Vocational Rehabilitation

Malisa Janes
Copyright 2001

Part 1. Vocational Rehabilitation CAN help you.

Many folks do not know that they are entitled to help from their State Dept. of Rehabilitation Services, if they have a significant disability that effects their ability to get and keep employment. Part of the problem is that in each state different titles are used to describe the office. The mandates are that people who are employed but at risk of losing their job, or people who want to work and need help to do so are eligible. Some states even have programs under Vocational Rehabilitation for folks who need help to live independently and they don't have to be employed.

Vocational Services are NOT welfare programs. No one has to be destitute to get services. The age 18 up.. and can include retirees or mothers with small children that need to do part time work to support themselves! The following URL describes what vocational rehabilitation should be offering to everyone with a significant disability in every state:


If you can not find Vocational Rehabilitation in your phone book or on the internet, then phone the national office for the title and phone number in your state.

Rehabilitation Services Administration
330 C Street, SW
Washington, DC 20202

PHONE: (202)205-5482
TTY: (202)205-5538
FAX: (202)205-9874

After reading the above, do the following to prepare yourself for making an appointment with your local service provider:

  1. Prepare a letter that tells why you need hearing help to keep working or get a job.
  2. Make a copy of your last year's IRS report as they may ask for a copy.
  3. Prepare a budget showing what you spend and what your income for the coming year will be. (remember to put in your savings for retirement, your savings for the new roof, etc.)
  4. Make a list of all things that you think might help you get and keep a job: hearing aids, ALD's, smoke alarms, computer classes, counseling for stress and anger, ASL classes to learn signing (Ask for whatever would help - don't feel guilty listing too much! They can only say no.)

When you've prepared yourself, it's time to make an intake appointment. USE Relay or a TTY to make your request even if you have an amplified phone you can use or ask someone to make the call for you. The next section will explain more about being ready for the appointment. Remember, if you are denied at any level you are entitled to appeal! They are required to see you, do an intake and give you a written copy of their denial or acceptance for services. Insist on that as it is your protection that you are not being "dropped through the cracks".

Part 2. The Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors and the Intake Assessment

Before you go to the first appointment you need some REALITY. Counselors and staff of Vocational Rehabilitation in most places know little about late deafness and hearing loss. When this federally funded program was begun after WWII, most of the workers were trained to work with people who use wheelchairs. Then many people who were blind came in for services and were found to need specialized services; so special programs were set up for them. People who were signing deaf found out much later about the program and began to request services; then counselors who were trained in the needs of people who sign were employed in many places. Few people who were hard of hearing or late deaf have known about Vocational Rehabilitation so they haven't sought services: Hence the staff had no training in helping them.

How does this affect your first visit? Since the staff don't know that clear speech is not an indicator of hearing they will ASSUME if you talk a lot and clearly you can hear well. To avoid this I suggest talking little and taking a pad and pencil and asking them to WRITE everything they have to say to you. This is NOT a time to assume you heard everything correctly. When you go into the Counselor's office don't be afraid to ask them to sit with the light from the window coming onto their face to help you see their expressions and lipread a bit. Again make SURE they write down everything they say.

I suggest folks take a letter of introduction to explain why they are seeking Vocational Rehabilitation services - and to educate the counselor to the world of hearing loss. A letter of introduction from you can buy you some time to think and get a feel for the office. Remember now is NOT THE TIME to have that stiff upper lip, or show off your best business suit. You need to look like you need help, not like there is no reason for you to be there. Appropriate words might be:

"I am writing things down because I want to be involved in the development of my rehabilitation plan... and feel that I need to be respected and listened to. I was not born deaf, and I am having major problems adjusting to my hearing loss. I don't even know where to start to get the help I need. I am attaching a list of things that I want to have covered in my rehabilitation plan - as other late deaf people have told me they are things that will help me."

Put into writing everything you want Vocational Rehabilitation to do for you. End your paper with any questions you have at that time. If the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor tries to talk to you, shake your head no, hand them a pencil, and point to where you have left spaces on your question list. Put dates on everything and keep copies of ALL papers!

What will the Voc Rehab Counselor be looking for?

  1. Do you really need the help they can offer? It may be that they have to refer you to someone else to get your needs met.
  2. Do you want to work at the same job you have or have held previously? Is it realistic to think you can resume employment in the same role?
  3. Do you have "transferable skills" and talents that need further training? Do you have education that might be accessed to create a good job option for you?
  4. Is your "disability" severe enough to warrant their help... and here is where they will ask some personal things, or get you to talk about what you have trouble with in "Interpersonal Communications" (decreasing ability to talk with mate, friends, etc.), inability to understand church sermons and friends, inability to do things that were previously a joy in life (movies, plays, attend kids sports, ...whatever). Think about how you've cut back on things because of the hearing loss and write them down. They DON'T want to know how well you've adjusted, they want to know what keeps you from enjoying life to the fullest.

They will "accept you" or "deny you" services after that first meeting. Once accepted you have to make out a LONG RANGE PLAN. It is VERY important that every little thing gets put on that plan. Once things are on that plan they have to get done, one way or another. So be insistent - ask for what you want... and question their not wanting to do it your way. Sometimes they say, we can't get that now. You HEAR "can't get" not the NOW. Make them put things in writing, then you can LISTEN well! (They also can't duck their responsibility or discount the needs as easily!)

If they say NO to anything... YOU WRITE AND ASK for documentation IN WRITING that shows the POLICY that prevents them from addressing your request. They have RULES that come down from Washington.. which they have to follow or lose their money. If you don't get what you want from your counselor (or need to change counselors if you don't feel respected) ask to see the supervisor (that office has a supervisor - that supervisor has a boss in the region - and that regional boss has a boss in the state capitol.) If you don't get RAPID services (within 30 days) make copies of your paper and prepare a letter that says "I've waited 30 days and have not heard from you. I want to request an investigation into this." Send it to all on the way up the ladder if necessary. I'll guarantee you'll get some attention!

