Navigating Change by Identifying Needed Supports for Successful Community Living

Andrew was working towards his Bachelor’s degree in City and Regional Planning when he began to consider how people interact with their surroundings.  This interest led him to the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities (RIIC) at the University of Montana, where he developed an understanding of disability as an environmental interaction. While Andrew was earning his Master’s degree in Geography, he began working as a Research Associate on projects related to rural disability, geography, and housing.  One such project was a collaboration with the Research and Training Center on Community Living at the University of Kanas, which focused on improving community living options for people with disabilities. Specifically, researchers partnered with centers for independent living (CILs) to develop a home usability network to identify and implement customized solutions to individual usability problems.

Andrew quickly learned how vital community supports are to facilitating participation and independence, especially in rural areas where access to services and resources is severely limited. People participate in community when they perform roles and activities that are meaningful to them. In order to take on these roles and activities, most everyone needs support. Support can take many forms including reliable transportation, a helpful neighbor, warm clothes, assistive equipment, accessible infrastructure, affordable housing, or even a friendly pet.  Community happens when people have the necessary supports to choose how they want to live their lives.

Through his experiences in the UCEDD network, Andrew has come to view disability is an ecological event or interaction between a person and the environment. This interaction may occur when a person who uses a wheelchair encounters inaccessible community features, or when community events do not provide adequate accommodations for people with a variety of abilities and talents.

Community participation and human behavior is shaped by the social and built environments that we design. The power of these designs can be used to create inclusive communities or exclusive communities. Andrew believes that communities are stronger when we build them together.  When people have the supports they need to live their lives as they choose, they are more resilient and capable of enduring the twists and turns of life. Andrew is one of many people throughout the AUCD network who is committed to ensuring everyone has the supports they need and building a stronger and more inclusive society.

Andrew Myers, MA
Research Associate
RTC: Rural
Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities at
the University of Montana