The State-Federal Rehabilitation Program: Interface with Special Education

Article excerpt

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). …