Hey, y’all, my name is Derek and I’m a volunteer with ACI working on marketing, research, and outreach. I’m 17 with quite a few autoimmune conditions and disabilities! Today, I wanted to share a bit of my experience with vocational rehabilitation centers and why I recommend every disabled person apply for services.
So, vocational rehabilitation (sometimes referred to in the shorthand VR or voc rehab) is a division of social support services for disabled people to get and maintain employment, as well as provide support to remain living in the community. And, they’re unfortunately hard to know or find out about unless you know exactly where to look for them. I’ve talked to my partner pretty extensively about the “underworld” of disability support services that aren’t talked about unless you know a person who knows a person, and VR is definitely one of those. But, every state/territory in the US has at least one (find a full list here), and I highly recommend every disabled person at least apply for the services offered by their area.
VR has been essential for me for as long as I’ve been a part of it, and I seriously wish I would’ve known about it sooner. For 14 years, I was in the dark of the underworld and had absolutely no clue these services existed, until my doctor asked “hey, are you connected with voc rehab?” and I asked “no, what’s that?” and he educated me about it and put me in contact with my local people. At 14, I opened a case with Children’s Rehabilitation Services (or CRS) to start on my journey up to voc rehab. And the services I have received have been invaluable to me as I transition from teenagehood to adulthood.
I’m writing this piece because I don’t want any other disabled person who qualifies to have to miss out on these quintessential services like I did for 14 years. You may be wondering “isn’t that their job? Why do you care?” and I would agree with you if I didn’t have the work experience I do. It was shocking to me when I discovered that federal funds cannot be used for community outreach to generate new clients or increase intake. But, it’s true, according to multiple colleagues working within various states’ VR programs. So, I’m taking it upon myself, as an advocate, to do what I (try to) do best: advocate for and share resources.
I will forewarn you, it’s a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy in most instances, but the services are well worth it. I can’t, in good conscience, make very many vast generalizations, but I can almost guarantee it will be a lot of paperwork and hoops. If you’ve worked the system like I have for the last 17 years, what’re a few extra hoops for more help, right? Right.
So, now that we’ve established that, I want to take a minute to list off a few things my VR services have provided me: job opportunities, IEP assistance, college tuition payments, assistive technology, mobility aids, benefits management, and driving assistance. That list is not at all exhaustive, but I wanted to provide a glimpse into some things the paperwork and effort are good for. I would not be nearly as confident or independent without the help of my VR counselor and the services she has curated for me.
And, that’s why I’m such a big proponent of reaching out and ensuring people know VR exists. It’s literally life-changing. The paperwork and occasional bureaucracy hang-up are so worth it for all the support you can potentially receive and all the resources you may be able to tap into.
If you’re not connected to VR and think you might be eligible, there’s no harm in applying, and if you need a hand, I’ll be right here to support you. Feel free to DM me on Twitter if you think I could lend a hand, and remember ACI is here for you as well! If you have a story to share, email our Blog Coordinator, Daniel O’Leary at email@example.com!
About the author: Derek Schmitz is a disability advocate, accessibility consultant, author, and high school student based in Alabama. Derek has worked with ACI since October 2021, serving as our Outreach Coordinator and assisting with research. Derek is very passionate about sharing resources that help them, which inspired this piece.