The International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation

 Acceptance Rates Research and Program Evaluation

Nicole A Jones

East Carolina University

Jones NA   (2008). Acceptance Rates Research and Program Evaluation..
   International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. 13(1), 5-9


This paper is about Acceptance rates research for minorities specifically African Americans and the possible need to re-evaluate the eligibility component of the vocational rehabilitation program. Acceptance rates research is discussed and linked to the process of program evaluation. Program evaluation is a continual and necessary process for human service organizations. Program evaluation allows human service organizations to examine all aspects of programming to address areas of possible improvement.
Key words:  acceptance rates, program evaluation, vocational rehabilitation, and eligibility component


The purpose of this paper is to present a literature review of acceptance rates research of minorities in vocational rehabilitation to support reevaluation of the eligibility component of the Vocational Rehabilitation System.  Program evaluation is a necessary and continuous process to measure the effectiveness of a program.  Multiple acceptance rate research studies have been conducted and they indicate that African Americans are accepted at lower rates than their European American counterparts (Atkins & Wright, 1980; Wilson, 2002; Rosenthal, Wilson, Ferrin & Frain, 2005). This literature review can be used as an instrument to reevaluate the eligibility process of minorities seeking entrance into the vocational rehabilitation system.

Program evaluation is defined by Rossi, Lipsey and Freeman (2004) as “the use of social research procedures to systematically investigate the effectiveness of social intervention programs that is adapted to their political and organizational environments and designed to inform social action in ways that improve social conditions” (p.16). The vocational rehabilitation program is a social intervention program.  The examination of acceptance rates as social research can be utilized to re-evaluate the vocational rehabilitation program.  Lewis, Packard and Lewis (2007) conclude that evaluation can be used to aid in administrative decision making, improve currently operating programs, provides for accountability, build increased support for effective programs, and add to the knowledge base of the human services. Based on the literature review one could possibly conclude that minorities are underrepresented and underserved in the vocational rehabilitation system (Wilson, 2000).  To this end, utilizing program evaluation as a tool to re-evaluate the eligibility component in the vocational rehabilitation system would provide feedback to increase minority acceptance.

Literature Review

 Acceptance rates have been examined by the rehabilitation community and legislation in great depth. The American Disabilities Amendments of 1992 stated that:

“Patterns of inequitable treatment of minorities have been documented in all major junctures of the vocational rehabilitation process. As compared to European Americans, a larger percentage of African Americans applicants to the vocational rehabilitation system is denied acceptance.  Of applicants for service, a larger percentage of African –American cases are closed without being rehabilitated.  Minorities are provided less training than their European American counterparts.” (Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992, Pub No. 102-569,106 Stat.4344-4488, 1992).

Atkins and Wright’s seminal study of 1980 examined the acceptance rate of minorities in vocational rehabilitation (VR). They documented that acceptance rates for African American applicants were proportionally lower (about 5.5%) than European American applicants in vocational rehabilitation programs. Several studies have been conducted utilizing the Rehabilitation Services Administration-911 data and concluded that there are significant differences in acceptance rates for minorities (Chan, Wong, Rosenthal, Kundu & Dutta, 2005; Wilson, Harley & Alston, 2001; Olney & Kennedy, 2002).  Evaluation of human service programming is essential to provide information that helps the agency gain political support and continued community involvement (Lewis et al., 2007). Moreover, evaluation can also enhance an agency’s position by providing the means for demonstrating or even publicizing an agency’s effectiveness.  The eligibility component of the VR system in six landmark studies stated that acceptance rates for minorities are more likely to be found ineligible for VR services (Herbert & Martinez, 1992; Dzeikan & Okocha, 1993; Feist-Price, 1995; Peterson, 1996; Wilson, 2000; Wilson, Harley, and Alston, in press).  By examining the rate of acceptance for minorities in the vocational rehabilitation system, administrators in the field may gain insight to further evaluate the differences in acceptance rate and discuss avenues for increasing minority acceptance rates.

Historically minorities have been noted in VR for being underrepresented and underserved. Schorr (1997) stated that:

“The moral underpinnings for social action, especially by the government, are not powerful enough in the cynical closing years of the twentieth century to sustain what needs to be done on the scale that it needs to be done.  In this era of pervasive doubt, public investment of the needed magnitude will be forthcoming only on evidence of achieving its purpose and contributing to long-term goals that are widely shared. “(p. 136)           

The measure of how effective a program is can be determined by the outcomes achieved. Schorr (1997) continued that in the past, outcomes accountability and evaluation were separate activities. Now, however, the accountability world is moving from the monitoring processes to monitoring results. Lewis, et al., (2007) additionally found that the dissemination of evaluative reports describing the agency’s accountability is paramount.  People concerned with agency performance can gain knowledge about the results of services, and this information undoubtedly increases community members’ influence on policies and programs. By reviewing the literature of acceptance rates for minorities, a basis for reevaluation is discussed.  

Bolton and Cooper (1980) questioned the fact of whether Atkins and Wright’s (1980) study was sufficient to support the conclusion that African Americans and European Americans receive unequal treatment in VR. They replicated the Atkins and Wright (1980) study. Bolton and Cooper were not able to determine the discrepancies of eligibility determination and this concern remains to be highly debated since 1980. Herbert and Martinez (1992) investigated whether ethnicity was statistically significant.  They confirmed that minorities specifically African Americans were less likely to be accepted for VR services than there majority counterparts.  Dziekan and Okocha (1993) explored the accessibility of VR services for minorities groups: African American, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans.  They agreed with the earlier research done by Atkins and Wright (1980) and Herbert and Martinez (1992) that African Americans were more likely to be found ineligible for VR services. In 1995, Fiest -Price concluded with the same outcome.  Hence, the results of these studies investigating VR acceptance and ethnicity between 1980 and 1995 strongly suggest that ethnicity may be an influencing fact in VR acceptance (Wilson, 2002).

