Vocational rehab: What you need to know

By Amanda Morin

At a glance

  • Every state has a vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency.

  • VR services can help your child transition from high school to work and independent living.

  • Qualifying for VR services is different from qualifying for special education.

When high school students have an , the (IDEA) says they have to have a transition plan. Its purpose is to create a smooth transition to whatever they plan to do after high school. That might include going to college or going straight to work.

But what if it seems like your child’s learning and thinking differences might be a big obstacle to finding employment? Or to keeping a job?

Your child might be able to get help from the vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency in your state. VR services are for people with all types of disabilities. The services are designed to help with work, education, and independent living.

Services vary by state. But they might include:

  • Help identifying possible careers
  • Help getting a job
  • Job-coaching support to help keep a job
  • (if needed) for a job
  • Classes to teach independent living skills
  • Apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training
  • Self-advocacy training

The government provides money for each state to have a VR agency. By law, VR agencies must work with schools to identify kids who may need services. Still, it’s important to talk to your child’s IEP team about inviting someone from VR to join the transition team.

It’s also important to know that the requirements to qualify for VR are different from those for special education. Plus, they vary from state to state. Even students who have an IEP must apply and qualify for VR services. And a learning or thinking difference has to be a major barrier to getting and keeping a job.

Your child can apply for services with your help or independently. Someone from the school’s transition team can also make a referral and send in the application.

After the application is submitted, your child will meet with a VR counselor to talk more about it. The agency will look at your child’s strengths, interests, and unique needs. It will also look at your child’s school records and may ask for permission to see medical records.

An eligibility decision is usually made within 60 days. If your child qualifies for services, the VR counselor will work with your child to create an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). Like an IEP, an IPE is a legal document that lists both goals and services. The plan is reviewed every year.

Even if your child doesn’t qualify for VR, there are many ways you can help your child pursue goals. Together, you can explore different ways to learn a trade. And when your child starts working, you can take steps to make the transition go more smoothly.

Key takeaways

  • Vocational rehabilitation services may be a part of your child’s IEP transition plan.

  • VR services can help young adults gain skills they need to get and keep a job.

  • If your child doesn’t qualify for VR services, there are other ways to help with the transition from high school.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days. 

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.