August 16, 2017

Figuring out how young adults with disabilities participate in rural community events

RTC:Rural’s research on accessible community events has a new focus. Dr. Rayna Sage, RTC:Rural Research Associate, is leading our Participation in Rural Events among Young Adults with Disabilities research project. The study aims to understand how young adults with disabilities in rural communities participate in community events, and how their community participation can enrich their lives and contribute to their communities in meaningful ways.

Rayna Sage at a rodeo with mountains in the background

RTC:Rural Research Associate Rayna Sage, Ph.D., at the Pioneer Days Rodeo in Ronan, MT where she was conducting in-the-moment interviews for this project

The accessibility of rural community events is directly tied to participation, and community participation can be tied to the accumulation of social capital. “Social capital is a tradeable resource that exists in a relationship. If you have social capital you can use it to gain other kinds of capital,” said Sage. “It provides opportunities to interact with other people who may have access to resources that you don’t have access to.”

These other kinds of capital could include things like favors, experiences, or a job. Another way to think of it could be as “cashing in” on a friendship or social connection in order to secure some sort of benefit, such as a job at a family friend’s store, or access to a behind-the-scenes space at a public event for someone who needs a place to sit in the shade and rest.

Having social capital could be especially important in rural communities, and could help overcome some of the limitations faced by young adults with disabilities as they transition into adulthood. “It’s a vulnerable period for most people, the transition after high school into whatever they’re going into, but for young adults with disabilities it’s even more critical for them to engage in meaningful activities that are going to enhance their lives,” said Sage.

Sage’s previous work has pointed to how the inequality gap between poor/working class and middle/upper class young adults grows during the period of transition into adulthood, even if they go to college. Now, in this new study, she hopes to see if the social capital in rural communities can help young adults with disabilities compensate for some of the other inequalities and challenges they may be facing.

The study is comprised of three different qualitative data-collection methods. The first is conducting focus groups, which Sage is holding with service providers and practitioners who are serving people with disabilities in rural areas. These focus groups will help capture the service provider perspective of the needs of young adults with disabilities in rural communities, provide some solutions, and explain why it is important to have community participation.

Sage has also been conducting in-the-moment interviews at community events across western Montana. “The goal of those is to get a snapshot of what people are experiencing, what they are thinking about when you ask them directly about accessibility, and what they define as important about being able to come out and go to a rural community event,” she said.

The focus groups and the short in-the-moment interviews are nearly complete, but Sage is currently recruiting participants for the third portion of the study, longer one-on-one interviews. “It’s really important to capture the lived experiences of young adults with disabilities in rural places,” she said, “and have them talk through what they participated in, what they didn’t participate in, what were the barriers, what were the opportunities, and how those came about.”

If you are a young adult between the ages of 18-34 and live in or are from rural communities of less than 10,000 people, we would be interested in interviewing you. In exchange for a one to two hour interview, participants will receive a $50 money order.

For more information or to participate in an interview, see the recruitment flyer or contact Dr. Sage via email at or by phone at (406) 243-5233.

Ultimately, the information gathered from this project will be used to help young adults with disabilities more effectively engage with their communities. In the near future, these results could inform new trainings for rural youth, community organizers, and service providers, assisting community leaders in better facilitating social and community participation, and providing rural communities with rural-specific ways of making participation available, accessible, and inviting to young adults with disabilities.