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Disability and Rural Health  

Rayna Sage, Genna Mashinchi, and Craig Ravesloot

The ways in which disability impacts people and their health in rural places are a result of the interaction between the person and the rural environment in which they live. Disability is defined as ongoing difficulties engaging in daily activities and social roles due to physical or mental conditions. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UN-CRPD) implemented policy in 2008 that recognized that disabled people are worthy of autonomy and dignity. The social and physical environment are constructed in ableist ways that make it difficult for people with disabilities to realize their independence and this is particularly true in many rural places. Person–environment fit and urbanormativity (the favoring of urban spaces at the expense of rural ones) are important concepts in understanding the experiences of rural disabled people. There is little existing research regarding the epidemiology of disability and rural health, but rural people report higher and earlier rates of disability than urban people and rural places have higher rates of older adults with higher rates of disability. Furthermore, rural people with disabilities experience various secondary health conditions and higher rates of mortality compared to urban people with disabilties. The lack of access to health care and advocacy help explain some of the differences in health outcomes when comparing rural and urban people. The disability rights movement led to the creation of different types of advocacy and service organizations across the globe to address these disparities. An important way to improve the experiences and health of rural people with disabilities is to ensure they have access to quality and dependable in-home services and community-based rehabilitation, which currently tend to be under-funded with dramatic worker shortages in many rural places. A final promising approach to improving the health of rural disabled people is through evidence-based health promotion programming that targets early indicators of health problemsand recovery and health-sustaining efforts following a health problem.