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 and knowing what it takes to network: meeting and engaging with peers and other professionals. In this post we will explore the wealth or resources that exist when you actively engage with your local Vocational Rehabilitation Services office. Whether you are in your first year of high school, or staring down your senior year with a mixture of trepidation and curiosity and wondering what lies ahead for the future; there is no shortage of resources, scholarships and college applications vying for your attention.
For students in high school, vocational rehabilitation often comes with the offer of assistance to learn how to become independent, participate in a work-experience program, attend a residential blindness program, and/or provide some support to attend college. For students who are blind or low vision with additional disabilities, there are programs in many states that can provide guidance, counseling and resources. The goal of state Vocational Rehabilitation Services is to help people with significant disabilities acquire the skills needed to successfully find and retain employment. All of these programs are intended to help students ultimately gain employment
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, or high school case manager, or guidance counselor to invite someone from your local vocational rehabilitation services agency to come to your IEP. 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.
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. Sometimes a parent or family member having your best interest in mind, may want to speak on your behalf. While this can be helpful, be sure that your thoughts are also captured by the counselor or intake coordinator. Don’t worry, you don’t have to have all the answers to your ultimate career goal, however a general idea often will go a long way in helping pave the way.
Once you start with vocational rehabilitation a lot of things will be going on. You will be balancing your school courses and community activities. At the same time your rehabilitation case will be opening doors to new and exciting opportunities. Rehabilitation services exist to help young adults prepare to thrive and adapt in the competitive workforce. Here are some tips and pointers that will greatly help when working with your Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and case while you are still in high school.
Career Exploration: A great first step is researching career options and some of these steps may even be happening in your regular high school classes with career interest inventories, self-assessments and seasonal and summer work experiences. Remember that your rehabilitation counselor can also help with these pursuits and the information you learn from these activities is foundational in helping you and your counselor develop a plan to help you pursue your passion. From being a school teacher, lawyer, doctor, or even owning your own business; the options are limitless. Even if your high school doesn’t offer career exploration you have options. Simply asking your local vocational rehabilitation agency for a career interest survey, and to be connected with a local agency that facilitates paid work experiences, are steps that can open up opportunities that might soon lead to that first job.
Independent Living Skills: Now that you have your school work and class schedule all set, we next look towards how maximizing your ability to learn mad skills such as meal preparation, to opening a bank account to 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 Center’s 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 advanced independent living skill 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.
Considering College: 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 and received vocational training or graduated college. What’s left is the icing on the cake. Generally, what happens next is we work 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 work through reviewing your resume, assisting with interview techniques to ultimately finding job leads. As the ultimate goal of maximizing independent living skills and getting a job is what vocational rehabilitation is all about.
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 the learn more about rehabilitation services and locate your state’s agency.