Opposing Research

In contrast to the earlier studies, Wheaton (1995)’s work concluded that the proportions of European Americans and African Americans found eligible for VR services are not statistically different. However, Wheaton (1995) employed different hypotheses and sampling procedures. Although he found no statistical significance he still reported that European Americans (52.7%) had a higher acceptance rate than did African Americans (47.3%).  Peterson (1996) concluded that VR acceptance rates among African Americans, Europeans Americans, Native Americans, Eskimos or Aleuts, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics and “others” were not statistically significant. Wilson (1999) also reported no differences between European Americans and African Americans in VR acceptance rates in his study. Wilson, Harley and Alston (in press) replicated Wilson’s (1999) study and the results were similar to those reported by Atkins and Wright 1980. The Wilson et al., (in press) study challenged the findings of Wheaton (1995); Wilson (1999); and Peterson (1996) that ethnicity and VR acceptance were independent. Acceptance rates research continues to be debated.


There are various possible reasons as to why African Americans are less likely to be accepted into VR services than their majority counterparts. Herbert and Martinez (1992), Wilson (2000) and Wilson et al., (2001) noted that one must address the issue of possible discrimination. The current United States VR demographics indicate that about 93% of the VR counselors and 92% of the VR administrators classify themselves as Europeans American (Whitney-Thomas, Timmons, Gilmore, & Thomas, 1999).  How one is perceived when seeking VR services has been and still remains an issue in the state/federal system. Further, Rosenthal, and Kosciulek (1996); Sue, Arrendondo, and Mc Davis (1992); and Middleton, et al.,(2000) reported that the stereotypes can lead practitioners to hasty conclusions and unsound postulations about customers. Devine and Elliott (1995) concluded that the stereotypes of African Americans tend to be extremely negative, and Dzeikan et al., (1993) reported that the counselor’s perception of the customer’s level of involvement may produce an inaccurate determination of the customer’s ability to benefit from VR services.  Wilson, 2002; Rosenthal and Berven (1999); and Boski (1988) agree that VR counselors, like other health-care professionals, bring their biases and prejudices with them when they are assisting customers.  Moreover, Wilson (2002) concludes that VR counselors and counselors in training are like to prejudge people of color based on prior negative stereotypes, when they receive information contradicting these stereotypes; they tend to resist changing their preconceived stereotypes. Consequently, these negative perceptions of African Americans (and others) may or may not be intentional; one can logically contend that some eligibility decisions are based on impressions of a person’s ethnic or racial group status in the United States ( Wilson, 2002).

Rosenthal (2004) examined the counselor bias and its effects of consumer’s race on the clinical judgment of practicing European American vocational rehabilitation counselors in a web based environment. He specifically investigated whether participants demonstrated bias in their general evaluation, perceptions of psychopathology, and estimates of the educational and vocational potential of African American consumers. Rosenthal, et al. (1999) stated that stereotypes are activated under conditions of uncertainty when limited information is given. Stereotyping provides short cuts to process information on prototypical characteristics. The danger with stereotypes is that initial impressions are resistant to change, even when the advent of contradictory evidence (Eddy, 1990; Elstein, Shulman & Sprafka, 1978). The findings of this study stated that African American consumers were judged more negatively than European American consumers, and these differences persisted after reviewing subsequent information. Middleton, et al. (2000) stated that “professional multicultural rehabilitation competencies and standards are necessary if persons with disabilities from diverse ethnic backgrounds are to be well served” (p. 220). Rosenthal, et al. (1999) stated that negative perceptions of VR counselors unfairly judge African Americans seeking VR services. Based on this study Rosenthal et al., (1999) concluded that European American VR counselors find some African American consumers ineligible for VR services, having based their decisions on stereotypes and biases.

Alston, Russo, and Miles, 1994; Fujiura, 2000; Jones, 2000; NOD/Harris; 1998 concluded in their studies that despite nearly half a century of civil rights reform and three decades of disability rights legislation, people of color and people with disabilities continue to experience social, economic, educational and vocational disadvantages. Hanna and Rogovosky (1992) stated that persons with disabilities who are also from racial and ethnic minority groups face dual disadvantages within the disabilities services system. A growing body of research has documented important racial differences in all stages of the VR process (Olney et al., 2002) such as the process from application, acceptance, service provision, case closure and current employment status.

Brown (1993) and Wheaton et al., (1996) suggested that the type and amount of VR services provided differ by racial or ethnic group. Wheaton’s (1997) research indicated that European Americans were more likely to receive services in the form of college, business school, vocational training, and on the job training than were African Americans. To this end, it is imperative to re-evaluate our VR programming eligibility determination component to identify areas of improvement as it relates to more inclusiveness of minorities in rates of acceptance.


Although some research shows statistically insignificant differences in acceptance rates across racial lines, the overall evidence shows a significant difference, in favor of European Americans.  This unequal outcome is especially true for African Americans, and merits focused attention, at the state and national levels to close the gap.

Future Research

Vocational rehabilitation as a social intervention program for consumers would be well served if opportunities for improvement are examined. The vocational rehabilitation system based on this literature review is currently serving the majority population.  Re-evaluating the eligibility component of vocational rehabilitation by examining counselor bias, providing multicultural trainings to staff,  as well as attempting to eliminate subjectivity in the determination process and recruiting more diverse staff into the vocational rehabilitation system may prove to be effective in increasing minority representation the VR system.



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