Document Type

Research Progress Report


University of Montana Rural Institute

Publication Date



Demography, Population, and Ecology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


Now as perhaps never before, Americans are recognizing heroes in everyday life. From “the Greatest Generation” of World War II to the firefighters of the New York City Fire Department, we are recognizing the extraordinary contributions which citizens make to their communities and to our nation. People with disabilities are among the contributors. The World Health Organization’s new International Classification of Function, Disability and Health (ICIDH) recognizes the importance of their contributions – to themselves as well as their communities. It identifies participation in community life as a critically-important outcome and specifically highlights participation in civic and political affairs (ICIDH-2, 2001 Chapter 9 - Code d950). Civic and political participation is the cornerstone of our Republic (deTocqueville, 1864). If representative democracy is to work, citizens must represent their values and those of their neighbors at every level. Significant values and interests frequently clash in the political arena, so this task isn’t easy – it requires fortitude and skill. There are 2,308 non-metropolitan counties and 33,324 communities with populations of 10,000 or fewer in the United States. A typical county has at least three elected commissioners, and approximately five to seven standing committees focusing on roads, environment, buildings and codes, health and human services, and other concerns. Each committee has about five appointed citizen leaders. A typical city has three to five commissioners and a committee structure similar to that of a county. Using these numbers in combination with McNeil’s estimate (1993) that 8% of the U.S. adult population has a severe disability, we can estimate the number of rural Americans with disabilities involved in civic leadership (see table below). We estimate that 13,884 elected and 71,264 appointed civic leaders with disabilities serve rural communities.


community participation and independent living, leadership, rural, disability


© RTC: Rural 2002

Granting Agency

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research


This work was supported by National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research Grant #H133B70017-01.

Project Number