Job help from the California Dept. of Rehabilitation: Part 2
With Labor Day just past, it seems like a good time to continue the discussion regarding an agency that helps people who need assistance finding and keeping a job: the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR).
Please note that although we’re talking about the California DOR, every state has a similar agency for vocational rehabilitation (VR). The information presented here should pretty much apply anywhere in the US.
This post from a few months ago discussed the ways in which someone with disabilities can apply for and be found eligible for Department of Rehabilitation services. Now we’ll look at what happens after someone has qualified to receive VR services.
Each person, or “consumer,” entering the DOR system is assigned to a counselor. One of the first things you and your counselor will do is assess the significance of your disability for employment. Based on your input and documentation about your disability, the two or you will look at how the disabilities impact these general areas of functioning:
(It’s easy to see how someone with mental health challenges, ADHD, and/or autism spectrum disorder may have deficits in most of these categories.)
The counselor then develops a “significance of disability” score that represents your overall work-related limitations. Normally the score is formulated within 90 days of your first meeting with your counselor.
In your early meetings, you and your counselor will also discuss your strengths, interests, abilities, resources, priorities, and concerns. With these in mind, your counselor then proposes what services and assistance you’ll need to obtain or retain appropriate employment.
This is not the time to be passive and say “whatever.” The counselor is supposed to follow your lead, rather than make the decisions for you. If you’re honestly unsure about what you want to do, the counselor can offer suggestions and/or arrange for you to take vocational assessments. If warranted, before pursuing an actual job, you might be placed in a trial work experience to see how you handle the stresses and environment of a particular type of job.
Acting within DOR regulations, your counselor can allow you to choose among specific services, providers, and settings available to meet your goal – for instance, the choice between a training program closer to home vs. one farther away that provides more options. Support for becoming self-employed is another option that DOR offers its consumers. Your counselor can also recommend other services and agencies in the area that can supplement the assistance you’ll get from DOR.
The plan for reaching your employment goal is then formalized in a document called an IPE. Not an IPA (sorry, beer drinkers) or an IPO (sorry, investors) – an IPE, or Individualized Plan for Employment. From all the possible avenues I’ve described above, you can see that the document truly earns the descriptor “individualized.”
Just as the IEP in special education spells out which services the school district will provide to the student, the IPE spells out what the DOR is going to do for the consumer. It’s a written plan that contains your job objective and the services DOR will provide for finding and maintaining employment. The IPE also includes the timelines for beginning services and for achieving your employment goal, the criteria that will be used to evaluate your progress, and the specific responsibilities of you, your counselor, and others involved with your plan. Additionally, the IPE will mention what DOR will pay for: assistive technology, training courses, transportation to VR services, etc. If you’ll have to pay for a portion of the services provided, that will be documented as well.
As with your “significance of disability” score, the IPE is usually completed and signed within 90 days of your first meeting with your counselor.
While most IPEs are formulated by the counselor and the consumer together, you have the option of developing your IPE mostly on your own. The DOR counselor would need to ensure your goals and services meet DOR guidelines. You can also receive help from outside resources in developing your IPE – maybe a therapist or vocational counselor who knows you well.
This helpful link from Disability Rights California describes features of IPEs. Note their emphasis on making sure the IPE includes everything you need from DOR. The agency is only required to provide you with services documented in your IPE, nothing more. The link also mentions the importance of updating the IPE as necessary. The document should be revised every time a change in your circumstances impacts the plan. That can include changing your mind about the type of employment you want. At a minimum, you and your counselor will revisit your IPE annually to discuss possible amendments.
It’s great that DOR will pay for expenses related to your plan, but there are restrictions. Suppose you purchase a piece of equipment related to your job training, and submit the receipt to DOR for reimbursement – because that’s the kind of thing they do. Well, they won’t reimburse you if that specific type of purchase isn’t already included in your IPE. As a practical matter, you must have approval from DOR counselor or the Rehabilitation Supervisor before making any purchase for which you expect reimbursement, even if it seems to be covered in your IPE.
Once your plan is under way, you’ll need to fully participate in the training programs in which you are enrolled, and provide progress reports and grades to your counselor. It’s also important to keep all appointments with your counselor, and fully participate in your job search and job placement activities. Here’s a statement, in bold typeface, from the DOR’s Consumer Information Handbook: Failure to cooperate, make reasonable effort, or failure to maintain ongoing communication or scheduled appointments could result in loss of further services and closure of your file. In other words, no slacking!
Understandably, differences of opinion may arise between consumers and counselors about whether one or the other is upholding his/her end of the bargain. If you try to resolve a dispute within DOR and don’t get satisfaction, you can request help from the Client Assistance Program (CAP). CAP staff members are independent advocates and can be involved in your case at any point from the time you apply for DOR services to after you stop receiving services. They can come with you to meetings with DOR staff (as can family members or other representatives), and, to resolve disputes, they can help you with meetings, reviews, and hearings at a higher level.
The best reason to have your case closed is not because of a dispute, but because you have reached your goal and are employed! The DOR can close your case if you’ve been satisfactorily employed for at least 90 days. Your counselor will meet with you before closing your case. What if things go off track for you employment-wise after you exit DOR? You can reapply for services, and begin the process anew.
In a later post, I’ll describe our sons’ experiences with DOR. Nathan’s DOR story took place a few years ago. Alan was found eligible for services this summer, has an IPE, and is about to start in a training program. Please send your happy thoughts for his success – and leave a comment about your own DOR experiences!