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The state-federal rehabilitation program: interface with special education.

ABSTRACT: There are many differences between state and local special education programs and the state-federal vocational rehabilitation (VR) program. The differences are highlighted through discussion of the history of the state-federal VR program, differing definitions of individuals with disabilities (used in VR and special education), operation of the VR program, and funding differences and resultant differences in evaluation standards between VR and special education programs. Recommendations are made to effect productive interaction between special education and state-federal VR agencies.

Both special education and vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs serve individuals with disabilities. When special education students prepare for transition from school to work or postsecondary education, the interface between these two programs becomes crucial to ensuring continuity of services. The special education-VR interface, however, is not a complete, complementary linkage. Eligibility for special education services does not ensure eligibility for vocational rehabilitation services. Thus, it is important for special education professionals to understand the nature of VR programs and their differences from special education programs.

This article contains an overview of the state-federal vocational rehabilitation program with special attention to the special educationVR interface. The following topics are covered: (a) history, (b) definitions, (c) current operation, (d) funding, and (e) evaluation standards. HISTORY The history of cooperation between state vocational rehabilitation programs and state and local special education programs significantly predates the establishment of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). In the first part of this section, we provide an overview of rehabilitation legislation, the backbone of the state-federal vocational rehabilitation program. In the second part, we present the history of the interface between vocational rehabilitation and special education programs. Rehabilitation Legislation The state-federal VR program today is the result of a legislative legacy that began with the 1920 Smith-Fess Act. The initial legislation provided 50% federal matching funds for state funds spent on vocational rehabilitation of persons with physical disabilities (see Jenkins, 1987; Rubin & Roessler, 1987).

In 1943, the Bardon-LaFollette Act extended VR services to persons classified as mentally retarded or mentally ill (although very limited numbers were served). The legislation also provided the first federal support for state VR programs for persons with blindness (see Jenkins, 1987; Rubin & Roessler, 1987).

The era from 1954 to 1972 was known as the Golden Era of Rehabilitation due to significant expansion of services (Rubin & Roessier, 1987). The Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1954 (Public Law 565) authorized federal grants to colleges and universities to train professionals at the master's degree level to provide rehabilitation services to persons with disabilities. In addition, the state-federal VR program was expanded through an increase in the federal matching fund percentage from 50% to 66 2/3%. Services to persons with mental illness and mental retardation were expanded through the following provisions: (a) research and demonstration grants, (b) extension and improvement grants, and (c) rehabilitation facility development grants (see Rubin & Roessler, 1987).

The 1973 Rehabilitation Act represented a major overhaul of rehabilitation legislation in response to changing social trends, especially a growing consumer movement. The Individual Written Rehabilitation Plan (IWRP) was introduced to ensure consumer involvement in rehabilitiation planning (see Rubin & Roessler, 1987). A priority of services was introduced for persons with severe disabilities. This priority means that, in periods of fiscal restraint, states must first provide services to those who meet legislative and regulatory definitions of severe disability (Jenkins, 1987; Rubin & Roessler, 1987).

The 1973 Rehabilitation Act had a number of other significant provisions. Of historic importance were sections 501 through 504 of the Act, which dealt with equal access to transportation, education, and employment for persons with disabilities. The Act also stressed program evaluation and established demonstration projects in Independent Living Rehabilitation Services (see Jenkins, 1987; Rubin & Roessler, 1987).

The VR program continued its expansion with the 1978 amendments, which established Independent Living services for persons who may not be employable as part of the state-federal VR program (Jenkins & Odle, 1980). The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 reaffirmed the priority of services for persons with severe disabilities by placing in statute a more comprehensive definition of "individual with severe handicaps" (section 103[h]) and introducing supported employment services as an acceptable goal for rehabilitation services. This same legislation also reversed the trend of increased federal matching funds which peaked at 80% in 1968 by scheduling a gradual reduction to 75% (Rubin & Roessler, 1987; The Rehabilitation Act Amendments, 1986). History of the Special Education VR Interface State VR agencies have worked cooperatively with schools for over three decades (DiMichael, 1950). During the 1950s, Michigan and Minnesota were among the states with cooperative programs that were accorded national recognition. Such cooperative ventures were further stimulated in the 1950s by the expansion of rehabilitation services to persons with mental retardation. By the 1960s cooperative work study programs were common. These programs were joint ventures of VR agencies and school systems, which placed students with disabilities (mostly mild mental retardation) in part-time employment. Employment preparation and supervision was provided by specially designated teachers (Szymanski, 1984).

