Document Type

Research Report


University of Montana Rural Institute

Publication Date



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


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted without any baseline data against which to measure progress on achieving its public access goals. To date, no one has collected local, state, or national data to establish such a baseline or to assess progress in achieving those goals empirically. We developed a simple accessibility assessment tool that can aggregate data across businesses and communities. We then established a sampling frame for all Montana incorporated communities with populations of 2,500 – 10,000. We randomly selected 327 businesses to observe from a universe of 2,151 businesses that met inclusion criteria, and we trained accessibility advocates across the State to conduct observations. These advocates observed 236 businesses in 19 communities. Combining ratings across nine categories of accessibility, the State’s small cities and towns achieved an overall accessibility rating of 66.5% (2.66 on a 4-point scale), including average ratings of 2.74 for municipal parking availability, 1.91 for municipal parking accessibility, 2.28 for private parking availability, 1.98 for private parking accessibility, 2.91 for the safety and accessibility of municipal routes to businesses, 3.01 for private routes to businesses, 2.80 for accessibility of business entries, 2.42 for accessibility of business doorways, and 3.09 for accessibility of business interiors. Using these data, we identified 86 businesses (35.9% of the sample) that had at least one barrier that would likely preclude a person using a wheelchair from doing business there. This report presents exploratory analyses of the relationship between accessibility ratings and demographic and economic variables. Results are discussed in terms of the value of having longitudinal data that can represent the accessibility of communities over time.


community participation and independent living, community accessibility, americans with disabilities act, rural, disability


© 2009 RTC:Rural.

Granting Agency

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research


The authors gratefully acknowledge our collaborators: Meg Traci, Director of the Montana Disability and Health Program; and the staff and consumers of Montana’s centers for independent living: Living Independently for Today and Tomorrow (Billings), Montana Independent Living Project (Helena), North Central Independent Living Services (Black Eagle), and Summit, Inc.(Missoula). We also acknowledge Dan Denis for his help in developing the sampling framework and drawing the sample of businesses.

Project Number