New Book Chapter Looks at How Rural Culture, Inclusion, and Community Events Impact People with Disabilities

May 21, 2019

Dr. Rayna Sage, RTC:Rural Project Director, and Erin Flores, a former sociology undergraduate researcher at the University of Montana who graduated in 2018, recently co-authored a book chapter on the accessibility of rural community events. The chapter, titled “Disability and rural events: The cultural reproduction of inclusion and exclusion” is in Marginalisation and Events, which was published in January 2019 by Routledge.

“Rural community events are a time when community members are able to see how they are part of something bigger than their own individual experience,” said Sage. “Seeing friends and family and participating in activities that promote community identity helps sustain community and connectedness.”

Sage’s research largely focuses on rural issues, especially as they relate to inequality and health. She has over ten years of experience in Community-Based Participatory Research, and has done large and small-scale program evaluation, and investigated rural poverty using qualitative and quantitative methods.

In “Disability and rural events: The cultural reproduction of inclusion and exclusion”, Sage and Flores discuss the accessibility and inclusion of rural community events, and implications for people with disabilities. For their study, they visited six different rural community events across Montana: an arts festival, a powwow, a community picnic, a rodeo, a Hometown Days celebration, and a ghost town celebration. At each event, they interviewed people with and without visible disabilities about their experiences at the event.

Their findings help emphasize why accessibility at rural events is so important for people with disabilities. By attending and participating in community events, people with disabilities are able to engage and connect with family, friends, and other community members, share and gain knowledge and skills, and create space for collaborative and economic opportunities. For example, these events provide a place for those who are self-employed to promote and market their goods or services, and to connect with others who have similar interests.

“However,” Sage added, “these events are not always accessible for people with disabilities, and our research highlights how efforts to make them accessible must take into consideration rural cultural beliefs about independence, neighborliness, and the preservation of historical structures and attributes.” In the chapter, Sage and Flores describe this tension as “… [a] tug of war that some rural residents feel between their attachment to place and how their personal history intersects with the community history and the need for the event organizers to better address accessibility.”

“It was really fun to do this work!” shared Sage. “I enjoyed bringing Erin along to do interviews at these different rural community events. Erin is from Southern California and had never been to a hometown parade like the ones we observed. It was nice to share this unique experience with her and to work with her on the project over the course of a year, moving from data collection, analysis, and finally publication.”

The data presented in this book chapter was generated as part of a larger project.