How to Get the Most Out of Vocational Rehabilitation

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Who Is Eligible?

Anyone with a disability who wants to work and can, with the right supports and services.

According to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a person who is determined by qualified personnel to require services because of a physical, mental, or emotional disability that interferes substantially with employment is eligible for vocational rehabilitation.

People with visual disabilities in both eyes are eligible for vocational rehabilitation via the Division of Blind Services (DBS), housed at the state Department of Education (DOE). Those with any other disabilities who are eligible for vocational rehabilitation receive services from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), also at DOE.

Those who have Social Security benefits (SSI or SSDI) based on their own disabilities are presumed to be eligible for vocational rehabilitation, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that they are too significantly disabled to benefit from DVR or DBS services.

Top 10 Tips

  1. Fill out an application for Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) or Division of Blind Services (DBS) services so that an official decision can be made on your eligibility. Students and their parents should complete the application well before the student with a disability leaves high school.
  2. Obtain as much information as possible about DVR and DBS so you understand the eligibility criteria and your ability to negotiate services as an eligible client. Be a wise consumer!
  3. Youths with disabilities must be able to describe their disability and how the disability may prevent them from working without DVR or DBS services. This is one of the questions that will be asked in order to determine eligibility. Prepare to answer this question realistically.
  4. The Rehabilitation Act requires that a student found eligible for DVR or DBS services must leave the school system with a completed Individualized Program for Employment (IPE). It is in your interest to work with DVR or DBS to establish eligibility while you are still in school so that you will be approved to receive services under an IPE by the time you leave school.
  5. If you are determined eligible, an IPE will be developed and you should be given “informed choice” in selecting the services you require to become employed. You should be allowed informed choice when selecting services, vendors, providers, and the job goal.
  6. DVR and DBS are employment programs. Agreeing to an employment goal is central to receiving services. Focus on establishing an employment goal. DVR and DBS can pay for career assessments or work evaluations to help you identify your employment goal. Training will be provided if it is necessary to achieve your employment goal. Be ready to explain why any requested training will help you obtain your employment goal.
  7. Plan for a meaningful career. Set a long-range goal other than entry-level employment. If you have the ability, capability and interests to succeed in an occupation that requires advanced training, make sure to negotiate this from the beginning with your DVR or DBS counselor.
  8. Your IPE can be amended if there are additional services you require to become employed. Make sure to stay in close communication with your DVR or DBS counselor.
  9. Know your rights and exercise them when necessary! Use the DVR or DBS chain of command if you encounter problems that you cannot resolve with your counselor’s assistance.
  10. If you are verbally denied a service, always request the decision in writing with the reason and the policy that is being used to deny you. Don’t take no for an answer if services will help you become employed. You have the right to appeal the counselor's decision to a higher authority. Your rights should be provided to you in writing and in an accessible format.

When to Apply

When Should A Young Person Apply?

Early. Normally at age 16, but before the last year of high school. If the student is at risk of dropping out of school, long before.

The time to apply for vocational rehabilitation should be specified in the student’s IEP or 504 plan. A state DVR or DBS counselor or a member of the Transition IEP team can recommend the best time.

It is better for a student not to wait until his or her senior year to apply.

Federal law requires DVR and DBS to establish eligiblity within 60 days of application. The student, parent, or advocate should be in close contact with education and DVR or DBS officials to apply for services and to monitor the process after applying.

If the vocational rehabilitation agency is prepared to participate in the student’s transition process, an early application can make an important difference in the outcome. In Florida, DBS is prepared with transition programs and counseling for students age 14 and DVR is ready at age 16.

The process takes time — time to apply for services, time to undergo any evaluations that may be required, time for the eligiblity decision, time to be assigned a counselor, time to formulate a strategy, and time to write and negotiate the employment plan or IPE.

Some students have benefited from applying as early as age 14. Others — especially those seeking services from DVR instead of DBS — have found that applying for DVR services in the junior year of high school leaves enough time to take advantage of the entire transition process. That can change, so it’s a good idea to discuss the timing with counselors at school and the state agencies.

A student who does not apply for DVR or DBS services while he or she is in school can still apply later and be approved — there is no age limit for eligibility — but in most cases, the sooner the services begin, the better the outcome.

Ticket to Work

People with disabilities who are also beneficiaries of Social Security may receive employment-related services and supports under the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999. The Ticket is a voucher for services that will help eligible beneficiaries with their transition to work.

The Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Florida Division of Blind Services are providers to whom eligible clients may choose to assign their Ticket, but there are dozens of other providers in the state of Florida. To learn more about other providers, please visit http://ssa.gov/work/  or http://www.yourtickettowork.com.

People with disabilities can lose their eligibility for Medicaid and Medicare if they go to work. If you are receiving benefits and thinking about employment, be aware that working could affect your benefits. Please talk to your benefits planner. If you have problems, call Disability Rights Florida at 1-800-342-0823.

To learn more, please contact the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance program serving your area:

Details You Need to Know

Work with your teachers and school administrators to make sure that applying for Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) or Division of Blind Services (DBS) is on your IEP or Section 504 plan. Don’t wait until late in your senior year to apply. Make sure you fill out an application so that DVR or DBS can make a formal decision on your eligibility well before you leave the school system.

