Vocational Rehabilitation History and Careers
Vocational rehabilitation, also called VR, involves helping those with emotional and physical disabilities to live independently and to find and keep jobs. Overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor, every state has a VR office that helps disabled residents to secure meaningful careers. The federal Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Program offers additional services to military veterans.
The road to vocational rehabiliation was a long one, however. The history of discrimination against disabled individuals is extensive. Maurianne Adams details this history in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, as chronicled on Cal State's website (instructional1.calstatela.edu). During the 1800s and early 1900s, disabled people were viewed as inferior and genetically defective.
Today, rehabilitation counselors usually carry out the work of vocational rehabilitation. If you want to work in vocational rehabilitation, social work programs and counseling schools can help prepare you for this career.
Today's vocational rehabilitation services
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibited discrimination in federal programs and services. As noted in Section 504 of the act, "No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance" (transition.fcc.gov/).
The Act also created the VR agencies found in every state. VR agencies employ rehabilitation counselors who provide services, such as the following, to clients:
• Determination of employment abilities, skills and interests
• Vocational counseling
• Employment services, such as job training and resume development
• Assistance in finding and keeping jobs
Some states run separate agencies for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Military veterans who sustained disabilities while in the line of duty can receive additional services through the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Program. In addition to the services provided by state VR agencies, VRE offices might provide:
• Postsecondary training at colleges, technical and vocational schools
• Rehabilitation services, such as counseling and medical referrals
• Independent living services
How to become a vocational rehabilitation counselor
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most employers require a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field, as can be earned through counseling schools. To be considered for a counseling graduate program, you must have completed a bachelor's degree. Programs usually accept undergraduate degrees in most fields (bls.gov).
Sometimes you can secure employment as a rehabilitation counselor if you have earned a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation and disabilities studies. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that, without a master's degree, you will not be able to offer the full range of rehabilitation counseling services. The largest percentage of rehabilitation counselors -- 30 percent -- work for vocational rehabilitation services, states the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov).
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Rehabilitation Counselors," March 29, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/rehabilitation-counselors.htm#tab-1
Cal State, "Perspectives on the Historical Treatment of People with Disabilities," http://instructional1.calstatela.edu/dfrankl/CURR/kin385/PDF/History-of-Treatment-of-the-Disabled.pdf
Federal Communications Commission,"Disability Rights Laws," April 2003, http://transition.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/504/disability_primer_1.html.
Job Accommodation Network, "Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies," April 16, 2013, http://askjan.org/cgi-win/typequery.exe?902
United States Department of Veterans Affairs, "Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Service," December 13, 2012, http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/vre/