U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Employment Rehabilitation Services in Michigan

Chapter 1


Rehabilitation Services

In passing the Americans with Disabilities Act, Congress found that, historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities. Despite improvements, discrimination in employment against individuals with disabilities continues to be a serious and pervasive social problem. Within the provision of services to individuals with disabilities, additional forms of discrimination may exist on the basis of the individual's race, ethnicity, and/or severity of disability. Each year this Nation spends billions of tax dollars and private monies to rehabilitate persons with disabilities in order to support their entry or reentry into the work force. In Michigan these efforts are directed by the Michigan Jobs Commission, Rehabilitation Services (MJC RS)[1] and the Michigan Commission for the Blind (MCB). MJC RS and MCB receive the vast majority of their funding from the State and Federal Governments. The Federal dollars allotted to the MJC RS are primarily allocated under title I of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. State dollars are used to match Federal dollars and also provide some nonfederally supported services. There are 35 MJC RS offices throughout the State.

MJC RS works with individuals with a wide range of disabilities except for those legally blind, who are served by the Michigan Commission for the Blind. The MJC RS clients need vocational rehabilitation services in order to work, and all applicants for MJC RS services are presumed able to work. A person with a disability is eligible for MJC RS services if the disability causes substantial problems in obtaining or keeping a job. MJC RS services are based on the availability of State and Federal funds.

MJC RS provides medical and vocational evaluations, counseling, job placement, and followup services. Each Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS) client follows a four-step process. First, the client's individual abilities, rehabilitation needs, and job interests are assessed. Second, an Individual Written Rehabilitation Program (IWRP) is developed to assist the client in making an informed choice concerning an employment goal. Third, the client receives the services set out in the IWRP. Fourth, the client and the agency work together to find employment. Once the client is employed, a followup is done for 60 days to ensure both employer and employee satisfaction. Some of these as well as other services are coordinated through public and private agencies in the community.

Race and Disability

The 1990 census of the United States reports whites to be 76.3 percent of the population, African Americans 11.5 percent, Hispanics 8.6 percent, Asians 2.8 percent, and American Indians approximately 1 percent. Though the exact incidence of various disabling conditions among the population is unknown, studies have been conducted to try to learn the prevalence of disability among racial and ethnic groups.[2] 

African Americans

Among working-age adults, 13,420,000 are estimated to have a disability that impairs their ability to work. Approximately 2,512,000 of these individuals, 18.7 percent, are African Americans.  This represents roughly 13.7 percent of African Americans in this age group (16 64) who account for only 11.7 percent of the overall working-age population.[3] Moreover, approximately 1,803,000 of the working-age individuals, 24.2 percent, with severe disabilities are African Americans. African Americans with a severe disability account for a high 71.8 percent of all African Americans with a disability. Whites, by contrast, are just 63 percent of persons with severe disabilities, and only 52 percent of whites with a disability are severely disabled.[4]

African Americans account for 22 percent of persons with a disability who are unemployed or not working. In fact, the unemployment rate for African Americans with a disability is almost double the overall 14.2 percent rate among individuals with a disability. By contrast, African Americans are underrepresented among persons with disabilities who participate in the labor force. They account for only 12.9 percent of individuals with disabilities who are working, below their 13.7 percent of individuals with disabilities.[5] 

Service delivery to and employment outcomes of African Americans with a work-related disability who participate in the State vocational rehabilitation programs have been shown to reflect inequalities. For example, a larger percentage of African American applicants were not accepted for services; and of the applicants accepted for services, African American clients were considered less likely to be rehabilitated.  They were frequently screened out without receiving much needed services. African Americans received less vocational rehabilitation educational services, training, and financial aid for colleges, universities, business schools, and vocational schools than their white counterparts. Such inequalities were found to exist throughout all regions of the country.[6] 


Of the estimated 13,420,000 working-age Americans with disabilities, approximately 1,012,000, 7.5 percent, are Hispanic. This is 8.2 percent of all Hispanics in this age group. Nine percent of the working-age population with disabilities are Hispanic, and Hispanics with a severe disability are 67.8 percent of all Hispanics with disabilities.[7] 

Among working-age Hispanics with a disability, 777,000, 76.8 percent, do not work. Hispanics are also underrepresented among persons with disabilities who participate in the labor force. Hispanics account for only 5.5 percent of individuals with a disability who are working, which is below 7.5 percent of all individuals with a disability in this age group. Further, almost half, 47.5 percent, of Hispanic adults with disabilities have less than 12 years of schooling, which creates a further impediment to employment opportunities.[8]

Similar to African Americans, the service delivery to and employment outcomes of Hispanics with a work-related disability who participate in State vocational rehabilitation programs have also been shown to reflect inequalities. An analysis of participation and outcome characteristics for Hispanics with disabilities who participated in public vocational rehabilitation programs in 1989 found that of the 49,630 Hispanic applicants, 46 percent were not accepted for services. Further, of those accepted for services, 36 percent were closed without being rehabilitated.[9]

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

No studies on disability incidence rates among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been conducted.  The annual report of the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), reports that of those persons receiving rehabilitation services in 1990, Asian Americans accounted for 1.3 percent of the total. This is lower than the Asian American 2.8 percent of the total population, suggesting a lower participation rate in rehabilitation programs. Other data from the RSA annual report also suggest lower participation rates of Asian Americans.

The profile of clients served by State independent living agencies for FY 1991 indicates the percentage of Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders at 1 percent. Only 1.3 percent of the clients served in FY 1991 under client assistance programs, receiving advocacy or ombudsman assistance, were of Asian descent.[10]

American Indians

There are approximately 500 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaskan native villages. These tribes and native villages greatly vary in size, population, language, religious practices, economic activities, and geographic location. Nevertheless, American Indians as a subpopulation share many common characteristics in terms of culture, education, social status, health, employment, and income.

Although American Indians are less than 1 percent of the total population, they have the highest disability rate, 21.9 percent, compared with all other major racial and ethnic groups.[11] Among those who have severe disabilities, American Indians have a disability prevalence rate of 9.8 percent, second only to the prevalence rate of 12.2 percent for African Americans.[12]

Even as American Indians are overrepresented among persons with disabilities, they are underrepresented among those who receive State and Federal services because of poor economic conditions and low educational attainment. In addition, American Indians with disabilities lack easy access to services due to distance, cultural, and sometimes, language problems.[13]

In general, American Indians living on reservations or in urban areas have lower incomes compared with the general population. Poor economic conditions are even more pronounced for American Indians with disabilities. In recent studies conducted by the American Indian Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, 40 to 50 percent of American Indians with disabilities living in selected communities reported annual incomes of less than $5,000.[14] Despite having a high prevalence of disabling conditions, American Indians are less likely to seek vocational rehabilitation services, and are less likely to be successfully rehabilitated compared with the general population.[15]

Incidence of Disability in Michigan 

The census reports on disability as part of its decennial count. The 1990 census reported 203,865 individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 in Michigan with a disability and in the labor force.[16] The unemployment rate for this group was 16 percent, a rate more than twice that of the nondisabled labor force. An additional 331,951 individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 in Michigan have a disability and are not in the labor force. 

MRS collects data on all clients. These data are maintained in a central database, which contains 66 specific data items on each client, including: name, address, gender, race, number of times client has been through the system, case type, disability, severity of disability, health insurance, education, marital status, dependents, intake date, referrals, work status, employer, hours worked, and occupation. These data are also reported to the Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration, in Washington, D.C., which is the primary Federal grant agency.

The Rehabilitation Service Issue: Purpose and Design of the Study

Persons with disabilities wishing to access rehabilitation services could face two limiting factors on the availability and quality of services. The first possible limiting factor is severity of disability, and the second is race and/or ethnicity.

Because individuals with more severe disabilities may be more difficult to place and more expensive to serve, it can be plausibly hypothesized that the more severe a person's disability the less likely it is that the individual will be found eligible for services. Furthermore, the person is likely to receive a lower quality outcome. In general parlance this phenomenon is called creaming, i.e., persons who are expected to cost less and have a higher likelihood of a quick, successful placement are given services.

The Michigan Advisory Committee also theorizes that race and/or ethnicity may be a factor in the determination of eligibility and quality of services. Specifically, the Committee believes that minorities may receive a lower quantity and quality of rehabilitation services than nonminorities. 

Table 1
Disability and Employment Status by Gender for Michigan, Persons 16 Years and Over









16 to 64 years with a work disability

16 to 64 years with a work disability 

In labor force:


In labor force: 










Not in labor force:


Not in labor force:


Prevented from working


Prevented from working


Not prevented from working 


Not prevented from working 


No work disability

No work disability

In labor force: 

In labor force:









Not in labor force


Not in labor force


Source: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Midwestern Regional Office, from 1990 Census, File Tape Summary STF 3A.

The purpose of this study by the Michigan Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is to examine whether persons with disabilities wishing to access rehabilitation services face limiting factors on the availability and quality of services with regard to severity of disability and/or race and ethnicity. The study was a three-step process, with each step set out as an individual section of the report.

The first part of the study examines the legislation, administration, and monitoring activities pertinent to the delivery of rehabilitation services. The second part is a presentation of perspectives on the delivery of rehabilitation services. The information in this part is drawn from a public factfinding meeting held in Lansing, Michigan, in June 1998.

The third step of the study is an analysis of data. The data analysis was limited to the tricounty MJC RS service area of Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham Counties. This area was selected as a representative area because of its central location, relatively sizable population that is racially and ethnically diverse, and the area's mixture of rural and urban populations. Services provided by the Michigan Commission for the Blind were not analyzed as part of this study.

Based upon its (1) understanding of the legislation, administration, and regulation of rehabilitation services; (2) testimony received at its factfinding meeting and other submitted material; and (3) analysis of the rehabilitation service delivery data, the Michigan Advisory Committee made findings as to whether the severity of disability, race, and/or ethnicity is a factor in the provision of employment and rehabilitation services to individuals with disabilities. These findings along with recommendations are set out in part 5 of the report.

Authority of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and State Advisory Committees

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is charged with the duty to study and collect information concerning legal developments constituting discrimination or a denial of equal protection of the laws under the Constitution because of race, color, religion, gender, age, disability, or national origin. The Commission is also to appraise Federal laws and policies with respect to discrimination or a denial of equal protection of the laws. 

An Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been established in each of the 50 States and the District of Columbia. Advisory Committees are to advise the Commission of all relevant information concerning their respective States on matters within the jurisdiction of the Commission, and receive reports, suggestions, and recommendations from individuals, public and private organizations, and public officials upon matters pertinent to inquiries conducted by the State Advisory Committee.

[1] The Michigan Jobs Commission, Rehabilitation Services, is now the Michigan Department of Career Development, Rehabilitation Services.

[2] Census data on the incidence of disability is not considered definitive with respect to rehabilitation services because the census survey does not purport to determine the severity of the disability or whether the disability restricts an individual's opportunity for employment.

[3] F. Bowe, Black Adults with Disabilities: A Portrait, prepared for the President's Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1991).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] B.J. Atkins and T. N. Wright, Vocational Rehabilitation of Blacks, Journal of Rehabilitation, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 42 46; and S. Walker et al., Frequency and Distribution of Disabilities among Blacks, in Equal to the Challenge, Howard University, Washington, DC, 1986.

[7] F. Bowe, Disabled Adults of Hispanic Origin: A Portrait, prepared for the President's Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1991).

[8] Ibid.

[9] A. Leal-Idrogo, Vocational Rehabilitation of People of Hispanic Origin, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, vol. 3, no. 1, 1991, pp. 27 37.

[10] United States Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration, 1990 Annual Report.

[11] J.M. McNeil, Americans with Disabilities: 1991 92, U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports (PLO 33) (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1993).

[12] Ibid.

[13] J.R. Joe, Government Policies and Disabled People in American Indian Communities, Disability, Handicap, and Society, vol. 3, 1989, pp. 253 62.

[14] C.A. Marshall, M.J. Johnson, and R.C. Saravanabhaven, The Assessment of a Model for Determining Community-Based Needs of American Indians with Disabilities, (Flagstaff, AZ: American Indian Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, Northern Arizona University, 1990).

[15] J.C. O Connell, ed., The Special Problems and Needs of American Indians with Handicaps both on and off the Reservation, vol. 1 (Flagstaff, AZ: American Indian Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, Northern Arizona University, 1987). 

[16] The labor force is defined as the total number of individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 who are employed and those not employed but seeking employment.