What is the advantage of having DVR or DBS make a decision on my eligibility for services before I leave high school?

The federal law requires that if you are eligible, you must leave school with an approved DVR or DBS Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). With an IPE, you can begin receiving services from DVR or DBS. Otherwise, you may experience unnecessary delays.

What help can I request from DVR or DBS if I am determined eligible?

If you are found eligible, you and your counselor will develop and agree to an IPE that will list your employment goal and the services you need to reach it. The services are individualized and unique to your situation, so feel free to discuss your specific needs with your counselor. You should be able to explain why your requests will help you succeed in your rehabilitation program.

What services can DVR and DBS provide me?

Vocational exploration, career and interest assessments, trial-work experiences, on-the-job training, job coaching, supported employment, career planning, counseling and guidance, assistive technology (aids, devices and training), assistance with transportation to participate in your rehabilitation program, vocational training programs, college training, medical and psychological diagnosis and treatment, support services, rehabilitation engineering evaluations and services, and job placement.

Remember, services may be unique to you. Don’t hesitate to discuss your needs with your counselor.

Does DVR and DBS only help with entry-level employment?

No. The Rehabilitation Act requires that individuals with disabilities have an active voice in choosing employment goals and meaningful careers consistent with their interests, strengths, resources, priorities, concerns and capabilities. VR and DBS will pay for an advanced degree if that is appropriate.

If I have a problem with DVR or DBS decisions on my case, whom can I contact to learn more about my rights?

Your counselor and the counselor’s supervisor should help you understand your rights to challenge any decision you disagree with. The Client Assistance Program at Disability Rights Florida is also available to provide information, advice, negotiation or possible representation in disputes with VR agencies in Florida. Please call 1-800-342-0823 if you need additional assistance or information to resolve disputes with DVR or DBS.

DVR and DBS are required to serve all eligible clients. If DVR or DBS can’t pay for everyone, the agency must — under federal supervision — go to a process called an “order of selection,” serving the most severely disabled clients first. Florida has implemented a “Financial Needs Participation” Policy requiring some clients to help pay for services.  Florida has also implemented an “order of selection.”

What Does DVR and DBS Do?

They help people with disabilities choose the kind of work they’d like to do, learn to do it and get the chance to do it.

DVR and DBS Provide or Arrange for Many Services Including:

  • assistance with transition
  • vocational exploration
  • career and interest assessments
  • trial-work experiences
  • on-the-job training
  • job coaching
  • supported employment
  • career planning
  • counseling, guidance and referrals
  • technology (aids, devices and training)
  • assistance with transportation to rehabilitation
  • vocational training
  • college
  • medical and psychological diagnosis and treatment
  • physical and mental restoration services
  • help with additional costs during rehabilitation
  • interpreters for the hearing impaired and readers for the visually impaired
  • personal assistance (including training in directing personal assistance) during rehabilitation
  • support services (group homes, sheltered workshops, supported work programs, job coaches, for example)
  • assistive technology evaluations and services
  • job placement

The choice of services in the plan should be reviewed at least annually. Amendments are possible whenever they are needed.

A Career or a Job?

DVR and DBS should help with both.

The purpose of vocational rehabilitation is greater than landing a first job. The Rehabilitation Act requires that people with disabilities have an active voice in choosing employment goals in keeping with their interests and abilities.

DVR and DBS do not set time limits on services and will help as long as the person is progressing toward his or her employment goal and participating actively in that direction. Someone with the desire and aptitude to be a lawyer, doctor, scientist, or minister should not settle for a job as a receptionist in the firm where those professions are practiced, unless it is only a step in a plan that goes further. Career goals should be consistent with the student’s strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice.

Are There Ways To Make the Process Work Better?

Yes.

For applicants who want to be approved as eligible — and then, when approved, for persons receiving vocational rehabilitation — there are ways to make working with DVR or DBS more successful.

When Applying:

DVR and DBS determine eligibility according to the person’s disability and barriers to employment. Applicants, with help from their families and teams, are more likely to succeed if they:

  • obtain as much information as possible about DVR and DBS services and eligibility criteria (see Resources Section for contact information)
  • prepare to describe their disabilities without exaggerating or minimizing the effects
  • are ready to explain how a disability prevents them from working

Being prepared will help not only with one’s eligibility determination but also with negotiating services after eligibility is determined.

Negotiating the services:

A DVR or DBS client is more likely to succeed and benefit from the support provided by a counselor or other advocate if he or she:

  1. Establishes a job or career goal FIRST — for example computer programmer, truck driver, or chef.
  2. Explains why the requested training (such as a 4 year college degree or 2 year degree or certificate) will help achieve that goal.
  3. Sets a career goal that is the most advanced and meaningful work the participant hopes to do, not just entry-level employment.
  4. Targets that occupation from the start with the DVR or DBS counselor.
  5. Stays in close communication with the counselor, since an IPE can be amended if additional services are needed.

The Client Assistance Program at Disability Rights Florida (toll free 1-800-342-0823) can provide information and referral to DVR and DBS clients and those trying to enter the programs. After investigating the facts of a case, CAP may also offer to negotiate or advocate for a client, or represent that person in appealing a decision made by the DVR or DBS agency.