Catherine Ipsen

RTC:Rural Director and Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities Associate Director

Dr. Ipsen holds a Ph.D. in Multidisciplinary Studies and an M.A. in Economics, both from the University of Montana. She has worked at the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities (RIIC) since 1992, and with RTC:Rural since 1999. She currently serves as the Associate Director for RIIC and Director of RTC:Rural. 

Dr. Ipsen has over 20 years of experience conducting disability research and evaluation, with funding through the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), and U.S. Department of Education.  Her primary research interests focus on strategies to support rural consumers in securing and maintaining employment and participating in the community.



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(406) 243-4562

Current Projects

Rural Self-Employment (lead)

Self-employment is an important employment option for people with disabilities, especially in rural areas where jobs are limited. Building on previous research, this project will develop, pilot, and evaluate online self-employment resources for Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR) programs.


Rural Access to Health Insurance and Health Care (lead)

RTC:Rural is collaborating with the Collaborative on Health Reform and Independent Living (CHRIL) to collect national data on health insurance, health care access, and quality of life outcomes among people with disabilities through the National Survey on Health and Disability (NSHD). RTC:Rural will use these data to answer rural-specific questions about health care coverage, availability, and quality of life.


Expanding the Availability and Quality of Rural Data (lead)

In order to create effective policies and programs it is important to have data, such as demographic information and location, about people with disabilities in rural communities. It can be difficult to access rural disability data from the large data sets maintained by the federal government. To address this, RTC:Rural is partnering with StatsRRTC to provide annual rural data for the Disability Compendium and conduct rural analyses of existing large data sets.


Rural Youth Apprenticeship Development project (RYAD) (lead)

RTC:Rural researchers are partners on the U-Mass Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) RYAD project to promote the development and advancement of vocational rehabilitation (VR) apprenticeship programs for youth with disabilities in underserved rural communities. RYAD will disseminate rural-specific tools and resources, promote VR partnerships with businesses and workforce systems, and increase the number of youth apprenticeship programs in rural areas.

Rural Youth Apprenticeship Development Project fact sheet


Exploring Rural Disability Onset

In order to understand rural and urban differences in disability rates, we need to understand how disability evolves and what influences disability severity outcomes. If disability evolves differently in different places, these differences may provide insight into the nature and context of rural disability and may help inform interventions.


Rural Transportation Options

The lack of accessible public transportation is a barrier to employment, healthcare access, and other aspects of community participation for people with disabilities. Though transportation barriers exist in both urban and rural places, there is a lack of knowledge about how people with disabilities access and use transportation in their rural communities. This project will begin to develop an evidence-base to better understand rural transportation development through two different surveys and analyses of national datasets.


Impacts of COVID-19 on People with Disabilities

The goal of this exploratory research is to investigate how COVID-19, and responses to it, are impacting people with disabilities in rural and urban places. Like everyone else, people with disabilities will likely experience the impacts of COVID-19 differently depending on where they live and resources available to them. Understanding how these individuals are responding and adapting to this pandemic is critical for informing planning and creating accommodations for future crises.


Rural Disability Hub for COVID-19 Vaccination Outreach

Connecting with rural partners to promote COVID-19 vaccination

The Rural Disability Hub for COVID-19 Vaccination Outreach is a partnership with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), and our rural disability champions, to address structural barriers to vaccination and improve rural understandings about COVID-19 and vaccination issues affecting people with disability. We will use local focus groups to: 1) curate community-informed and materials and outreach strategies, and 2) develop recommendations for addressing structural barriers to vaccination. The Hub will disseminate rural outreach materials and strategies through multiple established disability, health care, public health, and other partners at the local, state and national levels, and will share information and lessons learned through the AUCD network.