activities more than people without mobility impairments, and that further exploration of the accessibility of the home environment, exertion levels, and community engagement is recommended. Additional research exploring the connection between home accessibility and participation is found on the Home Usability Project website.

Link to Housing and Community Engagement Video Archive

Slide Presentation of Housing and Community Engagement Symposium


Access archived State of the Science Conferences :

State of the Science 2012

Links to State of the Science 2012 publications on UMScholarworks:

Community Development

Disability and Rural Rehabilitation in Rural America: A Synopsis of the State of the Science 2012

Overview of Economic Development

Overview of Rural America: Past, Present, and Future

Overview of Rural Health

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