University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs) aim to positively affect the lives of people with disabilities by building and strengthening systems that support full community participation. The ExceLens series highlights the valuable work of the UCEDDs within university systems, the community, and in the lives of people with disabilities across the lifespan and their family members.

University of Montana: Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities - Research and Evaluation

Based on the University of Montana campus in Missoula, the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities partners with advocates and communities to serve, train, research, develop and evaluate services that improve the quality of life of people with disabilities. Their focus is building and supporting their ability to provide education, services, research, and evaluation. To learn more about UM and their projects, please visit their website.


Intersectionality of Disability, American Indians, and Rurality

  • After identifying the critical need for improved education and training surrounding the intersection of disability, Native communities, and rural health, diversity fellows Salena Beaumont Hill, MA and Helen Russette, MPH worked to fill an important gap in education by creating an innovative professional development course through the Native American Studies Department at the University of Montana. Their course highlights content that provides important background and context in Montana’s tribal nations and encourages students to research existing disparities in the community and featuring intersectionality which examines how the intersection of various social and political identities, particularly minority identities, relates to oppressive and discriminatory systems.
  • Created using an interdisciplinary approach, this course aims to highlight the distinctive concerns that affect the Native population while also providing students with a set of important tools and base of knowledge to better understand and meet these needs.
  • Working alongside Dr. Marty Blair and Dr. Anna Margaret Goldman, this course aims to be sustainable and maintain the flexibly to adapt as the needs of students as well as the community change and grow.


  • An Indigenous perspective of learning, disability, and rurality with the community, different tribes, and families are at the forefront of the course’s design and implementation with specific consideration given to the role of colonization in these areas and how those shape multiple levels of perception. The Indigenous-led and Indigenous-informed course provides a relevant and often absent perspective in academia on ways of learning, types of disability, respective histories and policy implications, rurality, tribal diversity, and community settings that are commonplace in Montana.
  • This course has worked to better inform students and staff on the unique considerations of native communities. This impact will continue to grow and spread as the course is adopted by more programs across the network. This course better informs students of the diversity in Indigenous communities and equips them with tools to better understand and meet the needs of Native Americans living with disability in Montana.
  • The comprehensive course fills an educational void for students and staff who will need to understand the important background and context of Indigenous communities that are reviewed in the course.
  • The reach that the course has across disciplines by offering unique content that is not accessible in other departments. Digital stories are used as a final project in which students pick a course topic that helped develop their knowledge and share how they will use this knowledge to inform their future work.
  • The course topics, assignments, and overall course design were developed with inclusivity and accessibility in mind. Overall, the approach, course design and course content fill a much-needed gap in academia and merit replication and expansion to other colleges and universities that strive to be inclusive.
  • The activities and work shared here through the University of Montana's Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities is well aligned with AUCD's focus on supporting the network around equity, diversity, inclusion, and cultural and linguistic competency through the Equity Diversity and Inclusion Hub (link here). The Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Hub provides resources, examples, and action steps that help enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion and promote cultural humility and responsiveness. The hub brings together the variety of existing resources available in the AUCD network all in one place. It also shares stories of how network members are promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion at their centers and programs and how to engage with AUCD technical assistance initiatives.

More Information:

  • For more about Helen Russette, Selena Hill, and the Intersectionality of Disability, American Indians, and Rurality course please see their article here.
  • Find more information about the Diversity Fellow program here.
  • Please send any questions, comments, related resources, or stories you would like to share to the URC team at AUCD.