NIDILRR Research Review showcases importance of federal data in disability research

March 6, 2019

On February 22, RTC:Rural Director Dr. Catherine Ipsen participated in the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)’s Administrative Data and Employment Research Review.

“The purpose of the Research Review was to showcase research projects that harness administrative data to improve services for people with disabilities,” Ipsen said. “In addition to representatives from the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), Social Security Administration (SSA), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), several researchers described projects that used administrative data to answer and inform research questions.”

“Among these, a collaborative group described their work to calculate the return on investment for individuals using Vocational Rehabilitation Services using linked RSA 911 and SSA administrative data. Another researcher described how they linked administrative data with primary data to examine the impacts of the Medicaid Buy-in program in Kansas, and one group explored health disparities among affordable housing tenants with and without disabilities using linked HUD and National Health Interview Survey data.”

Ipsen was invited to share how RTC:Rural has and continues to use federal data to inform research direction, identify gaps in knowledge, and to create solutions that are relevant to people with disabilities in rural communities. Her presentation on Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) data was titled “Using RSA-911 Data to Frame and Inform Rural Research.” RSA-911 is the national data collection system used by RSA to monitor vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs and identify successful practices.

Before 2014, RSA-911 case data did not include any geographic information, which meant that researchers couldn’t use this data to look for differences between urban and rural areas. As there are more data on case closures from urban than rural areas (due to population), excluding geographic data biases service delivery strategies to those that work most effectively in urban areas.

Prior RTC:Rural research involved construction of a database containing RSA-911 case data with geographic indicators.  These data showed several significant differences in case mix and case closures between urban and rural VR consumers. 

Building upon these research findings, RTC:Rural researchers explored more targeted questions to better understand differences. One example focuses on self-employment, and specifically low rates of self-employment closures in the VR system. Overall in the US, 9.4% of the general population is self-employed, and 11.4% of people with disabilities are self-employed. However, only 2% of VR cases close to self-employment.  Although VR agencies had higher rates of self-employment closure in rural locations, self-employment was still an underutilized employment outcome given rates for the larger population of people with disabilities.

To better understand this discrepancy, RTC:Rural researchers talked with VR counselors and administrators to understand why this might be the case. They learned that low numbers could be explained by negative counselor attitudes toward self-employment, concerns about costs, confusion about the process, and counselor training in business-start up activities.  Some of these concerns could be dispelled with administrative data, and some required development of products and strategies to support self-employment exploration.

To help VR counselors and consumers better understand the self-employment process, RTC:Rural has worked with partners in the VR system to develop the VR Self-Employment Guide, a self-directed, multi-media website that shares detailed information on how to assess self-employment readiness and business feasibility, and how to create a full business plan. RTC:Rural is also currently working with partners from the American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Services to create, pilot, and evaluate a culturally appropriate translation of the website for use within the tribal VR system.