The growth of the work study programs continued through the 1960s. School VR work study agreements not only assisted students with disabilities in transitioning to employment, but, often, such agreements also provided financial benefits to the state VR agencies. Although the VR agencies paid for such services as partial reimbursement of wages to employers during a student's training, many gained valuable matching dollars in these endeavors. Some VR agencies certified school expenses related to the work study program (e.g., teacher salaries) as a type of "in kind" service that counted toward the matching funds needed to receive full federal funding allocation.

The expansion of work study programs was interrupted in the 1970s by conflicting regulations of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and by questions regarding matching fund procedures (Bullis & Foss, 1983; Szymanski & Danek, 1985). In 1978 the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) issued an order terminating many such 'in kind' matching practices. Although the order was rescinded in 1979 (Szymanski & Danek, 1985), a substantial decline in the numbers of students served by work study programs occurred between 1977 and 1980 (Bullis & Foss, 1983).

At about the same time as the work study programs were declining, the administrations of special education and vocational rehabilitation programs were promoting cooperative endeavors. A work group was formed by the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped and RSA, and historic joint memorandums were issued by the commissioners of Education and Rehabilitation Services in 1978 and 1979. The purpose of this communication was to encourage states to work toward collaboration and to give priority to formal cooperative agreements among special education, vocational rehabilitation, and vocational education agencies (Jenkins & Odle, 1980). Cooperation between VR and special education agencies was also encouraged by the 1978 passage of the Rehabilitation, Comprehensive Services, and Developmental Disabilities Amendments, which required that state plans include assurances of cooperative relationships (Eleventh Institute on Rehabilitation Issues [EIRI], 1984). In 1979 cooperation was solidified on the federal level with the establishment of the U. S. Department of Education and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) (Jenkins, 1987).

Coordination between special education and VR programs was further stimulated by the 1984 OSERS Transition Initiative (Will, 1984). The historical events in the special educationVR interface are summarized in chronological order in Table 1. Despite a relatively long history of cooperative endeavors, problems still plague the VR-special education interface. An initial understanding of the nature of the problems can be gained from examination of the statutory definitions governing special education and vocational rehabilitation programs. DEFINITIONS The interface of special education and rehabilitation programs is complicated by the use of different definitions for the term individual with handicaps. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) uses three different definitions. For special education, the OSERS Office of Special Education Programs is governed by section 1401(a) of The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, (20, U.S.C.) as amended, which defines handicapped children as follows:

Mentally retarded, hard of hearing, deaf,

speech or language impaired, visually handicapped,

seriously emotionally disturbed,

orthopedically impaired, or other health impaired

children, or children with specific

learning disabilities, who by reason thereof

require special education and related services.

On the other hand, the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), the OSERS office that administers rehabilitation programs, is governed by a substantially different definition of disability for the operation of the basic state VR program. This definition, contained in Section 7(a) of the Rehabilitation Act (29, U.S.C.), has defined an individual with handicaps as follows:

Any individual who (i) has a physical or mental

disability which for such individual constitutes

or results in a substantial handicap to employment

and (ii) can reasonably be expected to

benefit in terms of employability from vocational

rehabilitation services provided pursuant

to titles I and Ill of this Act.

The Rehabilitation Act contained another definition of disability that addressed the National Council on the Handicapped and civil rights issues of equal access and nondiscrimination (Sections 501-504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, 29, U.S.C.). According to this definition, which was contained in Section 7(b) of the Rehabilitation Act as amended, an individual with handicaps is defined as follows:

Any person who (i) has a physical or mental

disability which substantially limits one or

more of such person's major life activities, (ii)

has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is

regarded as having such an impairment.

Because of the civil rights applications of sections 501-504 of the Rehabilitation Act, this last definition has impact throughout education and rehabilitation settings. It also affects any business, industry, or institution receiving over more than a minimum amount of federal funds (Rubin & Roessler, 1987).

