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Rural Health Information Hub

Formerly the
Rural Assistance Center


Rural People with Disabilities

People with disabilities, young and old, who live in rural areas where essential services are often limited or non-existent face difficulties seldom encountered in urban areas. Access to housing, transportation, employment, educational programs, and specialized healthcare are some of the challenging issues found throughout rural America. It is said that where there is a will there is a way. Communities can help people with disabilities by looking for ways to partner and creatively use limited resources to provided needed services.


For publications and training on disabilities in rural communities
Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities
Telephone: 406.243.2654
Toll-Free: 888.268.2743

There are more organizations related to People with Disabilities in the organizations section.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many people with disabilities live in rural areas?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates more than 8.8 million people in the U.S. rural, civilian noninstitutionalized population have disabilities.

What is independent living?

Independent living is the belief that people with disabilities should have the same civil rights, options, and control over choices in their own lives as people without disabilities. This approach focuses on changing society and communities so they better meet the needs of the people who live there. The independent living movement puts decision making in the hands of the individual, rather than a medical or service provider.

For more information about independent living, you may want to contact the National Council on Independent Living and the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living. To find an independent living center in your state, please see the Independent Living Research Utilization's Directory of Centers and State Independent Living Councils.

What is the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Waiver Program?

The Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Waiver Program, section 1915(c) of the Social Security Act (the Act) is the Medicaid program alternative to providing long-term care in institutional settings. The 1915(c) waivers are options available to states allowing the provision of long term care services in home and community based settings. States can offer a variety of services under an HCBS Waiver program. Programs may provide a combination of standard medical services and non-medical services. Standard services include but are not limited to: case management, homemaker, home health aide, personal care, adult day health services, habilitation (both day and residential), and respite care. States can also propose other types of services that may assist in diverting and/or transitioning individuals from institutional settings into their homes and community. To find out what is available in your state, see Waivers.

Are rural child care providers required to provide access to child care for children with disabilities?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), child care providers, including small, home-based centers, are required to provide children with disabilities and their parents with an equal opportunity to participate in the child care center's programs and services. For more information, please see the U.S. Department of Justice's Commonly Asked Questions About Child Care Centers and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

What resources are there for farmers with disabilities?

The National AgrAbility Project assists people with disabilities employed in agriculture. This project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and consists of a National Project and State/Regional Projects, each involving collaborative partnerships between land grant universities and various nonprofit disability services organizations. Assistance is available to people working on small and large operations. The National AgrAbility Project website provides a directory of state AgrAbility Contacts. For resources specific to your state see RHIhub’s State Guides.

What transportation services can rural communities provide for people with disabilities?

Access to transportation is a major issue for people with disabilities living in rural areas. Some options that can increase transit options for people with disabilities include flexroutes, which allow for fixed transit routes to add on additional stops as needed, and voucher programs, which allow riders to decide who drives them, where and when. The National Aging and Disability Transportation Center promotes cooperation between the transportation industry and the disability community to increase mobility for people with disabilities under the ADA and beyond. They offer numerous resources, as well as training and technical assistance, in an effort to make the ADA work for everyone.

What kinds of housing assistance are available to people with disabilities in rural areas?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) manages the Section 811 Supportive Housing Program for Persons with Disabilities program, which provides funding to nonprofit organizations to develop rental housing with the availability of supportive services for very low-income adults with disabilities, and provides rent subsidies for the projects to help make them affordable.

The USDA/Rural Housing Service (RHS) offers several programs that may help rural people with disabilities, including the Rural Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Loan and Grant Program, which provides funds to modify homes for accessibility, the Rural Rental Housing Program, which provides direct mortgage loans for the development of congregate housing or group homes for persons with disabilities and the Rental Assistance program, which provides an additional source of support for households with incomes too low to pay the RHS subsidized rent from their own resources. Program descriptions are available on the RHS site. For application information, contact your state USDA Rural Development office.

For more information about housing issues, see the Housing Assistance Council's Housing for Persons with Disabilities in Rural Areas.

What are the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act for small businesses?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to all businesses with 15 or more employees. Rural businesses within fewer than 15 employees may want to voluntarily address the spirit of the ADA. Employers covered by the ADA must make sure that people with disabilities:

  • Have an equal opportunity to apply for jobs and to work in jobs for which they are qualified
  • Have an equal opportunity to be promoted once they are working
  • Have equal access to benefits and privileges offered to other employees
  • Are not harassed because of their disability.

The ADA limits the kinds of medical information employers can request from job applicants or employees and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities. For more information, see Americans with Disabilities Act: A Primer for Small Business from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

What are the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act for local government?

Local governments cannot discriminate on the basis of disability for services, programs, activities or benefits offered to the public and must use the most integrated setting appropriate. They are required to ensure that communications with people with disabilities are as effective as communication with others. Municipalities are required to meet or exceed the requirements of ADA design standards when they alter existing facilities or build new ones. Local governments with fewer than 50 employees should meet these simplified requirements:

  • Provide notice of ADA compliance to public
  • Conduct self-evaluation
  • Encourage comment by interested parties, including people with disabilities
  • Implement changes

Last Reviewed: 5/8/2015