Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Vocational Evaluation in Supported Employment

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Vocational Evaluation in Supported Employment

Article excerpt

One of the most significant advances in vocational rehabilitation services has been the recent supported employment movement. Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act (P.L. 99-506) define supported employment as competitive work in integrated work settings for individuals with severe disabilities for whom competitive employment has not traditionally occurred and who, because of their disability, need intensive, ongoing services to perform such work. Currently, 27 states are implementing supported employment programs given grants from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities. Of particular importance to the supported employment movement was the recognition of supported work as a legitimate vocational rehabilitation outcome. Changes are occurring nationwide, allowing less restrictive vocational options for those previously segregated.

Integrated work options for individuals with severe disabilities have evolved as the result of many factors. Among these factors has been a dissatisfaction with low placement rates, low wages, and other limitations of sheltered services; advances in the preparatory nature of school vocational training programs; and demonstrations of the vocational potential of individuals with severe disabilities (Kieman & Stark, 1986; Rusch, 1986; Mcloughlin, Gamer, & Callahan, 1987).

Some supported employment programs have evolved through the establishment of new agencies or through the conversion of existing agencies from sheltered to supported work services. More commonly, supported employment services have been offered as additional services to those of existing agencies. In either case, supported employment programs operate within an overall vocational rehabilitation structure that was created long before supported employment, as we know it today, existed. As a result, many difficult issues are currently being faced in relation to blending the features of an existing service system with emerging beliefs and practices.

One particularly critical aspect of the vocational rehabilitation system that poses a dilemma for supported employment is vocational evaluation. Traditional vocational evaluation assumptions and practices have been called into question when applied to supported employment candidates (Gold, 1980; Wehman, 1981). The purpose of this paper is to examine these traditional approaches and offer an evaluation model that is compatible with the underlying principles of supported employment.

Problems with Traditional Evaluation

Vocational evaluation can be defined as any activities designed to: (a) describe an individual and his or her functioning needs; (b) specify the outcomes to be achieved through rehabilitation; and (c) identify the interventions and services required to achieve those outcomes (Berven, 1984). There are at least five features of traditional vocational evaluation that have been called into question by supported employment practitioners. The first involves the use of the vocational evaluation process as a screening device to select or reject individuals considered able or unable to benefit from vocational services (Berven, 1984). The use of vocational evaluation procedures and instruments has resulted in the exclusion of many individuals with severe disabilities from the labor market (Rudrud, Ziarnik, Bernstein, & Ferrara, 1984). This problem was underscored by Schalock and Karan (1979) who noted:

There is little evidence suggesting that changes in traditional psychological and vocational assessment practices have occurred (Karan, 1977). At present, perhaps because other alternatives simply do not exist, vocational rehabilitation agencies are using assessment procedures originally developed for less handicapped individuals and are applying them invalidly to the more severely handicapped. Thus, one must constantly wonder how many severely handicapped persons, who might otherwise become useful, productive, and employable, will continue being either underserved of even eliminated from further VR consideration as a consequence of inappropriate assessment practices (p. …

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