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Vocational Rehabilitation



  • If you are disabled, the federal government has several laws that are aimed at helping you maintain your job, or re-enter the work force.
  • This article is about the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which sets the ground rules and provides money to the states. In turn, each state provides the actual vocational services to help people living with a disability re-join the workforce. States either provide services on their own or contract with an agency to do the work.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance 101 and Supplemental Security Income 101 also have programs to encourage people to re-enter the work force. If you are a low income job seeker age 55 and older, check out The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP).
  • Private vocational rehabilitation services are also available. To learn what's available in your area, check with your doctor or other health care provider and your local hospital.

Who is eligible for assistance under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

The law is unusually broad regarding people who are eligible for vocational rehabilitation services. There are only two requirements for eligibility:

  • You must have a disability as defined in the law (see the next section below) AND
  • You must need rehabilitation services to prepare for, secure, retain, or regain employment.

Is my health condition covered by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

How do the agencies work?

  • The agencies start with an evaluation of a person's ability and need. 
  • The agencies then move onto providing education, training or whatever else is necessary to help a disabled person re-enter the job market.
  • The agencies actually help place people in employment.
  • Once employed, the agencies provide continuing assistance as needed.

What  services are available to help me?

The broad range of services that must be provided are aimed at helping people overcome or lessen a disability.

While the federal law lists the areas in which services must be provided, each state is allowed to decide how those services will be delivered. Each person then receives services to meet their unique, individual needs. Not everyone will need every service.

Specific services include the following:

  • Diagnostic Services: To better understand your disability and your needs for specific types of services. Services include medical, psychological, and audio logical examinations and tests.
  • Vocational Evaluation: Helps understand your job potential. The evaluation takes into account your aptitude, interest, general ability, academic exams, work tolerance, and "hands-on" job experience.
  • Vocational Counseling: Vocational counseling, which is available throughout your rehabilitation program, will help you:
    • Better understand your abilities and potential.
    • Set realistic vocational goals and to change goals when necessary.
    • Develop successful work habits.
    • Begin a satisfying career.
  • Vocational Assistance: Provides information on vocational and educational choices and referrals to appropriate agencies and other resources.
  • Training: Education to prepare you for a job. Services include:
    • Basic academic education
    • Vocational/technical classes
    • College
    • On-the-job training
    • Independent living skills, and
    • Personal and work adjustment training
  • Restoration Services -- Equipment: Equipment such as wheelchairs and automobile hand controls can be provided to enable you to pursue and achieve employment.
  • Restoration Services -- Medical: Medical services may include physical and occupational therapy, and diagnosis and treatment of physical and mental impairments, including:
    • Corrective surgery or therapeutic treatment necessary to correct or substantially modify a physical or mental condition that makes it difficult to work.
    • Necessary hospitalization in connection with surgery or treatment.
    • Prosthetic and orthotic devices.
    • Eyeglasses and visual services.
    • Special services (including transplantation and dialysis), artificial kidneys, and supplies necessary for the treatment of people with end-stage renal disease.
    • Diagnosis and treatment for mental and emotional disorders.
  • Placement Assistance: Counseling, job-seeking programs, job clubs, and job development are used to increase your ability to get a job. You can receive ideas, practice, and advice on finding job leads, filling out applications, getting interviews for a job, and on how to interview. Your counselor may also give you job leads or contact employers about available tax credits and hiring incentives.
  • Assistive Technology: Assistive technology includes a wide range of devices and services that can empower people living with a disability to maximize employment, independence and integration into society. A counselor can assist in effectively selecting and acquiring appropriate assistive technology, and can arrange for a consultant to evaluate your situation and to make appropriate recommendations.
  • Support Services: Other services are provided if they are necessary for you to start and maintain employment. Such services may include:
    • Room, board, transportation and other maintenance costs during an evaluation or while completing a rehabilitation program.
    • Occupational tools, licenses, or equipment.
    • Home modifications.
    • Adaptive or special household equipment in order to help you get ready to go to, and be on time for, your job.
    • Van or car modifications, including special driving devices or lifting devices to enable you to travel to your job.
    • Other transportation costs, including adequate training in the use of public transportation vehicles and systems.
    • Personal care assistance provided to help you with your daily needs in order to enable you to participate in a vocational rehabilitation program.
    • Job site modifications that will enable you to get and keep a job.
    • Independent living training to provide the means for you to become more self-sufficient and thereby make it possible for you to participate in employment.
    • Text Telephone (TT) signaling devices, hearing aids, and interpreter services may be provided to help you communicate.
    • For people who are blind, rehabilitation teaching services, and orientation and mobility services.
    • Occupational licenses, tools, equipment, and initial stocks and supplies.
    • Technical assistance and other consultation services to conduct market analyses, develop business plans, and otherwise provide resources to people who are pursuing self-employment, or telecommuting, or establishing a small business operation as an employment outcome.
    • Services to the family of an individual with a disability necessary to assist the individual to achieve an employment outcome.

How much do I have to pay for this this help?  Generally, there is no cost for services described in this article. Some states may require you to participate in the purchase of assistive technology items and some other costs, such as transportation and home modification. Any charges are based on income.

How do I access the vocational rehabilitation process? 

  • Call your state Vocational Rehabilitation Office and request an application for services. See below for the phone number.
  • Set an appointment with a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor.
  • Prior to the meeting:
    • Get a copy of your medical records, a personal history of any previous medical problems and a letter of diagnosis from your doctor or clinic. Speak with your doctor about how to present the limitations you're experiencing in a way that is understandable to a counselor -- and that you can document.
    • Prepare a work history.
  • At the meeting, the counselor will do an initial assessment of your functional physical and mental limitations. Ask what services are available to you, and how to ask for them.
  • You will then be subjected to an extended evaluation. This can take up to 18 months. The order of who is help is set by severity of a person's disability. The more serious the obstacles to employment, the higher the priority assigned to your case.
  • After the evaluation, the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor will determine your eligibility.
  • If you are accepted as a Vocational Rehabilitation client, you will work with a counselor to develop an Individual Written Rehabilitation Program. (IWRP). This plan describes the services for which you are eligible and how you will receive those services.
  • You will then receive the services based on your needs.
  • After you have completed your program, the counselor will help you find a job.
  • Even after you have a job, Vocational Rehabilitation can continue to help you. Your counselor can tell you which post-employment services you will be eligible to receive.

If you have problems during the process, you can contact the Client Assistance Program (CAP) of the Commission on Quality of Care, Advocacy Services Bureau. Tel.: 800.624.4143. The CAP will advocate for you, and even go with you to meet with your Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor.

What If I Have A Complaint?

If you are not satisfied with the state's assessment of your abilities or needs, or the services provided, each state has a grievance and appeal procedure you should follow. Contact  your state's rehabilitation office. You may also want to enlist the assistance of your local state legislators. Keep your Congressperson copied in as well.

Contact information for state rehabilitation offices: To locate the Rehabilitation Office in your state, see: offsite link

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