Vocational Rehabilitation

Vocational rehabilitation, or VR, programs exist in each state and territory. VR agencies support people with disabilities to find and keep competitive, integrated employment.

This VR mission aligns well with inclusive higher education programs, which support people with intellectual disability to access college. Building a strong relationship between VR and these college programs is essential for helping people with intellectual disability to increase their independence, find and keep fulfilling jobs, and boost their self-sufficiency.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is VR?

Vocational rehabilitation, or VR, is a federal–state program that helps people who have physical or mental disabilities to get or keep a job. VR is committed to helping people with disabilities find meaningful careers in integrated and competitive employment.

What types of services can VR provide eligible individuals?

A variety of services may be provided, depending on individually identified needs, such as:

  • Medical and psychological assessment
  • Rehabilitation counseling
  • Vocational evaluation and planning
  • Career counseling and guidance
  • Work experience while in high school
  • Training and education after high school
  • Job-site assessment and accommodations
  • Job placement
  • Job coaching
  • On-the-job training
  • Supported employment
  • Assistive technology and devices
  • Time-limited medical and/or psychological treatment

I’ve heard that VR won’t pay for college for people with intellectual disability. Is that true?

No, but the rules are complex. Here’s how it works.

Under the Rehabilitation Act, it is not legal for the VR program to deny any service to eligible individuals. This means that a VR agency can’t have a policy such as, "We do not pay for students with intellectual disability to go to college."

However, each person is unique, and every case must be evaluated to figure out what services each VR customer will get. So a VR counselor will determine whether paying for higher education will help a particular person to find a job (which is VR’s end goal).

Under the Rehabilitation Act, VR can’t place a limit on how much it will spend on a particular service or person. So it’s not legal for a VR agency to set a policy saying something like, "We will only pay $3,000 per semester for four semesters."

On the other hand, a VR agency may set approval levels, meaning that certain levels of their administration have to approve payments above a certain level.

How can VR support students with intellectual disability to attend college?

Under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, all services and supports provided by VR are determined on an individualized basis. So when a VR counselor provides support for an individual with intellectual disability, the counselor will consider the person’s interests, skills, motivations, and limitations.

She will also look at labor market information and existing support systems to help the individual make informed choices about postsecondary education and work.

Keeping all this in mind, a counselor can decide, on a case-by-case basis, to support a particular person with intellectual disability to take college courses. Those supports could include counseling and guidance, habilitation services, tuition, fees, room and board, books/supplies, assistive technology, and any other service that is determined to be needed.

The end goal is to help the person find fulfilling paid work in the community.

I’m part of a new program that just started including students with intellectual disability on our college campus. What are the best ways for me to approach VR to discuss collaboration?

The directors of your college program should set up a meeting with administrative staff from your state VR agency. You can find their contact information by searching the state VR agency’s website, or via CSAVR.

In that meeting, you should highlight how your new program will help students to prepare for and obtain employment. Before you meet with VR, think about some ways your program might partner with VR counselors to support students. Share these ideas in your meeting, and get feedback from the VR staff.

For the best results, approach VR staffers as professionals who can assist individuals on many levels, and as a resource you’d like to partner with to meet a common need. In other words, don’t just think of VR as a funding stream.

What kinds of supports could someone receive from VR if he wants to attend a college program for students with intellectual disability?

Supports will be determined individually. They might include counseling and guidance, labor market information, habilitation services, tuition, fees, room and board, books/supplies, assistive technology, transportation assistance, and any other service that is determined to be needed.

Are there aspects of a college program that will make it more likely to get VR funding?

VR will view a college program more favorably if the program can show that it is inclusive, offers training and integrated work experiences, and gives support and placement assistance leading to competitive integrated employment. It’s also good to demonstrate that people leaving the program have higher earnings, work more hours, and get better employer benefits than others who don’t go through the program.

What is VR unlikely or unable to do to support a student with intellectual disability to attend college?

VR can only offer services that are related to the end goal of competitive and integrated employment. This means that there may be some services VR can’t provide, depending on state policies.

VR supports are individualized for each VR customer (see “How can VR support students with intellectual disability to attend college?” above).

Are there examples of successful partnerships between VR and college programs for students with intellectual disability?

Think College is conducting site visits to look at partnership programs across the country. We’ll be adding more information here based on our findings. Stay tuned!

Have more questions about VR and postsecondary education?

Email the Think College HELP DESK with your questions. A staff member will respond as soon as possible! thinkcollegeTA@gmail.com.