July 27, 2018

Rural Institute researchers awarded 5-year grant to continue research and training

The University of Montana Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities (RIIC) is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a five-year, $4.3 million grant to support its Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities (RTC:Rural). The grant was awarded by the National Institute on Disability Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research, and will be led by Dr. Catherine Ipsen, the project’s principal investigator. The award continues 30 years of RTC:Rural research and training to improve the lives of rural people with disabilities.

RTC:Rural staff photo. See caption for list of names.

RTC:Rural staff pose for a picture at UM. Front row (left to right): Tannis Hargrove, Lillie Greiman, Justice Ender. Back row (left to right): Dr. Catherine Ipsen, Andrew Myers, Lauren Smith, Maggie Lawrence, Tracy Boehm Barrett. Not pictured: Dr. Craig Ravesloot, Dr. Meg Traci, Dr. Rayna Sage, and Dr. Bryce Ward.

“The opportunity to build on our past work and continue to conduct applied research with our stakeholders from the disability community is a great honor,” said Ipsen.

RTC:Rural research will address barriers identified by rural people with disabilities in the areas of health, community living, and employment. These barriers are often related to the limited resources available in rural environments. “Our team of researchers and knowledge translation staff have put together a portfolio of projects and activities that are responsive to, and inclusive of, people with disabilities and those who serve them,” said Tracy Boehm Barrett, RTC:Rural Director of Knowledge Translation.

“This cycle of RTC:Rural research funding builds collaboration capacity among a cadre of disability stakeholders, including researchers, service providers, and consumers. The combined strengths, expertise, and real life experiences of those living with a disability create opportunities for increased knowledge in the field that can lead to positive change in the lives of people with disabilities in rural communities.”

The grant supports multiple projects, including:

Building Networks to Expand Living Well Delivery

This project will create partnerships between rural hospitals and local agencies serving people with disabilities to increase the reach of RTC:Rural’s Living Well with a Disability health promotion program. “I’m very excited about the opportunity to expand our Living Well with a Disability program, as it’s been a proven tool for people with disabilities to improve their quality of life, and I look forward to a potential partnership with rural hospitals and expanding the reach of the program,” said Tannis Hargrove, project director.

Personal Assistance Services (PAS) in Rural America

“The PAS in rural America project will bring together a diverse team of service providers and consumers to document the state of personal assistance services in rural places. We will also explore the experiences of both people with disabilities and their PAS workers within different policy and budget contexts,” said Dr. Rayna Sage, project director. “The knowledge gained during these phases will be used to modify and evaluate the effectiveness of existing training for PAS workers.”

Rural Transportation Options

This project will assess accessible transportation options in rural communities, which can then be used to inform policy and service delivery decision-making. “We know that transportation is critical to connecting rural folks to local resources. We also know that there are lots of different models across the nation that rural organizations and individuals are using to make sure people are able to get where they need to go. However, we are less sure about what these different models look like, who uses them, how they work, and their effectiveness. Our goal in this project is to begin to build a knowledge base about these different models to share with our partners,” said Andrew Myers, project director.

Rural Self-Employment

The Rural Self-Employment project includes two research studies focused on assessing and adapting RTC:Rural’s Vocational Rehabilitation Self-Employment Guide. For one study, RTC:Rural will partner with tribal vocational rehabilitation agencies to create a tribal adaptation of the multi-media website materials created to help people with disabilities and Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselors understand the self-employment process. “If we want the VR Self-Employment Guide to be relevant for people with disabilities in the tribal VR system, we need to make sure it’s translated into the appropriate cultural context,” said Lauren Smith, Knowledge Translation Associate. “When a resource reflects your own culture, values, and needs, it’s more relevant than something that’s ‘one-size-fits-all.’”

Expanding the Availability and Quality of Rural Data

RTC:Rural will partner with the Disability Statistics and Demographics Rehabilitation and Research Training Center (StatsRRTC) and the Collaborative on Health Reform and Independent Living (CHRIL) to conduct rural analyses of existing large data sets, including the American Community Survey, the Current Population Survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and the Survey on Health Reform and Disability. These data will help describe the experiences of rural people with disabilities, and can be used to inform advocates, service providers, researchers and policymakers about emerging trends, hypotheses and policy impacts.

Rural Resource Analysis

The experience of disability is impacted by access to community resources. The Rural Resource Analysis project will examine how variations within rural resource networks affect community participation of people with disabilities. This project will examine resource networks at the individual, community, and national levels. On the individual level, the project will examine what resources people with disabilities know about and how they access them. The project will also see how those resources are networked with each other. Nationally, we will examine the relationships between community resources and disability rates across the U.S. Together, these analyses will help determine how different network structures impact the health and community participation among people with disabilities.

Rural Communication Strategies

RTC:Rural researchers and knowledge translation staff will use data from the Rural Resource Analysis project to explore and inform best practices for reaching and engaging stakeholders in the Rural Communications Strategies project. Efforts to share and exchange information with a variety of stakeholder groups should be sensitive to contextual differences. Looking at variations in rural resource networks and how organizations and people with disabilities access and use available resources may inform outreach strategies.

Two people are moving towards a balloon arch in the distance. One is in a wheelchair, the other is a little person.

Picture from Healthy Community Living (www.healthycommunityliving.com).

Together, these projects contribute to a better understanding of the factors influencing community participation.

“We are thrilled to continue our work integrating on-the-ground expertise of our partners within our research,” said Boehm Barrett. “This integration helps us ensure that we share meaningful outcomes that impact the lives of people with disabilities.”

The mission of RIIC work is to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities, including those living in Montana and other rural areas across the country. The Institute is part of the national network of University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. NIDILRR, the funding agent for this grant award, is the research institute of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Community Living.

To read the University of Montana press release, click here:

UM Rural Institute Awarded $4.3M Grant for Research and Training Center

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