Editor’s Note: APH CareerConnect program manager, Richard Rueda, shares how youth who are blind or visually impaired can prepare for college and career success by utilizing local Vocational Rehabilitation services. If your child is exploring post-high school transition, be sure to check out our APH CareerConnect resources and our Success Stories about blind and low-vision people thriving in all sorts of careers and jobs.
In a previous blog post (Game On! Networking Your Way To Becoming A Brave And Brilliant Professional) we discussed some first steps to take when spreading your wings, including knowing what it takes to network. In this post, we will explore the wealth of transition resources available at your local Vocational Rehabilitation Services office.
The goal of state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services is to help people with significant disabilities acquire the skills needed to successfully find and retain employment. All VR programs are intended to help students ultimately gain employment.
For students in high school, vocational rehabilitation programs offer assistance to learn independence skills, to participate in a work-experience program, to attend a residential blindness program, and/or to provide some support to attend college. For students who are blind or visually impaired with additional disabilities, VR programs can provide additional guidance, counseling, and resources.
Obtaining VR Services
When you start exploring your transition options, one of the first things to ask for is an introduction to Vocational Rehabilitation Services. You can ask your vision teacher, high school case manager, or guidance counselor to invite someone from your local vocational rehabilitation services agency to attend your IEP meeting. Most often, the official introduction happens during a scheduled IEP meeting when transition agencies are invited to make those first connections with a student and their family. But you don’t have to wait. You can contact your local vocational rehabilitation services office on your own, or your parent or a family member can contact them on your behalf. If your parent makes initial contact with the VR agency, be sure that your thoughts are also captured by the counselor or intake coordinator.
During the initial meeting with your vocational rehabilitation counselor, you will be asked several questions about vision loss and career interests. Prior to that, it’s a good idea to think and brainstorm about your likes and interests. Having an idea of what you like and are interested in will help you have a productive conversation with the rehabilitation counselor. The more information the counselor gathers, the easier it will be for them to line up services and program referrals for you.
When you begin receiving Vocational Rehabilitation services, you will be juggling your school courses and community activities. Know that the balancing act is worth the effort; your rehabilitation case will be opening doors to new and exciting opportunities; services can help you prepare to thrive and adapt in the competitive workforce.
Tips and pointers that will greatly help when working with your Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and case while you are still in high school:
To help you receive meaningful VR services, start by researching career options. You may investigate careers of interest in your regular high school classes with career interest inventories and self-assessments, and through seasonal and summer work experiences; your rehabilitation counselor can also help with these pursuits. The information you learn from these activities is foundational in helping you and your counselor develop a plan to help you pursue your passion. Working with your VR counselor and connecting with a local agency that facilitates paid work experiences, are steps that can open up opportunities that might soon lead to that first job. From being a school teacher, lawyer, doctor, or even owning your own business, the options are limitless.
Look towards maximizing your ability to learn skills such as meal preparation, opening a bank account, and gaining additional confidence while traveling to new places with your cane. With curiosity as your ally, you and your Rehabilitation Counselor can identify available community Transition programs that can provide individual and group instruction on these lifelong skill-building assets.
Residential Independent Living Programs:
As you near graduation, you may be considering university or a vocational training program, and yet, you may be uncertain about using all those handy independent living and travel skills out on the world’s stage. Many states have Orientation Training Centers where those age 18 and older can attend a training program spanning anywhere from a month to a year. These programs offer opportunities to learn an advanced independent living skills and orientation and mobility skills that help inspire confidence and maximize lifelong success. Additionally, there are specialized training centers across the country that can also be investigated. Work with your vocational rehabilitation counselor to research and discuss what residential training program may be the right fit for you.
Often as part of your agreed-upon vocational rehabilitation case (your Individualized Plan for Employment), your vocational rehabilitation counselor can support college through a variety of ways. Assistive technology, support with materials, books, and supplies, limited tuition, and other supports may be discussed if your high school program, courses, and extracurricular activities have you on a college track.
Going to Work:
Once you’ve made it through high school, attended various training courses, mastered your assistive technology, received vocational training, or graduated college, what’s left is the icing on the cake. Generally, what happens next is working with the rehabilitation counselor to look for gainful competitive employment. Depending on available services in your region, you may be assigned to work with a job developer or employment coordinator who can support you by reviewing your resume, assisting with interview techniques, and helping you ultimately find job leads.
These are five general areas to consider as you start investigating your options after high school.
You have important decisions to make with plenty of choices and options at your fingertips. Journaling your goals in terms of personal goals, school interests and achievement, dreams about college, and career desires will help you navigate through the rehabilitation services in your state.
You can visit Rehabilitation Services Administration to learn more about rehabilitation services and locate your state’s agency.
If you are looking for more information on engaging with Rehabilitation Services for the first time as a young person, please join us on Saturday, March 12th at 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Eastern Time for “From Entitlement to Empowerment Roadmap to Life After High School.” In this 90-minute webinar, Allison Meloy, Vocational Rehabilitation Program Administrator with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities: Bureau of Services For The Visually Impaired, will talk about how your state’s vocational rehabilitation (VR) program can partner with schools and families to prepare your child/student for a successful career. Click HERE to register.