African Americans' Access to Vocational Rehabilitation Services after Antidiscrimination Legislation

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to determine changes in African Americans' access to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services subsequent to landmark legislative and judicial antidiscrimination provisions of the mid-20th century. This study compared African American VR access before the antidiscrimination legislation in 1937 and after the legislation in 2004. Using Rehabilitation Services Administration Case Service Report data released in 2004, the study duplicated a 1938 study that examined African Americans' access to VR in 1937. It analyzed 441,153 cases from the 2004 report to determine: access, types of services rendered, relative expenditures, and VR intervention outcomes for White and for African American consumers. The study found widening gaps between White and African American consumers in education, employment, earnings, and in per capita VR expenditures for services rendered. The 2004 data indicated that a proportionately larger number of African American consumers were closed out as applicants or for "failure to cooperate" or "unable to locate."

Disability affects many Americans, and is expected to affect more as the population ages (Guralnik, Fried, & Salive, 1996), gets more obese (Lakdawalla, Bhattacharya & Goldman, 2004; Sturm, Ringel & Andreyava, 2004), and suffers more chronic illnesses (Goins, Spencer, Roubideaux, & Manson, 2005). In the year 2000, a total of 49.7 million Americans or 19.3% of the population aged five and older reported a lasting disability (U.S. Census, 2004). Of those in the labor force, 11.9% reported a condition that reduced their ability to perform economic functions (U.S. Census, 2004).

Minority populations have higher disability rates than those of majority populations (Bowe, 1992; Walker, 1988). Native Americans and African Americans have the highest disability rates in all age groups (U.S. Census, 2004). For example, among 55-65 year olds, severe disability rates are 20% among Whites and 35% among African Americans (U.S. Census, 2004). Other studies found that racial disability disparities have not been eliminated and are greater among women (de Leon, Fillenbaum, Williams, Brock, Buckett, & Berkman, 2005; Kelley-Moore & Ferraro, 2004). Although old-age disability has shown a slight decline in the past twenty years, the racial old-age disability disparities have persisted and will persist into the foreseeable future (Schoeni, Martin, Andreski, & Freedman, 2005, Miller, Wolinsky, Malmstrom, Andresen, & Miller, 2005). Current census estimates indicated the continued persistence of disability disparities (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006).

Furthermore, disability disparities mirror health disparities. Research documented significant and persistent minority health disparities (Institute of Medicine, 2002). There are disparities throughout the spectrum of health care from preventive services to pain relief at the end of life (Nelson, 2003). The most important predictor of quality health care was access (Cohen, 2003). There are serious disparities in access to care (Brown, Ojeda, Wyn, & Levan, 2000) and to health education (Association of American Medical Colleges, 2002). Despite their higher disability rates minorities are less likely to seek rehabilitation services, receive proportionately fewer rehabilitation services, and when they are accepted into rehabilitation programs, they are less likely to achieve successful program completion and find suitable job placements (Herbert & Cheatham, 1988).

STUDY OBJECTIVES

The study was conducted in the wake of over 50 years of anti-discrimination laws and policies in the United States that were aimed at effecting equal opportunities for all U.S. citizens. The purpose of this study was to determine changes in African Americans' access to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services subsequent to landmark legislative and judicial antidiscrimination provisions of the mid-20th century. …