Document Type

Policy Brief


University of Montana Rural Institute

Publication Date



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


Newly released data on disability in America show that the prevalence of impairments leading to disability is significantly higher in non-metropolitan counties (16.5%) than in metropolitan counties (13.4%). The U.S. Census Bureau recently updated the data about disability in small rural areas. This report provides a new glimpse at the heart of rural America for the first time in 13 years. These data fill a gap that has left policy makers and program planners in the dark and has meant that many decisions were made without adequate understanding of the demographics of rural people with disabilities. For example, it is a common belief that if someone acquires an impairment that may lead to disability, they move to a city where they have access to more services. These data suggest otherwise. There is some evidence to suggest that when a person in a city acquires such impairment, they may move to small rural areas for several reasons. Obviously, these data may challenge such common assumptions and lead to a very different policy response. These data, collected between 2008-2012, will be available more frequently in the future. Nonetheless, they offer new insight into the distribution of disability across America and will improve our understanding of the diverse and complex nature of rural disability. This factsheet reports preliminary analyses of this new U.S. Census data.


community participation and independent living, geography, rural, disability


© 2014 RTC:Rural.

Granting Agency

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research


Our research is supported by grant #H133B130028 from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Dept. of Education.

Project Number