Research Brief: Rural and Urban Vocational Rehabilitation Self-Employment Outcomes

October 2016
Catherine Ipsen

In a recent study exploring self-employment outcomes in Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), Ipsen and Swicegood concluded that self-employment was a viable option for people with disabilities, especially those living in rural communities. The research was conducted as part of the Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities (RTC:Rural) at the University of Montana, Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities (RIIC) .

For many, self-employment provides economic independence while overcoming employment barriers, such as limited transportation options, need for flexible work schedules, and lack of job choice and opportunity.  This may explain why self-employment rates are higher in rural versus urban areas for both the general population and people with disabilities. Further, an Office of Disability and Employment Policy (OPEP) study reported that people with disabilities are almost twice as likely to be self-employed as the general population.  Most VR agencies, however, do not promote self-employment. Reasons for this include limited counselor training in start-up business strategies; negative VR counselor attitudes about self-employment; and concerns about case costs, self-employment business failure, and income potential.

By analyzing VR data from agencies across the country, Ipsen and Swicegood found that consumers with self-employment case closures worked fewer hours per week but earned significantly higher hourly wages.  Overall, this was realized in similar average weekly earnings between consumers who became self-employed and competitively employed. They also found that self-employment rates increased as cases become more rural and for individuals having a visual or physical impairment, as compared to other disability types.

Self-employment appears to be an underutilized employment option within the VR system. This report shows that it is a viable choice, and that several agencies have successfully developed resources to support higher rates of self-employment closures. Self-employment promotes independence and should be supported as a feasible and sustaining employment outcome.  For more information, look for the full article of this research coming out in the next issue of the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation.

These results are part of the Rural Self-Employment Opportunities project.

Update: Results of this project were published in the article titled “Rural and urban vocational rehabilitation self-employment outcomes” in the January 2017 issue of the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation.