The viability of self employment for individuals with disabilities in the United States: A synthesis of empirical-research literature

Authors: Yao-Jen Chang, Hung-Huan Liu, Shu-Min Peng, Tsen-Yung Wang
Year Published 2011
Publication Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation
Volume 35
Number 2
Pages 117-127
Publisher IOS Press

The lack of employment opportunities and stable employment for individuals with disabilities continues to pose personal and social difficulties and challenges. Individuals with disabilities experience persistently higher poverty rates. Very little is known about individuals with disability in self employment as compared to the more extensive research literature on individuals with a disability who work for someone else.


Paper reports on a review, analysis, and synthesis the findings of empirical-research studies on self-employment of individuals with disabilities in the United States. Paper addresses the question: "How viable is self employment for individuals with disabilities in the U.S."


This study is a systematic review. The included studies were undertaken in various locations and settings.


The data search used five large data bases: Academic Search Premier, ERIC, PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts, and Business Source Premier/Econ-Lit. The database search used the terms self employment, entrepreneurship and micro enterprise as synonymous terms in the search. Results were sorted to identify U.S. empirical literature. Twelve studies met the selection criteria.

Data Collection

Coding of selected studies comprised the following steps: First author completed multiple readings noting, for example, research questions, research design, data collection and measurement, and research findings, and limitations. Second and third author evaluated first and second authors evaluated first authors coding for accuracy. Full interobserver accuracy (100%) was established before proceeding to the synthesis of selected studies.


There were no comparison or control conditions.


In recent years, approximately 12% of working individuals with disabilities have earned an income from self-employment. The national Vocational Rehabilitation closure rates in self employment have remained around 2-3% since the late 1980s (although the rate varies considerably from state to state). The reasons individuals with disabilities pursue self employment are diverse and vary in complexity. Individuals can derive a range of benefits and challenges in self employment. Primary benefit is financial. Other potential benefits involve having a more of a decision making role in their own lives, and personal control and autonomy. Primary challenge in self employment is the access to adequate capital and financing for funding a business, extending beyond individual and family resources. Support in self employment has typically meant relying on a patchwork of resources.


In the 21st century, self employment can be a catalyst for expanding work opportunities and improving outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Tentative indications that Individuals with disabilities can succeed in self employment under certain conditions involve a number of stakeholders. State and federal agencies could expand their support of self employment for individuals with disabilities through the establishment of micro finance development funds outside the VR system.

Disabilities Emotional disturbance | Intellectual disabilities | Specific learning disabilities | Visual impairments
Populations Male & Female | Rural | Urban
Outcomes Self-employment
NIDILRR Funded Yes
Research Design Systematic reviews and meta-analysis
Peer Reviewed Yes