by Doug Powell
(Editor's Note: Doug Powell is the chairman of the rehabilitation issues task force. You may reach him via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone, (703) 573-5107.)
Just about everyone reading this has had some interaction with the rehabilitation system (or will in the future). To be clear, I'm speaking here of VISION rehabilitation … drug and alcohol rehab will have to be addressed elsewhere by someone else! Whether you are a parent of a blind or visually impaired child, a student, or an adult, most of you have had some interaction with the Department of Vision Services (it will be called different names in different states). Some have had good experiences, and some not so good. And I venture to guess that very few know how to make lasting improvements. We on the rehab issues task force are trying to demystify the system and make sure you know what avenues are available to make improvements to your own experience and advocate for change to improve the experiences of those who come after you. The intent here is to give information to those wishing to receive services on what to expect and what their commitment should be to create the most successful outcomes. Affiliate leaders will also find information on how to successfully coach members and potential members through the rehabilitation process.
Your Input into Your Own Rehabilitation Experience
From the beginning of your interaction with the Department of Blind Services, you will enter into a partnership with the rehabilitation professionals to help you live an independent, fulfilling life as a blind or visually impaired person. If you are not trying to keep the job you are presently doing, or not seeking another job, you are eligible for some services and perhaps some adaptive equipment that will help you in your daily living - services such as learning how to get around your home, neighborhood, and town by yourself; learning how to cook and clean with limited sight; how to access reading materials such as newspapers, magazines, and books; and other helpful skills. If you are seeking to keep your current job or get another, you will be eligible for the services mentioned above plus training and equipment that will help you in the type of job you are interested in getting or keeping.
Whether you are looking for work or not, the first step is to make sure you are eligible for services. A health care professional must give you a written explanation of your visual problem, its extent, and any prognosis whether it will get better or worse in the future. You will have to request this from your doctor and make sure it gets to the office where you are applying for rehabilitation services.
Next, a rehab counselor will sit down with you and discuss with you what your goals are, what services are available, and eventually come to an agreement on a plan to attain your goals. This plan is called an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). It can be amended later, but it is really the blueprint for what you and the rehab professionals will be working on to get you along your path to becoming a successful blind or visually impaired person. You may have another person at these meetings to help you advocate for what you need. Contact your local or state affiliate to find someone to be your advocate. Try to set this up well in advance of your meeting so that you and your ACB advocate can discuss and perhaps clarify your goals and the kinds of services you might need.
Some suggestions on employability:
- It's easy, when someone asks what you want to do, to dream really big. It is also easy, when confronting your vision loss and the fear that you can't do things the way you used to, to dream too small. Perhaps this is where an ACB advocate can help you define job possibilities.
- Be flexible. You may not be able to continue being an airplane pilot, but there may be other jobs in aviation that you can do.
- You may increase your employment opportunities by changing where you live. Proximity to work centers and public transportation should be considered as you prepare for the rest of your life as a person with significant sight impairment.
After the plan has been developed and agreed upon, your counselor will start setting up the services you need, and those specialists will be contacting you to set up appointments. You can get the most out of these training opportunities by:
- Being ready for each appointment;
- Giving your whole attention to the content of the session;
- Practicing during the session and between sessions; and
- Being open to trying, and being clear about possible safety issues.
Remember that quite often, new learning only takes place when you step outside your comfort zone. On the other hand, everyone has their own limits on how far they are willing to step outside those zones, and it is your responsibility to communicate with your rehab professional to optimize the acquisition of alternative skills that will make you a confident, competent member of society. A key component of these conversations and the partnership you have with your teachers and counselor is "informed consent." The law mandates that rehabilitation professionals must tell you the options that are available so that you and they can come to an agreement on how best to attain your goals. Some rehab professionals are better than others at this, so it might take some questions on your part to find out options. Your ACB advocate may be helpful here.
There is research currently going on regarding the effectiveness of mentoring in attaining successful employment. But even without definitive proof, common sense suggests that having someone to talk to, compare notes with, and bounce ideas off will shorten your transition to a confident, independent, and successful sight-impaired member of your community. Contact your ACB affiliate to find someone in your state, or perhaps in your profession, willing to mentor you. ACB has many special-interest affiliates, several of which are focused on specific professions. You can also contact members of the rehabilitation issues task force for help.
We hope to have more information available in the future for other aspects of the rehabilitation system and how to advocate for improvements. Topics will include: citizen input into vocational rehabilitation, what to do when your rehabilitation isn't going the way you think it should, and why having representation on state rehabilitation councils is important. Since there seems to be interest in reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act (long overdue), we'll try to keep leaders and members informed on proposed changes and what that will mean to us. Good luck on your path!