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Committed to making life better for rural Americans with disabilites

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Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities (RIIC)

RIIC is committed to creating better lives for rural Americans with disabilities and their families. With innovative services, training and research, RIIC strives to improve independence and participation of people with disabilities in everyday activities and all aspects of the community.

The Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities is one of 67 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), funded by the U.S. Administration for Community Living.

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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.

solutions thsolutions 2pg thRead 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.

MonTECH no tagline 72dpi rgbMonTECH 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.

Transition from School to a Full Adult Life - Part 1

Montana Transition Resources

March 27th Webinar, Tuesday, March 27, 2018
1:00 PM - 2:30 PM MDT
Reserve your webinar seat now

It is never too early to start thinking about and planning for your child's future, especially if your child experiences a disability and will need ongoing support to access their quality adult life.

Intended audience:  Parents and other family members of youth/young adults with disabilities, teachers, and individuals who support young people in their transition to adult life.



Stephen Hawking as accidental ambassador for assistive technologies

Stephen Hawking as accidental ambassador

Author: Martin E. BlairExecutive Director of the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities, and Associate Professor of Teaching and Learning, The University of Montana

"For us, Hawking was a valuable role model for more than the next generation of scientists. With his recognizable wheelchair and computer-generated voice, he demonstrated the value of technological solutions to liberating the voice of those with physical and communication disabilities."


URLEND Feb2018URLEND Utah Regional Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities

The Utah Regional LEND, or URLEND, is a LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities) training program that serves five states: Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. Professionals from these states are trained to move beyond discipline boundaries to provide optimal services to children and adolescents with special health care needs.  URLEND brochure (PDF)

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Major Programs within the Rural Institute