Research on Employment Supports for People with Disabilities: Summary of the Focus Group Findings. Vocational Rehabilitation

Participants highly valued supports and services that were individualized, and that enabled them to participate more fully in mainstream society. For example, participants were most pleased with VR providing or paying for equipment and services, such as computers, assistive technologies, transportation, education, and third-party training. Such supports targeted specific needs and promoted independence. They were less satisfied with services received in a "sheltered" or segregated environment, such as job training provided through the state VR system.

  • "The $13,000 worth of equipment, the raised roof, a lift and all that -- DVR paid for most of that. I paid, I think, a thousand dollars co-share."

  • "DVR is a very, very, very, very good organization. It's been really good with me. They paid for classes [and] class fees [and] they paid for my books. They gave me transportation, supplied me with transportation, gas."

  • "I decided to make a career change. I went into computer programming. For a whole year I went for job training. It was a special program for people with disabilities. DVR was one of the co-sponsors, and paid for it along with PIC [Private Industry Council], and I learned programming."

  • "DVR, about five or six years ago, also bought me a computer with voice recognition technology so that I could do my current job using computer technology."

  • "Well, I did go through DVR for my education. They did help me with adaptive equipment for my van. I can say just like they were, like, no help in helping me find a job."

  • "I had my tuition paid. [But even though] I hadn't finished all my [program] yet, I wanted a job. I wanted to get employed. And I was just tired of [school]. I wanted to see that paycheck every two weeks, every three. So they transitioned me into the PWI program, the Projects with Industry. The PWI assisted me, [but I was going on] job interviews and not seeing any good results. My last interview was where I'm currently employed at, and I just went with a lack of motivation."

  • "I went to college, and I also attended massage school and became a certified massage therapist, and I became a certified personal trainer, and I went on to earn my BA degree and a Master's degree. [DVR] paid for my schooling all the way through to my Master's degree, tuition, and books and supplies. They paid for me to go to massage school. They paid for me to have an interpreter sometimes. They paid for me to attend an independent living program. They paid for clothes for me to go out on job interviews. They paid for a computer, for assistive technology, transportation, repaids on my cochlear implant, a talking calculator, a talking personal organizer, [and] a tape recorder to hear at night."

Others, however, said that VR funding fell short regarding education:

  • "Okay, so you got transportation and you got your Bachelor's [degree], but trying to go to post-graduate [studies], no way was VR going to help."

  • "They paid part of my tuition. I got a scholarship to go to USC, and they wouldn't pay tuition for USC [only an amount] that was equal to a state college. They paid for my transportation, my books, supplies, like a tape recorder and that sort of stuff."

Others noted the agency's excessive bureaucracy made timely access to services difficult:

  • "That's a real problem, transportation. [Like she's] saying, her van is falling apart. Then when you get approved [for a] van and get evaluated, it's a three-year process. So in the meantime, you [still] have a disability and it could become aggravated."

  • "And sometimes it takes up to two years to get a wheelchair…"

  • "The system is endemic with red tape."

  • "I'm trying to get [DVR] to help me get -- hopefully, eventually -- a new van. My van is 14 years old and it's been rebuilt and rebuilt and rebuilt and I've had to pay out the money for the rebuild. I tried to get them to help me financially."

One participant said that despite its strengths, the VR system has minimal positive impact on employment:

  • "During my junior year [of college] we decided to see if [VR] could assist. Certainly they didn't with tuition because it was a private university, but they did help with paying for readers and textbooks. [People may] get some peripheral assistance from [VR], maybe with textbooks or financial aid or whatever, but the people who really are successful and find work tend to do it despite, rather than because of, rehab."

One participant, who worked as a rehabilitation counselor, was reluctant to apply for services from VR:

  • "I've gotten all of my jobs myself, especially since I started working as a job developer about four years ago. [That's] because if I go through Department of Rehab, if I open a case with them, the problem is I'm serving [VR] clients. So my big worry, and I've seen it happen, is if I go and I get a case open, then I look less capable myself and the rehab counselors for the Deaf will stop referring [people] because then I'm no different than the clients because I am one. So I really cannot open a case at VR unless I want to shoot my own foot off for the rest of my career."

Particularly for people with MR/DD, job coaches provided through VR services play very important roles. Such coaches provide motivation and support, serve as a source of information about services, mentor and counsel individuals, in some cases accompany individuals on job interviews, and even help resolve employment disputes and difficulties. Because the role of the job counselor can be so critical, participants' perceptions regarding VR may be heavily influenced by behavior of the job coach or case manager.

  • "I wouldn't [have gotten the job I have now] if somebody wouldn't have been with me because I stutter so bad in front of people, they will not even consider me…I have not stuttered since I got a job."

  • "If a normal person goes into a job, it's very easy for them, maybe not always easy, but they just kind of take it for granted that they perceive what they're supposed to do and what their boss expects from them. But someone with a thought disorder might not necessarily perceive things that way. And so having like a support to kind of help you learn how you're supposed to perceive your job, I think is a big help."

  • "I've had DVR counselors where you call them and they're not there. You leave a message to call back and two days later you call and [so on and so on]."

  • "I don't know if the counselors support us, or they are just here to do their daily job and do it and get it over with and go home."

Participants noted that the levels of knowledge, compassion, and skill of VR staff are important to success of VR services, and in the absence of a qualified counselor, it is important to self-advocate and have a clear idea of what you want. One participant said he was glad that he had determined in advance what kind of job he wanted and where he wanted to go to school, because he could not have relied on VR to help him make these decisions. According to VR's vocational assessment, he was suited to be a truck driver, clown, or cowboy. Because he had a physical disability that limited his ability to drive a truck, he was "left with" the choice between clown and cowboy. Another said:

  • "We [need to] talk about trying to change the attitudes of the professionals that are supposed to be out there helping us. I've found a lot of them to be very paternalistic. It's sort of an us vs. them type thing. I actually have to walk sort of a fine line because I'm a person with a disability who's also a professional in the disability service agency."

Several individuals with mental disorders indicated that they were not successful in obtaining assistance from the traditional VR system, but were able to find the employment services and supports they needed in the mental health system. A few individuals also reported being discouraged from going to work by mental health providers, but some of these same individuals said that they had been encouraged to seek employment within the mental health system after receiving treatment for their disability.

  • "[There's no DVR policy that says that] people with mental illness can't go to work. [But if you] consistently, outrageously, did wild things, and lost jobs, I'd think that be the one time we'd say, ‘Come back when you get your behavior under control.'"

  • "[If you're in the mental health system], not only is it not expected, it's not in their interest for you to work because…they're not receiving funding for you being there [getting services]."

  • "My [MH] case manager, he just saw there was something there and he felt that I really should be and really could be working, and so he encouraged me."

  • "[I'm working at] the mental health center, getting my medications, and talking to my case manager."