The determinants of successful self-employment among blind and visually-impaired consumers
Federal and state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies are putting increased emphasis on, and providing more resources for, self-employment for individuals who are blind or visually-impaired since the Rehabilitation Act was amended in 1998. Additional emphasis is being placed on self-employment because VR system consumers – especially those who are blind or visually-impaired – are disproportionately likely to have difficulty obtaining other kinds of competitive employment in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 recession. The purpose of this quantitative study is to identify variables in the administrative records of the federal Rehabilitation Service Agency that impact self-employment outcomes and earnings among blind or visually-impaired consumers. The file, comprised of 13,998 cases closed in Texas from Fiscal Years 2008 through 2012, spans the national recession and subsequent slow recovery. From the original file, 798 cases closed through self-employment were examined by employment status at application, cost of services and returns on investments (ROI). This study found those who were self-employed at application were 50 times more likely to be self-employed at closure. Those who received assessments, diagnosis and treatment, technical assistance, and rehabilitation services were more likely to be self-employed at closure. The variables most closely related to weekly earnings at closure for self-employed consumers were: gender (male), being self-employed at application and receiving some form of rehabilitation technology. Disproportionate numbers of those who were self-employed at application were 55 to 65 and self-identified as White only with weekly earnings at application above the mean for the entire population of consumers whose cases were closed through self-employment. They received the fewest services on average over the shortest period of time at the lost average cost. Returns on investments in serving those who were self-employed at application were positive but small. The average cost of services provided to those employed at application was the highest. However, on average, they experienced decreases in the hours worked per week and weekly earnings. Thus, returns on investments were, on average, negative. Limitations of the study, implications for practice, and future research are discussed.