Part 3. Assuring good Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Documentation is the name of the game. Keep dates and paper with notes on every service and appointment so that if you don't get what you need you can document that you asked and what you were told. And please, don't whine or fight with them, just give them the facts. If you have a big disagreement then you have the option of requesting an appeal and there are several places for that... and the top appeal will be with a judge. (You will probably need some help from someone like me for taking it that far - but I've found that going that high is seldom needed.) Each state is required to have a complaint support program that is meant to assure your rights are followed.. it is sometimes called C.A.P. A poster with this programs name should be in the outer office and have an address and phone number on it. Write that information down.. and don't be afraid to use it! That is part of the LAW! Remember, squeaky wheels do get grease! (If there is no notice in the office ASK for the information about the advocate program.. they are mandated to have one!)

Most folks don't know that you can't just go to VR and ask for a hearing aid. They do an assessment of need first... and part of that is finding out that you HAVE NEEDS. If your loss is severe enough to need hearing aids because it effects your ability to work, you qualify! Remember Vocational Rehabilitation is primarily interested in your Vocational Potential, but they will also assess your Personal Adjustment as well, so don't hide the stress and frustration you feel!

Vocational Rehabilitation will use every resource they can to get you what you need. They will consider what your insurance will pay if you have any. (For your information, Medicare won't pay for hearing aids, but does pay for the medical part of a Cochlear Implant but Voc Rehab has to pay for all the tuning and adjustment services.) They will also try and get the most inexpensive equipment so you need to make SURE you get what you need. Be particular and ask for a 30 day trial on all things and let them know what is NOT good enough for you to function well. Remember they will get you ANY and ALL equipment if you need it, including personal equipment that is needed for employment when you have a CI! (With it off you are DEAF and without patch cords and an assistive listening device you may not function at a level to keep employment.)

One thing that MIGHT come up during your first visit is an intake person asking for financial information. Some offices have been known to "assess your financial status" and tell you right up front that you have to pay a part. (This often scares off folks who need help but feel they can't break their bank to get it.) This procedure is HIGHLY irregular if it is done before it has been determined you even have a disability. I suggest you say, "WHEN I find out if I have a sufficient disability to be a client and I know all that is involved we can talk about that further." Remember not to sign anything that would limit your ability to request help... read what you sign. The first step is the evaluation and determination of your disability and what you need to function effectively.

Secondly, for those who are currently employed.... I have to remind you... DON'T resign a job or sign anything if you are employed! Let Vocational Rehabilitation help you with that if things are rocky on the job. (You should send a memo to your supervisor telling them you are seeking help from Voc Rehab and ask them to put that in your personnel file to document the date. Then, if the employer tries to dump you while you are seeking services of Voc Rehab you have grounds for a nice little suit! If you have letters from your boss or a performance evaluation that doesn't look good because of decreasing hearing .. MAKE a copy of it to take to VR! That is a Proof of Need! Get a note from your boss that says your hearing is negatively effecting your work and that you are stressed out and don't have the energy and good attitude you used to have! If that is part of the problem Voc Rehab can provide counseling for you.

If you are not currently employed, but quit because of hearing loss, or you feel that your prior job can't be done with your hearing loss - then put that in writing. Make it specific. "I can't hear the children and answer their questions." "I can't get training for advancement because there is no captioning or an ALD." Explain exactly why hearing help is needed. You may be unaware of a solution that has been found, or it may be a justification for additional education classes so you can do a similar job. After Vocational Rehabilitation has accepted you for service it is the Rehab Counselor's job to be your advocate and to help you find the answers and methods to maximize your potential.

Part 4. Vocational Rehabilitation Wish List

Many folks go to Vocational Rehabilitation long before they've found out about all the things that CAN help them stay active in the world. Before you have that first appointment, educate yourself a bit and know what some of the things are called that might be of help. Go to the internet and get a free Harris catalog. (There is a great probability that your counselor doesn't know about some of the equipment.) Then you are ready to put a wish list IN WRITING with everything on it that Rehab can do to make your life better. (They probably won't do everything...but you need to ask!)

You might ask for:

  1. Medical evaluation - to get the wax out of the ears and make sure it isn't a correctable problem. It also confirms prior physician's findings. Not all folks go to the doctor first.
  2. Audiological evaluation - to determine the level of hearing loss and what hearing aid/equipment might improve reception.
  3. A Cochlear Implant evaluation - if there is major hearing loss, to determine if this might be an option. (The audiologist measures the hearing loss, but can not assess the medical situation and the possibility of having an implant. The assessment has no pain or any intrusive measures! And you still have a choice after you get the results.)
  4. Hearing Equipment demonstration and evaluation - to learn what might be a help.
  5. Psychological counseling - to reduce the hearing loss stress and frustrations and help in maintaining relationships with family and the boss!
  6. Vocational/Aptitude testing - to assess job transferable skills for finding an appropriate job.
  7. Purchase of equipment - NOT JUST FOR WORK - but for living!

There are probably many more things that would be a help that I'm forgetting - or things that have been invented since this was written! When in doubt, put it on the list and put the rationale for listing it there. Print out the list and take it.. is not only to investigate each thing for yourself, but also to EDUCATE the counselors as to all the things they need to be considering.You'll never get anything you don't ask for! Good luck.. and spread the word. There is NO reason folks should go without what they need. Your taxes pay for this program.. so use them! Stand up for your rights!

Who is a better investment than YOU?


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