A Brief Overview
- Vocational rehabilitation (VR) is a federal right that has not been waived during school and office closures related to COVID-19. Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) are one way to get support. Another is through 1:1 counseling and an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).
- The best way to seek DVR services for a student still working toward graduation is to contact the DVR counselor assigned to the student’s school. DSHS maintains an interactive map, Find a School Transition Counselor.
- Families and students also can reach out to regional DVR staff for information about how to access services, including summer camps and programs.
- Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation agency in Washington State, the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB).
- Graduating seniors can seek DVR and DSB services now!
Teenagers and young adults with disabilities have additional considerations when deciding what life looks like after high school. The transition planning process, which begins in middle school and continues through high-school graduation and beyond, is extra challenging with social distancing measures and uncertainty about how jobs and higher education are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Washington State, young people can get help from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which is housed within the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). DVR staff are working remotely and creatively to continue providing services to adults and students during office and school closures, says Chelsie Gillum, a Regional Transition Consultant (RTC) in Pierce County.
DVR services are a civil right
The right to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services is an aspect of Title 1 of the amended Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In 2014, the Rehabilitation Act, which guarantees equitable access to public spaces and programs, was further amended to include the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) were already an aspect of the Rehabilitation Act, but WIOA further defines Pre-ETS and requires that VR agencies set aside 15 percent of their funding to provide or arrange for the provision of Pre-ETS.
Note that Section 504 is also a feature of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 guarantees the right to accommodations for equitable access in public facilities and programs and is the basis for a student’s “504 Plan” that provides accommodations, modifications, and anti-discrimination measures for educational access. Section 504 protections aren’t limited to school: Like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 protect a person in higher education, work, and elsewhere throughout the lifespan.
None of these federal rights have been waived during COVID-19.
Pre-ETS may include summer options
Gillum is among DVR staff who support groups of students with Pre-ETS. Generally, programs include job exploration, work-based learning, counseling about further educational options, workplace readiness and self-advocacy training. Some programs are being offered online or through other distance delivery methods in Summer 2020.
For example, a Youth Leadership Forum is being organized as a weeklong virtual camp in July 2020. A Facebook page for YLF is one way to learn more. Junior Achievement: Finance Park is another summer option for students statewide who want to learn more about personal finance and business. Families and students can reach out to regional DVR staff for specific information about these and other options for summer and beyond.
“Just because you cannot attend a camp in-person does not mean you have to miss out on valuable work readiness training and work-based learning experiences,” Gillum says.
Gillum says virtual job fairs, recorded informational interviews and virtual tours of job sites are options during social distancing. “Agencies and businesses are still hiring,” she says. “DVR applications are being processed, and intake meetings are being conducted.”
Gillum encourages 2020 graduating seniors to seek services right away: “I want to make sure our graduating students are as connected as possible, especially given how uncertain the world is right now,” she says.
Pre-ETS can start at ages 14-16 or later
Students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) can receive Pre-ETS as young as age 14, if the IEP includes a Transition Plan. An IEP team can write a Transition Plan into the IEP whenever the student, family and school staff are ready to begin that process. DVR staff can support that work, Gillum says, and families can initiate those contacts.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that governs special education process and protects the rights of eligible student, requires that an IEP include a Transition Plan by the school year in which the student turns 16. PAVE provides an article and a video about the high-school transition process in general. In addition, PAVE has an article about graduation and life-planning impacts of the shutdown: High School Halt.
Students 16 and older can receive Pre-ETS from DVR if they have an IEP, a Section 504 Plan and/or a documented disability and a family caregiver and school staff sign a DVR consent form. If the student is 18 or older (educational age of majority in Washington), the student and school staff sign the DVR form.
Families and students can contact DVR directly
Gillum says the best way to access the 2-page consent form and begin services is to contact the DVR counselor assigned to the student’s school. DSHS maintains an interactive map on a page called, Find a School Transition Counselor. By entering the county, school district, and name of the school, families can get a name and phone number for the DVR staff member assigned to their specific school.
Families also can look on DVR’s Pre-Employment Transition Services website page and scroll down to the chart that lists Regional Transition Consultants by area/county and includes phone numbers.
Families, schools, and students will need to work collaboratively to provide the required signatures for consent forms during the pandemic. Scanned versions may suffice in the short term, although mailed copies may eventually be required. A DVR counselor can provide guidance about the best methods for submitting the required forms to begin services.
Services for the blind are managed separately
Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency in Washington State. The Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) provides Pre-ETS and VR for clients statewide and maintains an Orientation and Training Center (OTC), to help individuals learn to navigate the world with limited or no vision, in Seattle.
DSB continues to serve clients during school and facility closures, says Michael MacKillop, Acting Executive Director. In early spring, 2020, MacKillop noted that DSB had been able to serve all clients who qualified for services, clearing a waitlist that is part of the state’s Order of Selection to serve clients within its budget.
