Towards Access, Accountability, Procedural Regularity and Participation: The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 and 1993

Article excerpt

The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992, themselves recently amended by 1993 statutory changes, mark the first major revision of federal-state vocational rehabilitation program and the other provisions of the Rehabilitation Act since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Although most of the regulations to implement the law are still in the process of being developed, rehabilitation professionals should begin now to plan for such innovations as presumed eligibility for vocational rehabilitation services, national evaluation standards and performance indicators, independent hearing officers to decide appeals, and client choice of goals and services. The purpose of this article is to be a guide to the most important of the revisions in the rehabilitation law, analyzing them in relation to their intended goals of improving access to services, enhancing accountability, increasing procedural regularity, and expanding client participation in rehabilitation services choices. The article concludes that some of the changes made by the new laws are highly likely to meet their goals. Others will meet their immediate objectives, though they may have more difficulty fulfilling their real purposes. Finally, some changes have utterly unpredictable results; developments will require close watching by rehabilitation practitioners.

The latest amendments to the federal rehabilitation services program became law on August 11, 1993. These amendments made technical corrections to the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992, which were the first major revision of rehabilitation law since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In the 1992 and 1993 Amendments, Congress instituted changes that will affect the daily work of rehabilitation professionals and the lives of the persons they serve. Although the "extensive proposed regulations" that will implement the bulk of the Amendments' provisions remain to be adopted (Federal Register, May 3 1993), it is not too soon to adjust to the new developments in rehabilitation service delivery that the revisions will cause.

Background

Twenty years ago, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 codified the federal-state vocational rehabilitation program and a variety of other training and social service activities for Americans who have impairments that substantially impair major life activities. The Act also set out definitions and established expansive nondiscrimination requirements for federal grantees. The 1992 and 1993 Amendments to the Act primarily affect vocational rehabilitation and the other service programs. They can be organized into four categories according to their objectives: those that improve access to services; those that work towards enhanced accountability; those that increase procedural regularity; and those that advance the goal of client participation in the rehabilitation services program. The purpose of this article is to serve as a guide to the most important of the recent changes in the rehabilitation law, analyzing them in relation to their intended goals.

Access

Equal access is at the heart of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (Leung, 1990). Though vocational rehabilitation services aim to provide access to the world of employment covered by the ADA (Senate Report, 1992, pp. 5-7), rehabilitation services can themselves be inaccessible to the people with severe disabilities. Senator Dodd stated: "Prior to the introduction of this legislation, there were many diverse concerns about vocational rehabilitation services and what improvements could be made. Some complaints were consistent, however. One was that those with the most severe disabilities were shut out of the system, probably because they were more expensive to serve." (Congressional Record, Oct. 5, 1992, p. S16613.)

The principal innovation the 1992 Amendments make to increase access for individuals with severe impairments is a new presumption of eligibility for services. …