This article examines issues vocational rehabilitation service delivery to people with disabilities who live in rural communities. Topics are reviewed in terms of the unique challenges and opportunities encountered by rural rehabilitation counselors nd their clientele. Also discussed are implications for current and future VR service delivery to rural areas.
A substantial portion of the United States population resides in nonmetropolitan communities. Current statistics show that 56 million Americans, roughly one-quarter of this nation's population, live in areas of the country identified as rural. Of this total, there are an estimated 15 million people with disabilities (William T. Grant Foundation, 1988). Demographic projections have also shown that disability rates are proportionately higher in rural areas than in metropolitan regions (Leland & Schneider, 1982). Due to these, and related factors, it is imperative that vocational rehabilitation professionals develop an understanding and awareness of rehabilitation practices designed for people with disabilities in rural areas.
Rural Americans tend to experience other problems that accentuate the need for appropriate vocational rehabilitation services. For instance, people living in rural areas tend to be more economically, educationally, and vocationally disadvantaged than their urban counterparts (Lam, Chan, Parker, & Carter, 1987). Americans in rural areas have the country's highest rates of poverty with over 14 million people living at or below the poverty line. A report by the William T. Grant Foundation (1988) declared that "poverty anywhere is often accompanied by illiteracy, unemployment, underemployment, inadequate health care, high rates of early and unplanned pregnancies and infant mortality, and substandard housing and education".
People living in rural areas must also contend with limited community resources and fewer educational and employment opportunities (Lam et al., 1987; Lowrey, 1980). As a result, people in rural communities tend to have lower levels of educational attainment, personal and professional goals, and earnings in relation to people in urban settings (White, 1990).
Despite the myriad of problems experienced by the rural population, there is only minimal understanding and limited empirical research available on the problems and conditions that surround the vocational rehabilitation needs of people in rural and sparsely populated areas or on the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs and the differential service needs of rural clients (Lam et al., 1987).
Definition and Characteristics
There is no clear consensus regarding a definition of the term "rural" (Helge, 1984; Parrish & Lynch, 1990); however, the United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) designation of standard metropolitan statistical areas (SMSA) is often cited to distinguish between urban and rural areas. A SMSA is a "single county area or group of contiguous counties that includes at least one |central city' of 50,000 inhabitants or in some instances contiguous twin cities that together meet this population minimum." Areas that fall outside of commuting distance to SMSA's are considered rural (U.S. Dept. of Commerce, 1983, p. xviii). The U.S. Census defines rural as "open country" or towns with fewer than 2,500 inhabitants (White, 1990).
Rural areas are poorly understood and largely forgotten. As such, there are a number...