Last week, one of my doctors suggested I contact the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. She wanted me to see if I could find work with their help. Vocational rehabilitation is available nationwide. The program is designed to help people with disabilities find a job.
I began working with my local vocational rehabilitation agency during my final year of high school. Unfortunately, their services did not meet my expectations. It was challenging to contact the three counselors I worked with because of the high staff turnover.
Nationwide, problems affect vocational rehabilitation agencies. Wendy Thompson of Queens, NY, always knew she wanted her son to attend college. Still, she had no idea how many people would disagree with her. Her son was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at birth. In 2013, he received his high school diploma.
When Thompson met with a counselor from the local vocational rehabilitation office, the counselor refused to sign off on her son’s plan to attend community college. As a result, he would not receive voice-activated software, wheelchair-accessible transportation, or tuition assistance for which he was eligible under federal law.
Thompson’s son is far from the only person who struggled to receive services. A VR counselor in Ohio believed that a woman with a physical disability known as spina bifida could not handle college and turned down her request for assistance. She completed her associate’s degree. When she returned to the VR office to seek assistance for a bachelor’s degree, she was again denied assistance. It took a lengthy appeal, but she eventually won and received the help she required. She graduated two years later and got a job as a social worker.
According to federal data, more than 800,000 people with disabilities who were eligible for services did not receive support between 2010 and 2014. Over a dozen states failed to offer services to more than 40% of qualified people.
Vocational rehabilitation agencies across the country struggle due to a lack of funding. After adjusting for inflation, federal funding for VR has decreased by 6% since 2009. In addition, 21 states did not provide enough state money in 2015 to receive the full amount of federal matching funds.
Tennessee’s VR agency temporarily stopped accepting new clients in January 2015. Despite the fact that it reopened, a state investigation revealed that 100 of the 243 roles that directly serve clients were unfilled in 2015. According to advocates, the result has been caseloads of up to 200 in Knoxville and elsewhere, as well as many lost clients.
Vocational rehabilitation agencies are an excellent idea in theory. However, budget cuts and staff turnover mean many people can’t receive services. People with disabilities miss valuable opportunities due to VR agencies’ ineffectiveness. In the future, I hope more people can receive help from this program. I am disappointed that millions of people like me can’t get the help they need from vocational rehabilitation.
Kolodner, Meredith. “Problems Plague Vocational Rehabilitation.” Disability Scoop, Disability Scoop, 21 Sept. 2016, https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2016/09/21/problems-plague-voc-rehab/22777/.