The definitional differences between special education and vocational rehabilitation legislation result in differences in eligibility for services. Such differences become evident when one examines the basic operation of the state-federal vocational rehabilitation program. PROGRAM OPERATION On the federal level, the state-federal VR program is operated by the U.S. Department of Education through the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services OSERS). Interpretation and regulatory authority are issued through the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and are contained in the Rehabilitation Services Manual. RSA provides funding to and monitors performance of state VR agencies through individual state plans (Mandeville & Brabham, 1987).

VR services are either provided directly by the state agency rehabilitation counselor (as in the case of counseling and guidance) or purchased from approved vendors (Bolton, 1987). The goal of VR services is to enable the employability or independent living of persons with disabilities (Mandeville & Brabham, 1987).

When a person with a disability applies for VR services, an initial interview and preliminary diagnostic investigation is performed by the rehabilitation counselor to determine eligibility for rehabilitation services. If an individual is determined to be eligible for VR services, an individual written rehabilitation plan (IWRP) is prepared. The IWRP is the central document in VR service delivery (Mandeville & Brabham, 1987). Its contents include the following

The ultimate employment goal, the short-term

objectives and corresponding services pursuant

to that employment goal, the anticipated dates

for the initiation of each service, and the

procedure and schedule for progress reviews.

The IWRP also sets forth the client's rights,

remedies, and methods of appeal. . . . (Mandeville

& Brabham, 1987, p. 53) VR services include (a) counseling and guidance, (b) physical and mental restoration, (c) vocational training, (d) job placement, and (e) training or placement support services such as maintenance payments, interpreters, or transportation (Mandeville & Brabham, 1987; Walls & Tseng, 1987).

Counseling and vocational planning are the central services. All other services are provided in the context of the counseling relationship (Mandeville & Brabham, 1987). Though counseling services are available without cost to all eligible VR clients, other services may be contingent on an economic means test (e.g., prosthetic devices, surgical interventions, college tuition).

State-federal VR services are not available to all persons with disabilities (Bolton, 1987). Only persons meeting the statutory definition of "individual with handicaps" in Section 7(a) of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act can be considered eligible for VR services. Thus, an individual must be determined to have a disability that results in a substantial handicap to employment and to reasonably be expected to benefit from VR services in attaining of employability.

Another factor that affects availability of VR services is the legislated priority for services to persons with severe disabilities. In periods of fiscal restraint, VR services may not be available for individuals meeting the statutory definition who do not meet the additional definition for severe disability (Jenkins, 1987; Mandeville & Brabham, 1987).

In general terms, RSA (1988b) has defined persons with severe disabilities as those individuals meeting the following criteria:

(a) having stated types of major disabling

conditions such as blindness, deafness, and

orthopedic impairments involving three or

more limbs; or (b) having disabilities as

qualified in some instances such as hearing

impairments with a certain degree of decibel

loss; or (c) being so impaired that they were

receiving Social Security Disability insurance

benefits or Supplemental Security Income

payments at some time while undergoing

rehabilitation services; or (d) having a documented

loss in functioning such as the inability

to perform sustained work activity for six

hours or more and requiring multiple vocational

rehabilitation services over an extended

period of time. (p.4)

This definition is important for special educators in that many special education students who are classified as mildly handicapped may not meet the RSA severe disability criteria. Thus, in planning transition services, it will be important for special education professionals to be aware of the specific guidelines used by individual states to implement the priority of service in times of fiscal restraint.

Both the priority of services and the eligibility determination illustrate fundamental differences between special education and vocational rehabilitation programs. In special education, education itself is both a goal and a process. In contrast, the VR program requires the counselor to certify that the services will enhance the client's employability. The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 (29, U. S.C.) removed many eligibility barriers for students with severe disabilities who need supported employment services. Nonetheless, eligibility can still be problematic for many students with mild disabilities which may or may not be determined to be handicaps to employment (e.g., mild speech impairments, mild learning disabilities) and for other students with severe disabilities having unfavorable prognoses (e.g., students with severe life-threatening disabilities such as muscular dystrophy).

The priority of services means that a person may meet all the eligibility requirements for VR services but not receive such services. Special education, on the other hand, guarantees a free and appropriate public education to all identified individuals with handicaps who need special education services (Podemski, Price, Smith & Marsh, 1984). In essence, special education is an entitlement program, whereas VR is not. The funding differences discussed in the next section will provide further illustration of this difference. FUNDING As discussed previously, the state VR agency is funded on a federal matching formula. The majority of VR funds is traceable directly to federal legislation (Jenkins, 1987), although taxes or other revenues at the state level enter into the funding of the state agency.

