November 8, 2019

Rural Institute Researchers awarded 5 year Rural Community Living Development Grant

The University of Montana Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities (RIIC) is pleased to announce a staff team has been awarded a five-year, $981,803 Disability and Rehabilitation Research Project grant by the National Institute on Disability Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research within the Administration for Community Living.

The newly funded project, Rural Community Living Development (RCLD), is led by Rural Sociologist and Project Director Dr. Rayna Sage, and Dr. Craig Ravesloot, Clinical Psychologist and Research Director for the Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities (RTC:Rural).

A group of people in a community park enjoying a picnic. Two of the people are using powerchairs.

The purpose of the Rural Community Living Development project is to provide space and facilitate conversations among community members to help them connect to resources and information they might not otherwise have access to.

Using a combination of independent living philosophy, peer mentoring and community development approaches, research staff will work with Centers for Independent Living (CILs) to take collective action that leads to positive change for and with people with disabilities living in rural areas.

Specifically, Centers for Independent Living will receive training and technical assistance to engage their local community partners in a community development process that includes identifying community needs, deciding on appropriate strategies to address those needs, and applying solutions.

Rayna Sage speaking into a microphone during a presentation at the 2019 APRIL conference.
Dr. Rayna Sage speaking during RTC:Rural’s 2019 APRIL conference presentation.

“Community-based partnerships between CILs and rural community members create positive environments for community-initiated processes and answers, using evidence-based approaches for addressing rural inequities,” said Dr. Rayna Sage. “Taking a collective approach, we advocate that those who are best to participate in community-based projects are those who actually live and experience the real unique needs of each community, thus why a community development approach is a promising one to get research based programs and interventions into the hands of community members so they can use them.”

While rural communities face what are often seemingly insurmountable barriers to meet the needs of people with disabilities living there—such as unequal and insufficient access to goods and services, and lack of accessible transportation—they are often resilient and skilled at identifying solutions to fit their unique needs.

For example, The Transportation Voucher Toolkit is a model that resulted from a collaboration among RTC:Rural, the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) , disability service providers and community members. After observing a need for more transportation options in rural communities for people with disabilities, these stakeholders worked together to develop a solution that identified and leveraged existing community resources.

Cover of the Toolkit for operating a rural transportation voucher program
Click on the image to learn more about the Toolkit for Operating a Rural Transportation Voucher Program.

Unfortunately, even with their resilience, ingenuity, persistence, and determination, there are still some barriers that rural communities may need some help in addressing. They may not have access to the available options and information needed to address their community needs or be aware of the mechanisms for starting to explore potential options. The Rural Community Living Development Project aims to provide that starting place and catalyst to explore positive change.

CILs and rural community residents are well-positioned to engage in community development processes to identify opportunities and apply solutions that are appropriate and relevant to meet their community needs. With CILs’ core services compromised of information and referral, advocacy, peer support, independent living skills training, and transition to community-based residences, they are important key players in any community development process, prioritizing the inclusion and contributions of people with disabilities.

The Rural Institute research team will work with the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) to recruit and support CILs to participate in the project. CILs will receive training to facilitate a community development process with other rural community stakeholders. The RCLD approach allows CILs and their community partners to identify community assets and strengths for people with disabilities, implement contextually appropriate and relevant evidence-based interventions and products for their rural communities, and evaluate the RCLD process and outcomes of the chosen interventions. CILs will also help shape a peer-mentoring program designed to build a sustainable training and technical assistance mechanism so other CILs can replicate the RCLD process in other rural areas across the United States.


For questions about the Rural Community Living Development project, or to learn how Centers for Independent Living can participate,
please call (888) 268-2743 or email rtcrural@mso.umt.edu.