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Driving Change Changing Lives 40th Year Research Service Education

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Improving life for rural Americans with disabilities

University of Montana Rural Institute

RIIC PartnershipMap 250

Rural Institute Annual Report 2017Rural Institute (RI) is committed to creating better lives for rural people with disabilities and their families. With innovative services, training and research, RI strives to improve independence and participation of people with disabilities in everyday activities and all aspects of the community.


The Rural Institute is one of 67 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), funded by the U.S. Administration for Community Living.The national enrollment for the All of Us Research Program is open now!

The national enrollment for the All of Us Research Program is open now!

All of Us Research Program and AAHD logos

The goal of All of Us is to advance precision medicine. Precision medicine is health care that is based on you as an individual. It takes into account factors like where you live, what you do, and your family health history. Precision medicine’s goal is to be able to tell people the best ways to stay healthy. If someone does get sick, precision medicine may help health care teams find the treatment that will work best.

If you decide to join the All of Us Research Program, you will be asked to share different kinds of information. You will be asked to share basic information like your name and where you live and questions about your health, family, home, and work. If you have an electronic health record, you may be asked for access. You may be asked to go to a local clinic or drug store for a free appointment with All of US research project staff. At this appointment, the staff will collect basic physical measurements, including your height, weight, and hip and waist measurements, as well as your blood pressure and heart rate. You might be asked to give samples, like blood or urine, at the appointment.

Your privacy is very important, and we will take great care to protect it if you join! All of Us Research Program Director Eric Dishman discusses the four primary ways they are working to protect it in his new video blog.

Visit How to Join for more information.


RTC:RuralRTC:Rural - Driving Change

Research that Impacts Rural Americans with Disabilities

RTC:Rural connects research to practice and policy by identifying concerns faced by people with disabilities and developing evidence-based solutions. Our research addresses health, employment, and independent living issues to uncover personal and environmental factors that influence quality of life. We conduct our research with disability stakeholders who help us understand and apply our findings in their communities.

RTC:Rural SolutionsRTC:Rural SolutionsRead 2-page Executive Summary: RTC:Rural - Research that Leads to Solutions for Rural Americans with Disabilities (PDF)

Read 10-page Research Summary: RTC:Rural Research Summary_2017 (PDF)

  • Geography of Rural Disability analyses lay the groundwork for health, employment, and community living research. The Disability Counts Data Finder enables users to view and download data on disability rates of any U.S. county.
  • Employment research focuses on rural barriers such as limited economic opportunity and access to services for people with disabilities. We develop and test employment and service delivery options such as the Telecom Toolbox, a website for Vocational Rehabilitation specialists and job seekers that offers online job search tools.
  • Rural people face unique Health and Wellness challenges. We work to identify and address these barriers. Our Living and Working Well with a Disability programs are evidence-based, peer-led health promotion workshops provided by organizations that serve people with disabilities.
  • Rural Community Living research focuses on how the accessibility of rural environments affects community participation and quality of life.  The Rural Disability Resource Library offers online resources for people with disabilities who live in rural areas, including the Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit to facilitate youth advocacy skills.

EDUCATION and SERVICE - Changing Lives


Building the future

In FY2017, we educated 44 student trainees, helping prepare them to be disability leaders in their rural communities.

Katie Barcus-Kuka from the Blackfeet tribe in Browning, Montana is taking online and summer-resident classes to become a certified speech-language pathologist. After completing her degree in 2019 she plans to, “work as a speech language pathologist in my reservation community, helping to provide a much-needed service for the children of my tribe.”

Kaitlyn Ahlers, one of three Utah Regional LEND trainees, completed her second year of training with an emphasis in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Kaitlyn’s hard work lays the groundwork for a career working with children with autism and their families.

An undergraduate in the Human and Family Development Minor program, Kassie Gahagan, said, “The practicum has helped me to gain valuable real-life experience…. My experience working with children…led to a job as a summer camp counselor.”


Tom Koontz holding an iPadHelping people achieve independence and self-support

Tom Koontz Jr. was a long-haul trucker until an atypical stroke ended his career and left him with a vocabulary of seven words.  MonTECH loaned Tom an iPad Pro with communication and therapy apps, and then taught him how to use it. Tom has since received a grant for his own iPad which helps him run his new business. MonTECH helped Tom get back on track so that he can be the independent, self-supporting man he was before the stroke.

MonTECHMonTECH loans assistive technology and adaptive equipment to any Montanan with a disability. Last year, MonTECH loaned 846 assistive technology devices, gave 517 technology demonstrations, and trained 1,325 Montanans to use assistive technology.

Congratulations to the 2018 CIF recipients!

QLC DSPerados Softball Team

The 2018 Community Investment Fund ($2000) award will be shared by two recipients, Flathead High School in Kalispell and Quality Life Concepts in Great Falls.

Flathead High School will use the money to help purchase supplies for their Braves Coffee Company School-based Enterprise. This new business will feature students with and without disabilities working side-by-side to plan, market and operate the coffee company. Several community partners are collaborating with the high school to provide personnel training, discounted supplies, and mentoring. 

Quality Life Concepts will apply their award toward expenses for their Community Recreation Co-ed Softball Team. The 40-person team includes clients with disabilities served by QLC, staff, and community members. All team members play, rotating throughout the game so that everyone has a turn at defense and at batting. They also have a team photographer who takes pictures for the team’s Facebook page.

Learn More about the Community Investment Fund

All of Us Research Program

All of Us Researcghb Program: The Future of Health Begins with You

University of Montana Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities

Joins NIH in Launching the All of Us Research Program to Advance Precision Medicine

On May 6th, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will open national enrollment for the All of Us Research Program - a momentous effort to advance individualized prevention, treatment and care for people of all backgrounds, including people with disabilities. The All of us Research Program is a historic effort to gather data from one (1) million or more people living in the United States to accelerate research and improve health.

Read more about "All of Us"

UM Student from Rocky Boy Makes National Contribution to Public Health

Helen Russett standing infront of informational posterAfter working for several years as a research assistant for the Montana Disability and Health program at the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities, and completing her Master’s in Public Health at UM, Helen Russette went to work for the Missoula City-County Health Department (MCCHD). There, she aided in the development of a community health needs assessment (CHA) process that fully includes representatives of marginalized populations. She recently shared this work in February 2018 article published with co-author, Robin Nielson-Cerquone, MJ, MCCHD Accreditation Specialist, on the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) website.  

The article, “An Inclusive Community Health Assessment Process,” details steps taken to ensure inclusive and meaningful participation in the process. Recruitment strategies to increase the diversity of participants and the positive outcomes are described. In fall 2018, Helen, who grew up on the Rocky Boy Reservation (Chippewa-Cree Tribe), returned to UM as a doctoral student in the School of Public and Community Health Sciences.

Continue reading about Helen

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