Vocational Rehabilitation is a federally mandated program that provides persons with disabilities the career resources -- including college education, on-the-job training, and access to assistive technology -- needed to achieve self-sufficiency.
Along with Special Education, Vocational Rehabilitation is crucial for helping persons with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities to develop into productive adults able to lead independent lives. Both programs are administered at the state level.
Amy Clark is a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Clark is responsible for all blind and visually impaired students in the Seacoast Region.
In this interview, conducted via email on October 23, 2012, Clark discusses what persons with disabilities need to know about how Vocational Rehabilitation works and how they can get started determining which programs and services can enhance self-sufficiency.
What is Vocational Rehabilitation?
Vocational Rehabilitation is a federally and state funded program designed to help individuals who have various disabilities to find meaningful gainful employment. The program is actively run in all 50 states. One must meet eligibility criteria in order to receive Vocational Rehabilitation services.
Vocational Rehabilitation Serves Wide Range of Disabilities
Who Does Vocational Rehabilitation Serve?
Vocational Rehabilitation serves a wide variety of individuals where the disabling condition presents an impediment or barrier to employment. There are two general eligibility criteria for receiving Vocational Rehabilitation in New Hampshire:
- There must be a physical, learning, or psychological disability present supported by medical documentation from a doctor, psychologist, or licensed professional
- The disability must be severe enough to be keeping the individual from finding employment or advancing in the field of work or from satisfactorily preforming the duties of the current job (e.g. possible risk of termination from the job).
At NHVR, there are specialty counselors as well, such as ones who specifically serve customers who are blind or visually impaired or clients who are deaf or hard of hearing. There are also some special eligibility requirements relating to the severity of a visual or hearing impairment.
Are There Any Age Restrictions?
Yes. Vocational Rehabilitation primarily serves individuals ages 15-16 through 70's or sometimes 80's. If a customer is 85 years old with a disability and wants to look for part-time employment, they are still eligible for VR services. The person just needs to be able to participate in job search related services and meetings with the counselor. Another example is a high school student who is 16 and has a disability, the VR counselor would become involved in the IEP planning and career/college planning for the student for when he or she graduates high school in two years. The general rule is a referral can be made about two years prior to the student graduating from high school.
Vocational Rehabilitation Services Help Clients Achieve Career Goals
What Types of Services Can Vocational Rehabilitation provide?
VR can provide a wide variety of services depending on the individuals' job goal and needs. These services range from job search, job coaching, help with interview skills, assistance with resume writing, assistive technology assessments, computer training, vocational evaluation, and career guidance and counseling.
May I Contact Vocational Rehabilitation Directly, or Do I Need a Referral?
Yes. Individuals can refer themselves to their local Vocational Rehabilitation agency. A physician or community agency can also make a referral on someone's behalf.
What is Involved in the Process for Receiving Services?
After the referral is made the counselor will contact the individual to schedule an intake interview meeting. This is when all personal information will be reviewed including current impediments to employment and vocational goals. If the individual and the counselor determine that Vocational Rehabilitation would be appropriate to help the individual then the application for services is explained and signed. Then medical documentation of the disability must be supplied to Vocational Rehabilitation.
How Long Can One Receive Vocational Rehabilitation Services?
Services with VR are always considered to be short term support services, however there is no defined limit to how long services can be provided as long as the customer continues to make continuous forward progress towards their vocational goal. Services can be as short term as 3-4 months and as long term and several years. Once the vocational goal is achieved the current case with Vocational Rehabilitation would be closed. The customer can reopen the case if a significant vocational need arises.
Vocational Rehabilitation Resources
Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Service -- US Department of Veterans Affairs
Provides comprehensive rehabilitation evaluation, counseling, and employment planning services, job-seeking skills, post-secondary and on-the-job training, and independent living and support services for veterans.
Florida Department of Education
Concise directory of vocational rehabilitation resources in the state of Florida; also includes many national organizations, educational institutions, government programs and websites relating to specific disabilities.
Nonprofit that promotes disability awareness and information access maintains a comprehensive online listing of vocational rehabilitation resources at the national and state levels, including sections on assessment, education, and employment for individuals and professionals.