Many people with disabilities throughout the United States have taken advantage of their state’s vocational rehabilitation services, with varying degrees of success. Vocational rehabilitation services — mandated under the Rehabilitation Act and provided through the states — are offered to individuals with disabilities who have a “physical or mental impairment that constitutes or results in a substantial barrier to employment, and requires VR services to prepare for, secure, retain or regain employment.”
Though many people learn about VR services while they’re in rehabilitation — and others through high school — becoming eligible doesn’t mean you’ll get all the services you want or need. Agreement on the type, scope and length of services has been the source of much conflict between individuals with disabilities and the VR agencies.
VR services can include: assessment, vocational counseling, guidance, transition services, vocational training, medical rehabilitation, rehabilitation technology, maintenance, transportation, interpreter services, readers, orientation and mobility for blind individuals, personal assistance services, supported employment services, and job placement assistance. Depending on individual and/or family financial resources, they may be asked to share in the cost.
Ideally, a VR counselor should help the individual determine employment goals and the path needed to reach those goals, which may include postsecondary education. VR may also assist with tuition, fees, books, room and board, transportation and maintenance, among other things.
Because of shrinking budgets at the federal and state levels and more people applying for services, however, many states are unable to serve all those who are eligible. When this happens, states are able to implement what is called an “order of selection,” giving priority to those with the most significant disabilities.
Virginia has been under an order of selection for eight years, says Linda Harris, coordinator for educational accessibility at Tidewater Community College. She oversees the services to more than 800 students with disabilities college-wide. “Many of the students who are wheelchair users are not likely to be eligible for VR today because of the order of selection. Not unless they have multiple disabilities requiring multiple services,” she says.
An order of selection doesn’t guarantee a good outcome, either. Ellis Torres-Acosta, retired Client Assistance Program advocate from Illinois, represented a 21-year-old man with cerebral palsy who used a power wheelchair and a communication board. His counselor was closing his case aft