Lesson 17: Vocational Rehabilitation Services for College Bound Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Right now, your support system may include a teacher of students with visual impairments, an orientation and mobility specialist, a guidance counselor, and your subject area teachers. These professionals are in charge of preparing you for adulthood and making sure you will have the necessary skills to succeed as a future employee who is blind or visually impaired in the workforce.
After you graduate high school, you will be in charge of creating a new support system for your adult needs. An important resource you can access for support is the vocational rehabilitation agency in your state. An array of services and specialized training is available to eligible consumers who are blind or visually impaired. Qualifying students and youth, ages 14 to 24, can access different transition services from vocational rehabilitation, including job readiness training, career counseling, and supported employment. As an eligible consumer, you will be assigned a vocational rehabilitation counselor, and together, you will develop your Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).
Your IPE is a document that outlines your projected employment goal and what services you might need to achieve your desired goal. As you move toward high school graduation, if you and your vocational rehabilitation counselor determine further education or training is necessary for you to achieve success as an employee with vision loss in your desired occupation or career, support will be provided. However, the amount and frequency of support you receive is based on your willingness to take charge of your adult life and advocate for the support and services you need. Essentially, it will be your responsibility to know what services you need and ask for them.
Vocational rehabilitation agencies can offer a great deal of support to students who are blind or visually impaired and entering college or career school. Services and support you may be eligible to receive could include the following:
- Vocational evaluation (assesses your vocational abilities, limitations, aptitudes, and interests) to help you develop an employment goal
- Career counseling and guidance
- Work-readiness skills training (resume development, interview skills training, etc.)
- Work-based learning experiences
- Counseling and guidance about training and education options after high school
- Assistive technology assessment and training
- Financial support for college or career school, including expenses not covered by financial aid such as a human reader
- Training after high school to learn or improve skills in areas such as techniques for independent living, braille, assistive technology, etc.
- Job development and placement services
- Job coaching
- On-the-job training
- Support to obtain an eye medical exam or psychological assessment
- Orientation and mobility training
- Other support services (vary by state)
Take advantage of the services that may be available to you. Keep in mind, it is up to you to contact and stay in contact with your vocational rehabilitation counselor. Your success during your post-secondary education depends on you accepting responsibility for your needs and taking the initiative to coordinate and arrange the necessary services.
If you are not a client of your state’s vocational rehabilitation office, locate your state agency or the agency near the college or career school you will attend using the following web address: http://rsa.ed.gov.
- List the services the vocational rehabilitation office offers to students and youth who are blind or visually impaired.
- If needed, apply for services.
Write a letter to your counselor addressing (as appropriate) the items you may need support with during your post-secondary education as a student with vision loss. The letter is the first step in documenting your needs and your request for support. Depending on the state you live in, you may or may not receive assistance with all your requested needs. Be prepared to seek out additional resources if needed. Following are some questions and topics for you to consider as you write your letter:
- What assistive technology will you need to complete the course requirements of your college or career school? Do you need an assistive technology evaluation to help you determine what technology will meet your access needs? Is there funding available to help you purchase the assistive technology devices you need? Is training available to help you become proficient in using the technology?
- Will you need services on your campus such as orientation and mobility training?
- Do you need assistance documenting your disability for the Office for Students with Disabilities?
- Will you need additional financial support to pay for classes or your books? Is financial assistance available from your vocational rehabilitation agency?
- Will you need support learning how to use or access public transportation methods?
- Do you need funding for a human reader? Is funding available from your agency?
- If you are not prepared to live on your own as a student who is visually impaired, is there training available to help you learn the skills needed to move out in the future?
- Do you want to work while you attend college? If so, how can a counselor support you in obtaining and maintaining a job as a student with vision loss?
- After you graduate college, will you need support in locating a job? What type of support does your agency offer job seekers who are blind or visually impaired?
- Share your post-secondary education and future employment goals with your counselor. Ask him how he can help you. Are there other resources your counselor can share with you that you may not be aware of?
- Schedule a face-to-face or phone conference meeting with your vocational rehabilitation counselor. During the conversation, be prepared to tell your counselor what you need from the agency to be prepared for college or career school as a student who is blind or visually impaired.
- Make a list of key points you want to cover (these items may be like what you include in your letter from activity #2).
- Role play to practice the conversation with a member of your personal network. Use the feedback you receive to refine your conversation techniques. Your goal is to communicate what you specifically need from your vocational rehabilitation counselor as a student who is blind or visually impaired to be successful in college or career school.
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