Special education, on the other hand, receives considerable funding through local taxes. It, therefore, is more susceptible to local service needs and priorities. VR has no provision for supplementation of its funding base through local taxes. Therefore, VR services are not constrained by limited local tax bases or affected by local variation of district wealth as are special education services (Jenkins, 1987; Podemski et al., 1984).

Overall, the funding situation is very different for VR and special education. VR's funding base is fixed by federal appropriations, although states may supplement beyond their matching requirements. Special education, on the other hand, is required to provide services to all eligible individuals to remain in compliance with the law and eligible for federal funding. Local school taxes provide the buffer through which the additional costs are absorbed in lean times.

The differences in both legislation and funding contribute to differences in program evaluation standards. An important consideration for special educators in interacting with VR agencies is the standards on which the VR agency are evaluated. PROGRAM EVALUATION Although state VR agencies are evaluated by a variety of criteria, a major criterion is the number of clients whose cases are closed---as rehabilitated." Such closures are attained when individuals have worked for at least 60 days in suitable employment, which can include competitive employment, sheltered employment, and homemaking (Cook & Cooper, 1979). Following is a list of additional common VR evaluative criteria: the ratio of rehabilitated closures to total closures (rehabilitation rate), not including those closed from applicant status; the total numbers of clients served; the percentage of clients with severe disabilities served; the percentage of rehabilitated clients closed in competitive employment (as opposed to sheltered employment or homemaking); and case service costs per closure (RSA, 1988a, 1988b; Walls & Tseng, 1987).

Kallsen and Kidder (1985) emphasized that VR agencies are evaluated on the numbers of individuals served, whereas special education agencies are evaluated on their compliance with federal laws and regulations. Unlike VR, special education does not establish goals against which the success of the program can be measured" (p. 26).

For the special educator, this means that it may be difficult to secure VR involvement when a program's potential outcomes are not job placements and subsequent rehabilitation closures. The Eleventh Institute of Rehabilitation Issues (EIRI, 1984) has suggested that it is quite possible for both special education and rehabilitation to benefit from collaborative relationships. A major determiner of success, however, was considered to be knowledge of and contribution toward common goals (i.e., placement of students with disabilities in permanent employment).

This article has addressed the state-federal vocational rehabilitation program, not the rehabilitation counseling profession. Rehabilitation counseling can be considered as a related service in the provision of special education (House Report No. 99-860, 1986). Thus school rehabilitation counselors may be able to buffer the differences between the needs of special education and the availability of VR services. Professional rehabilitation counselors employed directly by school systems are bound by the eligibility and programmatic requirements of special education rather than rehabilitation legislation. Such individuals may not only assist in the special education-VR interface, but may also be major sources of transition planning for special education students who are not eligible for VR services. (Szymanski & King, 1989). SUMMARY In summary, the state-federal vocational rehabilitation programs and state and local special education programs both serve persons with disabilities; however, they differ in a number of organizational and funding areas (Jenkins & Odle, 1980). The programs use different definitions, different processes, and different standards of evaluation. Funding patterns for special education and vocational rehabilitation are quite different. Critical differences between VR and special education programs are overviewed in Table 2.

Unquestionably, the major difference between the two programs is that special education is an entitlement program and VR is not. The establishment of a disability and resultant educational impediment is usually sufficient for special education eligibility. VR eligibility, on the other hand, requires not only a handicap to employment, but also demonstration of the potential to benefit from such services in terms of a goal of employability. Even if these criteria are met, priority of service requirements may lessen the availability of VR services to persons whose disabilities are not considered severe.

When interfacing with the state-federal VR programs, special educators are required to understand a system very different from their own. This understanding is basic to cooperative relationships on state and local levels between vocational rehabilitation agencies and special education agencies. This understanding is also basic to local level relationships between special educators and state agency rehabilitation counselors. The ultimate benefactors of such cooperative relationships will be students with disabilities and their families who will be assisted in the transition between two different service delivery systems.
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Author:Szymanski, Edna Mora; King, John; Parker, Randall M.; Jenkins, William M.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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