Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Rural Rehabilitation Services Civic Leadership Among People with Disabilities.
People with disabilities who had been elected to city, state, or county positions or who had been appointed to civic boards.
Study purpose or goal:
To identify behaviors, qualities, and strategies of people with disabilities serving in elected or appointed positions.
Who administers this tool?:
Researchers in interviews.
How is it administered?:
Researchers in interviews.
What is the scope or what areas does it cover?:
The major sections of the interview cover: identity (personal info/demographic and public identity [party affiliation, length of time in community, disability identity]); activities related to disability, work, and non-disability; extent to which the subject is involved in faith, secular, and state level activities; personal political journey (whether they viewed their role as representing people with disabilities or not); community characteristics (environment, power characteristics, influence, political atmosphere that led to approach they took); and advice to future leaders.
The Civic Leadership Instrument was developed to study civic participation of people with disabilities in rural communities. Literature reviews were done in the fields of advocacy of people with disabilities, civic leadership in general, and on similar instruments. Consumer involvement was heavy early on. The process involved discussions with rural disability leaders in conferences, letters, meetings, and structured conversations on issued of rural advocacy from a research angle. Comments were elicited from people in field about people they knew with disabilities in leadership roles. Through later stages, 3 or 4 key informants were given the questionnaire to review and comment. The survey was also reviewed by researchers within the RRTC and in the greater research community.
The methodology was selected based on estimates of the number of people with disabilities in leadership roles. The questions were selected based on lists of issues constructed by people with disabilities in the fields of advocacy and civic change. The draft interviews were circulated internally and to a select group of elected or appointed leaders to beta test. The purpose of the research is three-fold: (1) It has a behavioral goal of identifying a broad repertoire as a foundation for a training protocol for those interested in pursuing civic roles to increase the likelihood of success. (2) The research examines a strengths- oriented approach to disability research. (3) It reflects a broad interest in conducting disability advocacy in rural communities where the approach is different than urban settings: rather than protest, people become part of the civic organization.
The survey was also reviewed by researchers within the RRTC and in the greater research community.
Consumer involvement was heavy early on. The process involved discussions with rural disability leaders in conferences, letters, meetings, and structured conversations on issued of rural advocacy from a research angle.
Can this development process be used elsewhere?:
Elected or appointed officials with disabilities in urban, rural, county, and city settings.
While there are no limitations to the interview itself, the researchers weren’t able to do the kind of larger scale data collection originally hoped for. The goal of refined behavioral assessment of leadership skills needed more resources and longer term
esearchers had no trouble finding individuals to represent the spectrum of positions. The consensus seems to be among those interviewed that it is a strategic mistake as a politician with a disability to run as a person with a disability or on a disability platform. This leads to serious pigeon-holing by the electorate. It is more important for politicians with disabilities to address issues of concern to the broader community. Disability is integrated into the process through simple presence. For example: An interviewee in Colorado had quadriplegia. Before she ran, the council chambers were inaccessible. The night she was elected, the mayor called to find out what was needed. Simple presence led to broader impact. However, she was repeatedly asked to represent disability and health issues and resisted these to avoid pigeon-holing. She had her own important issues (environment, water).
There may be multiple interpretations of the findings, leading to debate in the community about disability identity in rural communities. However, the project itself represents a strength-orientation approach to conducting research: Identify relatively high levels of contributions made by people with disabilities to the community and the aspects of those consequences.
The research has led to number of recommendations for using the role of an elected leader as a mechanism for promoting disability awareness and responsiveness to the needs of people with disabilities in communities.
The researchers utilized a qualitative analysis of the interviews using Atlas TI, an ethnographic software program.
Impact of these findings on the field:
In addition to promoting the participation of people with disabilities in politics, this research highlights the process of strength-oriented research, as opposed to or along with deficit-oriented research.
Peer review status:
This instrument has been subject to peer review.
Who uses the collected data?:
Academic researchers, advocates, groups looking to promote civic participation, people with disabilities interested in running for office.
Contact the Rural RTC for more information
888/268-2743 (V), 406/243-5467 (V), 406/243-4200 (TTY).
Rural Institute on Disabilities Unviersity of Montana