New Publication Describes Outcomes and Value of using Geographic Analysis to Assess CIL Service Delivery

July 7, 2021

A new paper, “Exploring Access to Independent Living Services for People with Disabilities Through a Transportation Network Analysis” published in The Journal of Disability Policy Studies, and co-authored by RTC:Rural researchers and a disability policy expert from the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living, describes the variation in access to CIL services across the United States with estimates of those served, underserved, and unserved, as well as implications for using geographic analysis to better understand social service delivery systems to support people with disabilities.

Co-author and Executive Director of the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL), Billy Altom, shares why he values this research. “Speaking as a longtime advocate for enhanced options of transportation in rural areas, this paper provides a tool to plan for coordination and collaboration between service providers.” 


The purpose of this study was to better understand the reach of CIL service delivery by examining the geographic location of CILs across the country and subsequently, how accessible they are to people with disabilities, with specific interest in rural areas.

RTC:Rural researcher and Project Director Lillie Greiman shares her experiences working with and alongside CIL stakeholders.  “The issue of transportation to services in rural communities emerges time and time again when working with advocates and services providers at centers for Independent Living. This study uses geographic analysis, specifically a transportation network analysis, to highlight the vast distances that people will disabilities often have to travel to access services with the hope that we can draw much needed attention to the need to improve transportation services in rural areas.”

What they did:

First, the research team (comprised of researchers, graduate students and community partners) identified locations of CIL offices throughout the contiguous United States. Next, they used a Transportation Analysis software to create different sized travel bands around each CIL representing various distances to reach it based on major road networks. (i.e., interstates, highways, and major roadways). 25-, 50-, 75-, and 100-mile distance increments were used to define the travel bands. Then, the research team used demographic information from the U.S. Census American Community Survey to calculate population and disability rates for each travel band surrounding the CILs.

Additionally, based on stakeholder input from CIL providers, the research team conducted a more detailed analysis in case studies of two states (Montana and Arizona), to help refine rural analysis by including local roadways which are often needed and used by rural residents to reach services.

Map of US with Main and Secondary CILs marked, with blue network bands surrounding them.

Map text description: 

A map of the 48 contiguous United States showing the results of a transportation network analysis exploring access to Center for Independent Living (CIL) offices. A transportation network analysis uses road networks to measure distances to or from a specific location. This analysis can illustrate access or lack of access to services based on travel distances. The results on this map show the distances to CIL office locations using travel bands of 50 miles (in dark blue) and 15 miles (in light blue), covering a total distance of 65 miles. While much of the Eastern, Western and Gulf coasts of the US are covered, large areas of the West and South are further than 65 miles from a CIL. Alaska and Hawaii were not included because of limited road networks in those states.

Summary of findings:

The national analysis revealed a difference in service coverage between the Eastern and Western halves of the United States. In the East, most areas are within 65 miles of a CIL’s services, with some exceptions in pockets in the South, North, and Appalachia. The Western half of the U.S. was found to have more concentrated CIL service coverage around urban communities with many areas without any coverage.

The case studies revealed that as one travels further from a CIL location in both Montana and Arizona, population decreases and disability rates increase. In both states combined, it is estimated that 133,431 individuals with disabilities live further than 100 miles from a CIL office.

Finally, the study explored how partnerships with other services organizations (specifically Area Agencies on Aging-AAAs) have the potential to expand access to underserved rural communities.


Geographic analyses can be used to better understand service gaps and can assist with identifying potential cross-organizational partnerships to better serve people with disabilities in rural communities. Greiman states, “This paper illustrates that there is real potential for community partnerships to expand independent living services into rural communities. However, for these partnerships to be effective they must be equitable in funding, mission and service provision.”

Altom adds, “There are several examples across rural America of voucher and volunteer driver programs that have proven to be highly effective.  My goal is to use this paper to address the lack of transportation options, but also the inequity of funding devoted to rural transportation.”

Read a summary of the paper from NARIC: Organizational partnerships may improve access to independent living services for people with disabilities

Read the full paper here: Exploring Access to Independent Living Services for People with Disabilities Through a Transportation Network Analysis