Vocational rehabilitation provides employment services that can help you get and keep a job. The federal vocational rehabilitation system is overseen by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) under the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) at the U.S. Department of Education. According to the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC), the Rehabilitation Act, as amended by WIOA, “requires the vocational rehabilitation program to serve individuals with the most significant disabilities first when there are not enough resources to serve everyone who is eligible for [vocational rehabilitation] services. Individuals with the most significant disabilities are given a priority over those with less significant disabilities, a process called an ‘order of selection.’” WINTAC has a list of states and their rules regarding order of selection.
Individuals with disabilities and organizations that support them have an opportunity to make their voices heard by working with federally-mandated state rehabilitation councils that serve as the voices of consumers and other stakeholders in the public rehabilitation system. Located in all states and territories, these councils advocate for the vocational rehabilitation program to both the state vocational rehabilitation agency and to the public. For more information about the role of these councils, read The Public Mandate: A Federal Overview. Under federal law, students with disabilities may begin working with the vocational rehabilitation system as early as age 16, but some states begin this process as early as age 14.
The IDEA lays out specific requirements for transition services to be included in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Under the IDEA, IEPs must “address transition services requirements, beginning not later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child turns 16, or younger if determined appropriate by the IEP Team. The IEP must include: (1) appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills; and (2) the transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the student with a disability in reaching those goals.”
As part of the IEP process, middle school, and high school students should have Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs). ILPs help students determine their career goals and postsecondary plans so they can make informed decisions about their courses and other activities while they’re in high school. They “are designed through a collaborative process that includes school counselors, students, and their parents and are tailored to each student’s individual needs to ensure that [they] leave high school ready for college and a career.” Unlike IEPs that are mandated nationally, ILPs are only required in 33 states and are used in 43 states. To assist vocational rehabilitation professionals with supporting students making the transition from secondary educational settings to adulthood, the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition has put together 13 toolkits covering, among other topics, competitive integrated employment, postsecondary education, and training and transition fairs.
An online directory is available that lists the vocational rehabilitation agencies in every state and territory. In addition, there are a number of organizations that support the vocational rehabilitation system. These include the American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association (ADARA), the Consortia of Administrators for Native American Rehabilitation (CANAR), the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR), the National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns (NAMRC), the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB), and the National Rehabilitation Association.