When I graduated from high school, I became a client of Vocational Rehabilitation. I participated in the program for seven years. I learned many things about how the “system” works.
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is an agency that helps provide people with disabilities training and education, with the understanding that at the end of the service, they can become gainfully employed. VR provides support on an individualized basis because no two people can obtain the exact same support. The amount of support is based upon the needs of the client, obtained through various evaluations and an extensive client interview. In the words of a Colorado VR specialist, “just remember, youth or not....anyone can apply for services with VR as long as the individual has a documented disability which presents a barrier to employment, needs our services and can benefit, they would be found eligible. It doesn’t matter if such an individual is on a current IEP, a 504 Plan or no formal plan at all in school.”
How VR functions and supports people varies from state to state and office to office. It is not the same everywhere. VR exists in all states, but regulations vary between different states.
Many people have the misconception that VR provides free flowing money, or that it will buy anything the client needs to be independent and successful. It does not work that way. VR does not just give money to the clients who ask for it.
Going through the process to get VR support can be rigorous. The end goal, however, is that your child, the client, will obtain support that no other agency can provide. Here are some bullet points about the process.
- An extensive amount of paperwork is required.
- A hearing loss or disability does not guarantee VR support by itself.
- Typically, current and complete school evaluations are required. (Evaluations from 6th grade will not work.) This may be the family’s obligation to provide if the school has not completed these. Prepare early during high school.
- The process can be long and time consuming. Many states have long waiting lists for services.
- The process is continually changing, so it is important to read and reread everything.
- All requested information (i.e. finances, medical records, etc.) must be provided.
- The process of obtaining services can last for months.
- The client must be willing to discuss their hearing loss and any other “labels.”
- The client must be willing to discuss himself/herself, such as strength and weaknesses, and the benefits from accommodations.
- Parents cannot speak for their child, who is the potential VR client.
- The VR client has to give permission for a parent to be present at meetings.
If your child is approved to become a VR client, they will have to sign a contract. These contracts are legally binding with consequences, just like any other contract. They can be approximately 10 - 20 pages long. Once the contract is signed, generally speaking, absolutely nothing can be changed. I could not make any changes to my contract. Five years in to my seven year contract span, I got married and became a parent. I still could not make any changes to my contract. I am making a point of this because it was in my contract that I was not to work while going to school. I adhered to the contract, despite having kids to support. These contracts can be hard for anyone to read and understand, let alone a person fresh out of high school with a disability. It is essential for a parent to assist their child throughout this process, and yet the contract is with the child, not the parents.
It might be beneficial if your child, the client, speaks hypothetically with their counselor prior to making any decisions during the term of their contract to ensure that a decision will not negatively impact their services. VR will keep all information confidential.
I recommend that before the VR meeting, parents discuss with their child how they can help them through this process. The parent’s role during this process depends upon the child. I have yet to meet another client that did not need some type of guidance through this process. Then last, most importantly, please do NOT yell, insult, or put down the VR counselor. He or she does not make the rules or develop the VR process. I personally found that if you are respectful and follow the terms of the contract, the counselor will do whatever they can to help.
Editor’s note: This author is writing under a pseudonym due to privacy concerns with the VR contract, but wanted to share a consumer perspective for parents