Engaging Communities To Improve Access in Rural Areas

by Rochelle H. Jewell, BA

The Community Engagement Initiative (CEI) at the Institute on Disability / UCED

Purpose: To study the ability of the CEI method to identify and address barriers to accessing health care and recreation experienced by people with disabilities.

Process: Utilize Knowledge Translation process and tools to determine how much help communities need to implement CEI. Detailed user manual guides leaders to implement CEI in their towns. Eight rural communities were randomly selected and assigned to varied levels of technical support.

Dissemination – Technical Assistance – Training

Knowledge Translation: Research translated into action. Creates “effective changes in practice, policy and products related to community living for people with disabilities.” 

LEND Objectives

  • Advance knowledge and skills of child health professionals to improve health care delivery systems for children with DD.
  • Provide interdisciplinary education, emphasizing service integration between state and local organizations, providers and communities.
  • Provide health professionals with skills to foster community-based partnerships.
  • Promote practices to enhance cultural competency, family-centered care, and interdisciplinary partnerships.

CEI integration to the LEND mission

  • Evaluates and addresses accessibility to health care and recreation for people with disabilities across the lifespan.
  • Identifies and invites community leaders to participate, encouraging partnerships across professions.
  • Engages individuals from multiple disciplines to come together to create solutions.
  • Includes people with disabilities and their family members in decision making.

My Leadership in Action Placement

My task: Collaborate on writing CEI Manuscript to be submitted to Community Development Society Journal. Documentation will help further research and develop a program to promote inclusion. I provided an overview of communities chosen for CEI, and researched key features of CEI communities to convey their values and overall feel.

Graphic: How does one describe a community?

Various images shown in graphic bubbles communicate Key Points, including transportation, healthcare, demographics, recreation, government, education, geography, and employment. Key Points + Community Self Identification = Community Description

So what? Available resources such as healthcare, recreation and transportation opportunities may not accurately identify a community’s capacity to provide access to individuals with disabilities. Demographics such as employment, income level and education levels reveal a lot about a community’s ability or inability to implement the CEI method.

Lessons Learned & Recommendations

(Image: A service dog standing on the edge of a swimming pool with its head down, checking on its owner who is in the water and looking up at the dog while smiling.)

Lessons Learned:

  • Multiple factors beyond basic infrastructure determine capacity to deliver effective CEI to support residents with disabilities.
  • Many areas lack financial resources and infrastructure to support CEI programs.
  • Resource intensive implementation required trainer travel and invested volunteer community members.

(Image: Four men in wheelchairs are shown playing basketball.)


  • Develop community index to identify areas with resources: financial, transportation, and personal capital.
  • Provide intensive training to communities identified as strong CEI candidates.
  • Maximize resources: reduce travel, utilize technology for training, and recruit organizations with paid staff to implement CEI.

What I’ve Learned About Myself as a Leader

  • I utilize the “visionary” and “participative” styles of leadership, both looking ahead and engaging others in the process to advance the work.
  • I ask “How does this apply?”
  • I translate ideas intended for one community to serve expanded populations.

(Logo for the Institute on Disability/UCED of the University of New Hampshire)

(Logo for the University of Maine Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies)

The NH LEND Program is supported by a grant (#T73 MC00024) from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and administered by the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD).