In my previous post I briefly discussed vocational rehabilitation services for post secondary students with disabilities. In this post I’ll address what rehabilitation services are, who is eligible for them, and how to get them.
People with disabilities, advocates, and family members are generally familiar with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibits discrimination against qualified persons with disabilities by programs that receive federal financial assistance. But there is another important section of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 USC 720, that establishes a system to help individuals with disabilities obtain employment. This legislation provides federal grants to help states provide vocational rehabilitation (VR) services to eligible individuals with disabilities. Each state and United States territory has a vocational rehabilitation agency responsible for providing vocational rehabilitation services to assist eligible individuals prepare for and engage in gainful and competitive employment.
Who is eligible for VR services?
To be eligible for vocational rehabilitation services an individual must:
(1) have a physical or mental impairment that is a barrier to employment;
(2) need VR services to prepare for, secure, retain, or regain employment; and
(3) be able to benefit from those VR services.
In some cases, not every individual who is eligible will be able to receive VR services. The legislation requires vocational rehabilitation agencies, when resources are limited, to give priority to serving individuals with the most significant disabilities. You should contact your state vocational rehabilitation agency for information regarding how services are prioritized in your state or territory.
What are vocational rehabilitation services?
Vocational rehabilitation agencies can offer a wide array of services to assist individuals with disabilities obtain, retain, or regain employment. Services are determined by the vocational needs of the individual and are provided to assist the individual to achieve an employment outcome. Examples of these services include:
● an assessment to determine eligibility for VR services and VR needs;
● vocational counseling, guidance, and referral services;
● vocational training including on-the-job and other training and including books, tools and other materials;
● maintenance: monetary support for costs like food, shelter, and clothing that are more than normal and needed due to the individual’s participation in VR services;
● transportation that is connected to rendering other VR services;
● vocational rehabilitation services to family members if the services are necessary to enable the individual to achieve an employment outcome;
● interpreter services, including sign language or oral interpreting services to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and tactile interpreting services for individuals who are deaf-blind;
● reader services, rehabilitation teaching services, and orientation and mobility services for individuals who are blind;
● job related services including job search and placement assistance, job retention services, and follow-up and follow-along services;
● supported employment services;
● personal assistance services to assist with daily living activities;
● transition services to assist students with disabilities to transition from school to work; and
● rehabilitation technology: rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology devices and services.
While extensive, this list of services is not exhaustive. Remember that in order to receive any or all of these services, the need for the service must be linked to a vocational outcome.
How does a person with a disability receive VR services?
Individuals apply for services through VR offices within their state vocational rehabilitation agency. A VR counselor will be assigned to assess and determine eligibility. Eligibility must be determined within 60 days, unless there are exceptional and unforeseen circumstances or more time is needed to adequately assess the individual’s abilities, capabilities and capacity to perform in work situations.
If eligible, the individual will meet with their VR counselor to develop an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). It may be necessary to do additional assessments to determine an appropriate employment outcome for the individual and the services needed to meet that goal. The IPE will document the employment outcome and the services, responsibilities, and timelines to achieve that outcome. The IPE will document both the responsibilities of the VR agency and the responsibilities of the individual with a disability.
What if the individual disagrees with the counselor regarding the IPE or encounters other problems in obtaining VR services?
Individuals have the right to appeal if they disagree with determinations made by their VR agency. The appeal procedures include the right to mediation and the right to an impartial due process hearing.
Mediation is a process that uses a person (mediator) who is trained in effective mediation techniques to help the individual and the VR agency resolve the disagreement. The mediator does not impose a decision on the individual or the agency, but helps the two sides come to a mutual agreement on a resolution. Mediation is voluntary and the mediator must be impartial.
On the other hand, an impartial hearing is a process that uses a hearing officer to decide the dispute. At the hearing, the hearing officer will listen to evidence from both sides and make a decision. The agency and the individual must follow the hearing officer’s decision unless they appeal.
Each state and territory has a Client Assistance Program (CAP) that is available to assist individuals with disabilities in navigating the vocational rehabilitation process and providing assistance in the appeal process. Individuals should contact the Client Assistance Program within their state or territory for that assistance.
Filed under: Vocational Rehabilitation