By Taniqua Hunter
Ms. Hunter is the Business Relations Representative for ACCES-VR. Adult Career Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation in New York City, New York. She works directly with employees to develop internship opportunities and fill hiring needs. Her role includes providing business services to employers, training on Hiring people with disabilities, implementing The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and speaking on disability issues, vocational rehabilitation and workforce development. Additional professional commitments for Ms. Hunter include being a Life Member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. and serving as a Board Member of The Seven Roses Legacy Foundation. Ms. Hunter is also a Registered Parliamentarian (RP), since 2018 of the National Association of Parliamentarians.
My sister has been successfully employed for the past 15 years. She loves working and having a job. She enjoys seeing her coworkers and helping the customers. Like anyone else she is happy about the money she earns from a hard day's work. None of this sounds unusual, but it should be noted that my sister has an intellectual disability. A lot of her success can be traced back to the Vocational Rehabilitation services she received as a student with a Disability. My sister had a great plan in place to help her transition from high school to the world of work. To the families of students with disabilities, it's time for you to start thinking about your Vocational goals as well.
It’s my opinion that Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) seems to be underrated, secret. VR has helped many students with disabilities find personal growth and success post high school. Every state has a public vocational rehabilitation program that helps students and adults with disabilities to prepare for, attain and maintain employment. Now it may be called different names depending on where you live, but the mission is the same. VR programs are federally, and state funded to provide vocational training and educational services to help people with disabilities acquire or increase marketable skills to be successful in the world of work. I happen to live in NY, where the public rehabilitation program places over 10,000 people with disabilities in employment throughout the state. This is no small feat and keeps me motivated to help increase the job placement numbers.
I want to share some important legislation that affects students. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that ensures that eligible students with disabilities can access free and appropriate services designed to meet their individual educational needs. IDEA places an emphasis on special education and related services to support students with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the federal legislation often deemed as inspiration and forerunner of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibits discrimination of people with disabilities in programs receiving federal funding. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that schools must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). A 504 plan (similar to the IEP) is developed and ensures that students with disabilities receive accommodations to promote their academic success. Students with a 504 plan do not need special instructional services (special education).
Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors work with students and collaborate with school staff to help transition them to life beyond high school. They help review the IEPs or 504 Plans for students to help assist in mapping out short and long term work goals. The staff can provide an array of services including counseling, assessments, career exploration, college sponsorship and job placement assistance. The Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors can participate in IEP and School exit meetings and can assist students in identifying next steps regarding employment. The collaboration between the high schools and VR offices are vital.
My sister received Transition services in high school to develop an Individual Plan for Employment (IPE). The IPE takes into account individuals' transferable skills, limitations, experiences, interests, to develop realistic and attainable goals to prepare them for their employment goal. My sister was very fortunate because before graduating, she was able to receive travel training, speech therapy, and occupational therapy services.
These support services while in school helped her to be ready for vocational services and her next journey. Supported Employment was deemed the most appropriate service to help her get a job. Supported Employment is designed to help individuals who are most significantly disabled (having 3 or more functional limitations ex. Work skills, work tolerance, self-direction, self-care, cognition etc. that impact life and serve as a barrier to employment) participate in competitive employment with ongoing support. She was taught pre-employment skills to address her soft skills, interview skills, and participated in job search activities. She would often volunteer at various departments at the agency she was referred to in order to gauge her interest and skills for various tasks. The vocational program helped her develop a resume. She was also assigned a job coach. The job coach provides support, develop strategies, review work tasks and can literally demonstrate any duties to be done in the workplace to model to the worker with a disability. This job coach serves as an intermediary and support to the person with a disability and the employer. Once the worker can perform their tasks at a satisfactory level and has acclimated to their job culture, the Job coach may reduce the frequency and amount of time needed at the worksite. This is the ongoing support that makes the Supported Employment so unique and effective.
My sister went on her first interview and landed a job. Hooray, our entire family was excited! My sister was so proud of herself. She watched everyone in the family go to work, and having a job wasn’t even a question for her. Her first position was a ticket taker at the Bronx Zoo. Her Job Coach accompanied her to her orientation to reinforce all the regulations she needed to understand. Her coach was on site to help her navigate her new workplace. My sister is outgoing and luckily fit in quickly. Within her first year, she received an Employee of the Month recognition along with a gift card. She was awarded a plaque. I’m not sure if my mother and I were happier about it than she was. She was earning her own money, expanded her social network by making some friends at work, and had a serious work ethic. Life after High School seemed more than promising.
A few years at the Bronx Zoo, my sister wanted a new position. She was now bored being a ticket taker. Can you imagine a person with a disability wanting to advance in the workplace? Now of course I’m being sarcastic, it’s everyone’s right to thrive. I encouraged her to speak to her Job Coach about her desire. She updated her resume and started participating in mock interviews to prepare herself. She applied for a cashier position, and she got it! Proud sister moment once again. Her job coach provided support to help my sister learn her new position. I must admit I was concerned about her ability to handle cash and process transactions, but my sister was not. She successfully mastered this role, and I expect that should she want to try something new; she will not be defeated.
Vocational Rehabilitation Services has been a catalyst to my sister’s growth, and I know it can help others. If you are a parent or student with a disability, ask your school staff about how to connect with your public vocational rehabilitation program. We want to see all the students excel and feel empowered to embrace young adulthood.