Creating Powerful Partnerships Between Schools and the Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS)

by Debbie Grosser, M.Ed., and Dale Pennell, C.A.S.

Mission Statement of the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services

In partnership with people with disabilities and their families, the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS) collaborates with the public and private sectors to provide and advocate for the highest quality services that empower individuals with disabilities to maximize their employment, independence, and full inclusion into society.

An interview with James Rothrock, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services

Question: Who is eligible to receive services from DRS?

Answer: The eligibility criteria for the vocational rehabilitation (VR) program are dictated by federal law.  They are:

  1. The applicant has a physical or mental impairment;
  2. The physical or mental impairment constitutes or results in a substantial impediment to employment; and
  3. The applicant requires vocational rehabilitation services to prepare for, secure, retain, or regain employment consistent with the applicant's unique strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice. (34 CFR 361.42)

In addition, the applicant must be eligible legally to work in the United States.

Question:  How early should students be referred to DRS?

Answer:  Referrals should be made three years prior to school exit and should be included in the student's Individualized Education Program (IEP).  This allows time for the VR counselor to get to know the student and start career exploration and program planning. For students with complex disability issues, it may be appropriate to refer earlier.  All high school students with disabilities who are DRS clients must have an employment plan in place prior to graduation.

Question:  What services does DRS provide to clients who are in secondary school?

Answer:   DRS provides services to help students transition from school to work.  Services, based on the needs of the student, may include:

  • Assessment for determining eligibility and vocational needs
  • Guidance and counseling
  • Vocational assessment/evaluations
  • Access to Employment Resource Centers, job searching, and finding employment leads
  • Job placement
  • On-the-job training
  • Follow-along services after job placement
  • Personal Assistance Services (PAS)
  • Training services
  • Transportation
  • Rehabilitation technology/accommodations
  • Supportive services

In addition, the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center, in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Education, operates the Post-Secondary Rehabilitation Transition (PERT) program, a school-to-work transition initiative for eligible youth with disabilities in all of Virginia's local school divisions.  Students are selected by the PERT team, which consists of the PERT transition field staff, the VR counselor, and school personnel.  If selected, students attend a 5- to 10-day program during which they receive comprehensive evaluations of vocational strengths and aptitudes, independent living and leisure skills, and functional abilities, as well as social, interpersonal, and personal adjustment skills.  Findings and recommendations are provided so that they can be incorporated into the transition IEP planning process.  Students may also be eligible to return to PERT for a two-week situational assessment that is designed to confirm vocational interests in one vocational training area, refine skills, develop positive work habits and clarify objectives to achieve individual vocational goals.  For further information about the PERT Program, go to: http://wwrc.virginia.gov/pert.htm.

Question:  How can schools create powerful partnerships with the local DRS to support students' successful transition to post-high school life?

Answer: The key is building collaborative relationships that include school personnel, VR counselors, students, and their families.  These relationships develop when school personnel know the VR counselors in their areas, invite them to schools to meet staff, invite VR counselors to IEP meetings, and share information with counselors to help establish VR eligibility and development of the students' Individualized Plans for Employment.  VR services provided by DRS can go a long way to help reduce the student drop-out rate and produce positive employment outcomes for students.  Further, school personnel can benefit from learning about other DRS opportunities, such as employment networking, job placement, supported employment, and assistance with services that increase the likelihood that students will be successful in postsecondary education and training settings.