Elevating Stakeholder Voices for Rural Outreach: A Presentation to the Rural Sociological Society

July 28, 2021

RTC:Rural’s Dr. Rayna Sage and graduate research assistant, Genna Mashinchi, presented on the Rural Community Living Development project to the Rural Sociological Society. Focusing on the participatory process used with Centers for Independent Living (CILs) with a goal of developing a community outreach curriculum to implement vital supports and services for people with disabilities in rural areas, the presentation described the project stages which have resulted in a product about peer support.

This product was developed from a collaboration between six US CIL staff members and the RTC:Rural project staff, who worked together to review, evaluate, and create curriculum to guide rural CILs in conducting rural outreach and community organizing. Sage and Mashinchi shared successes and lessons learned through using participatory processes, which prioritize stakeholders’ experiences and expertise to ensure appropriateness and applicability of products in real-world contexts. This collaboration is critical as part of community-based participatory research and coincides with independent living values – including “nothing about us without us” – as partners shared that too often disabled people as end-users of research products are left out of the development process. One goal of this process is to highlight that the voices of CIL stakeholders hold the key to addressing unique challenges and opportunities in rural outreach efforts.

CIL partner feedback resulted in the inclusion of information on universal design, plain language, and rural outreach in non-traditional settings, including barbershops, bars, and salons where people congregate. Initial chapter topics created by RTC:Rural staff also changed as CIL partners explored their rural community outreach needs and experiences. The delivery of the curriculum was informed by stakeholders as well. For example, other suggested design elements, such as website layout and ensuring video accessibility, will be incorporated once the curriculum shifts to being an online resource from a handbook to support the preferred format of the curriculum by end-users.Image showing transition from original RTC:Rural proposed chapter topics to final topics. Original topics: Rural outreach and networking strategies, Team building, What does it mean to be a community mentor?, Meeting logistics, Orienting community partners, Identifying community resources, Independent Living Values, Group process framework, Identifying community champions  Final topics: Rural outreach and networking strategies, Building effective community development teams, Cultivating curiosity to establish health group dynamics, Evaluation, Independent/Community living values, Building on community living strengths, Community meeting logistics, Building support, Communicating outcomesPresenters also reflected on the process challenges, primarily, incorporating varying IL philosophies and training styles between different community partners. The communication and peer support that surfaced from these differences led to a richer and more robust curriculum infused with stakeholder voices reflecting the unique contexts in which they all work.

“The curriculum needs to be broad enough to encompass community nuances,” said Sage. “…but specific enough that they can find themselves in it.”  CIL partners worked together to recognize both their similarities and differences, providing peer support with respect and understanding that the curriculum is geared for a broad CIL audience. Together, they elevated their voices to stay true to their “nothing about us, without us,” philosophy.

As the project continues in year two of a five-year grant, CIL staff will soon be able to sign up for peer mentoring through the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living that will pair experienced mentors with rural CILs that want  to reinvigorate their outreach programming using the Rural Community Living Development Peer-to-Peer Mentoring curriculum. They will use the RCLD curriculum and identify evidence-based products curated by RTC:Rural staff to organize around community issues addressing areas such as housing, transportation, and healthcare.

CILs in Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia are currently piloting the newly drafted curriculum, created by their peers from within the national CIL network, further elevating peer voices in the efforts to provide vital support and services for people with disabilities in rural communities.

Download the presentation powerpoint slides: Using participatory methods to develop a peer-to-peer mentoring program for rural outreach and community organizing to address disability-related issues

The Rural Community Living Development project is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (grant number 90DPKT0005). NIDILRR is a Center within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The research does not necessarily represent the policy of NIDILRR, ACL, or HHS and one should not assume endorsement by the federal government.