Vocational Rehabilitation:  A Beginner's Guide

By Martha Fidrych

Division of Vocational Rehabilitation is an agency I've always heard about, but never had a need for their services until I became the parent of two children with hearing loss.  What is Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) and how can they help with transition services?  What is the referral process?  Here is yet another set of new vocabulary for transitioning young adults and their parents:  informed choice, comparable benefits, client rights and responsibilities, and case closure among them.

Over two years ago I made an inquiring phone call to DVR asking if they could help my daughter in the transition process from high school to college.  I was fortunate enough to find a very knowledgeable person in our local office who immediately scheduled an appointment and sent us information to begin our relationship with a DVR counselor.  Now my second child is beginning the transition process and we have once again started to establish a relationship with a DVR counselor who not only understands the transition process, but has a hearing loss herself, happens to be fluent in sign language and seems more than happy to help us.

Under the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, a youth is eligible to receive DVR services if he or she meets the eligibility guidelines. In DVR language, this is a determination of the severity of a disability. At the most basic, the young adult must have a physical or mental impairment, can benefit in terms of an employment outcome from the provision of vocational rehabilitation services, and needs substantial vocational rehabilitation services to prepare for, secure, retain or regain employment consistent with his or her strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities and interests.  In addition, there is financial eligibility.  He or she is financially eligible if they currently receive and/or are entitled to SSI and or SSDI benefits for disability, or intend to become employed.

Therefore, a person must have a disability that interferes with the ability to work and must need vocational rehabilitation services to obtain or maintain employment.  Youth with disabilities are eligible, under the Rehabilitation Act, for transition services.  This includes youth within the general education system as well as the special education system.

Both the Local Education Agency (LEA) and the DVR have roles and responsibilities.  As listed in the Cooperative Services Handbook for Youth in Transition, (revised in June 2003), LEA appropriate services include: planning and IEP development based on the student's post-school goals, academic preparation for post-secondary educational training, vocational and career evaluation, job shadows and job tryouts, work experience, and vocational education classes.  DVR appropriate services include: consultation and technical assistance as early as possible in the transition process to assist education providers in planning for the transition of a youth from school to post-school activities including vocational rehabilitation, joint planning to facilitate the development and completion of the IEP, determination of eligibility for DVR services, identification of a suitable employment outcome, development and approval of an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) before the student leaves school, and provision of vocational rehabilitation services as appropriate to the individual needs of the student.  For deaf and hard of hearing young adults, services may be added to assist the student in reaching the vocational goal specific to the individual plan, such as interpreter support or other technology.  Some areas of service may appear to overlap and therefore become a shared service between the LEA and DVR.

What is the referral process?  Referral may be initiated by anyone.  As a parent I have made the initial contact with DVR for both my children in the transition process.  However schools, individuals, other family members, or community agencies may refer clients to DVR services. State-level agreements are presently in place, however it is encouraged that local school districts and DVR offices develop working agreements with DVR. Medical evaluations, recent IEP, 504 Plan, school transcripts, or other assessments that are appropriate to document a student's disability are helpful to DVR counselors in setting up a client's file in the referral process and determination of eligibility. Students might consider contacting DVR by the start of the last year of high school.

Within the DVR process, individuals are provided opportunities and assistance to exercise informed choice.  Encouragement is given to individuals to consider choices related to assessment, determination of vocational goal, development of a vocational plan, selection of services and service providers, and successful case closure.

Comparable benefits, individual contribution and least cost are all terms and conditions used under the implementation of DVR services.  Comparable benefits available under other programs must be used to pay for DVR services unless they will interfere or delay individual services to person under extreme medical risk.  Individual contribution is determined on the basis of economic need and available monthly resources of the established family unit.  Youth claimed as dependent for income tax purposes are considered part of that family unit and need is based on the total family income.  If the client is no longer claimed as a dependent on family income tax, they are viewed as a family of one.  A client receiving SSI or SSDI is the exception and economic need is not considered in the IPE process. Services provided to an individual must be at the least possible cost to DVR provided they are determined adequate to meet the individual needs.

A DVR client has rights and responsibilities.  These are carefully explained to each client as well as family members that attend appointments with the DVR counselor. Some examples are:  the right to appeal any decision, the right to be treated by DVR staff with respect and courtesy, as well as being an active participant in developing the IPE.  A signature is obtained from the client stating their rights have been explained and understood, as well as receives a copy in writing.

If DVR is unable to serve all eligible individuals, the individual is placed on a waiting list.  Priority categories have been established and when services are possible, services will be provided from most significantly disabled to least.  Order of selection of services is based on the following categories: 1) individuals with most significant disabilities; 2) individuals with significant disabilities: and 3) all other individuals.  Eligible clients not receiving DVR services will be provided information and referral services to other community agencies to help meet their employment needs.

Every DVR customer's case will be closed at some point.  These services are not ongoing, lifetime services.  The ideal outcome for case closure is successful rehabilitation of the client by obtaining and maintaining employment.

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