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Rural Health Information Hub

Implementation Considerations for Advancing Health Equity among People with Disabilities in Rural Communities

Equitable access to community resources and services such as healthcare, employment, education, and housing is important to the health and well-being of all rural residents, including people with disabilities. The Access to Care for Rural People with Disabilities Toolkit describes some of the healthcare needs and barriers to care experienced by people with disabilities living in rural areas. The barriers to accessing care include those related to geography, transportation, the physical and built environment, service and provider shortages, and affordability. Other barriers to inclusion include discrimination, stereotypes, and negative attitudes about disabilities, both at the individual and systems level. It is also important to consider that people with disabilities are a diverse population with a wide variety of experiences, perceptions, backgrounds, strengths, and needs.

Health equity programs in rural areas should ensure that services are inclusive, appropriate, and accessible to people with disabilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines disability inclusion as:

“Understanding the relationship between the way people function and how they participate in society, and making sure everybody has the same opportunities to participate in every aspect of life to the best of their abilities and desires.”

The National Association of County and City Health Officials developed a fact sheet that outlines several strategies for rural health departments to engage people with disabilities, including:

  • Involving people with disabilities in program planning and evaluation
  • Working with other rural communities and non-healthcare partners, including faith-based organizations, to design and implement programs and services for people with disabilities
  • Providing peer support and socialization opportunities for people with disabilities

Rural health equity programs can also reduce or eliminate barriers for people with disabilities, for example, by:

  • Providing convenient scheduling options
  • Ensuring equipment and environments are accessible
  • Providing sufficient and accessible communication
  • Supporting caregivers
  • Implementing strategies to improve staff knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions about disabilities