Order of Selection impacts access to 1:1 DVR support
DVR also operates with Order of Selection when clients apply for individualized vocational rehabilitation (VR) counseling. The Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) is a DVR program that is separate from Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). The IPE is supported 1:1, whereas pre-employment services are generally provided to groups of students.
Through Order of Selection, individuals with the highest needs for support are prioritized for 1:1 support from a DVR counselor. When developing an IPE, the client and counselor establish a goal for employment; the counselor provides coaching, logistical and sometimes financial support to help make that happen. The case remains open until the employment goal is met if the client remains meaningfully engaged in the process. IPE services might include educational support if further education is needed to achieve a job goal.
Can a student get Pre-ETS and 1:1 help?
A student might receive services through both programs—Pre-ETS and the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). However, families should be aware that there are some specific rules related to Order of Selection.
- If a student is already participating in Pre-ETS, the student can apply for an IPE and Order of Selection will not impact the student’s ongoing engagement in Pre-ETS.
- If the student applies for an IPE first and is put on a waiting list, then the student also will have to wait to begin Pre-ETS.
- A student will have more access to DVR services by engaging with the Pre-ETS first and then considering whether to also apply for individualized support.
Signing a consent form with DVR is the first step
The family and school need to work together to complete DVR’s consent form before services can begin. Some programs, including summer camps, require a student to be officially enrolled in Pre-ETS. Completing the consent form is a first step.
Services from DVR expand work underway at school
Note that all students in Washington work with counselors and other school staff on a High School and Beyond Plan, which includes interest surveys and career cruising, encourages volunteer work, and provides an organizational method to ensure that a student’s work in school strengthens a pathway toward adult goals. The state requires this planning to begin in Middle School, by 7th– 8th grade, for all students.
Summary of Tools for Transition
To summarize, a student with a disability has a set of possible tools to support the high-school transition and plans for higher education, work, and independent living:
- High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP)—described on the website of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). The HSBP is a tool for all Washington students and required to begin by 8th
- IEP Transition Plan—described by OSPI in a booklet, Guidelines for Aligning High School & Beyond Plans (HSBP) and IEP Transition Plans. A Transition Plan is an IEP requirement by age 16.
- Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) from DVR, for students with a documented disability who may have an IEP, a Section 504 Plan or no plan. A student does not need to be eligible for DVR case management to receive Pre-ETS.
- An Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE), if eligible, with 1:1 DVR support
- Person Centered Planning is another tool: PAVE provides an article about PCP, with reminders that sessions can happen in person or virtually.
Key elements of Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS)
Pre-ETS include five required services. Each service in this list is linked to a resource for further investigation. DVR counselors can provide additional resources to suit an individual’s unique circumstances:
- Job exploration counseling: career speakers, interest and ability inventories, investigation of labor market statistics and trends, and more
- Work-based learning experiences: in-school or after school opportunities, including internships, provided in an integrated environment to the maximum extent possible. According to the Brookings Institution, work-based learning is predictive of future job quality.
- Counseling on opportunities for further education: How to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA®) and how to locate disability resource centers at colleges and universities are part of college readiness.
- Workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living
- Instruction in self-advocacy, which may include peer mentoring, training in disability disclosure, and more
Work-based learning and work readiness programs are generally provided by agencies that contract with DVR, says Gillum from DVR in Tacoma. “Transition consultants oversee those contracts and help connect students and agencies to develop a service plan.”
Why VR is worth the work and where to go for more information
Research shows that access to an array of collaborative services during high school improves post-secondary outcomes, especially when school staff and service providers get to know one another and there are “warm hand-offs” between individuals who develop trusted relationships with the young person, according to data shared by the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT). Another place for data and detail about WIOA is the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC).
Engagement with vocational rehabilitation services is supported by initiatives endorsed by the U.S. Department of Labor and its Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). These federal agencies promote the concept of Employment First, a framework for systems change centered on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life.
The PACER Center, a Minnesota-based agency founded in 1977 to promote a “parents helping parents” philosophy, supports the National Parent Center on Transition and Employment, which offers a collection of materials with more information about vocational rehabilitation and how to benefit from pre-employment and employment services. Included in the PACER Center’s materials is a booklet for parents to help young people prepare for college and careers.
Washington’s DVR program provides a video about the school-to-work transition with young people talking about their experiences with the agency and how it helped.
Chelsie Gillum from the Pierce County region of DVR encourages young people and families to contact DVR despite the pandemic. “Even if vocational rehabilitation services are not what you need immediately,” she says, “our team can help connect you with other resources to help you during the pandemic. We appreciate your patience and flexibility as we all adjust to meet people’s needs in this ever-changing landscape. We cannot wait to hear from you!”