by Doug Powell
In September, I wrote about the process of getting service from your Department of Rehabilitation Services. I stressed the importance of the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). That's a very good place to start this discussion of when things are not going well.
The IPE Is Your Contract
Consider the IPE to be the contract between you and the Department of Rehab Services (whatever it is called in your state). You and your counselor have come to an understanding of:
- Your employment goals,
- What services you will need to give you the skills to achieve your employment goals,
- Any adaptive equipment needed, and teaching necessary to use that equipment,
- All of the above is developed "consistent with [your] strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice, so that such individuals may prepare for and engage in gainful employment."
The plan you develop is meant to be individualized, so your input is necessary in making it meaningful. As well as letting your voice be heard about what you think will work and not work for you, you or someone with you should take notes at every step along the way, especially if there is an area of disagreement.
Client Assistance Program (CAP)
The Rehab Act mandates that every state have a Client Assistance Program (CAP) associated with their rehab services. You can request the help of a CAP representative at any point in a grievance/appeal process. They will help you understand the Rehab Act, and will help you make sure that the rehab services you are receiving conform to the law.
Review of IPE for Amendments at Least Yearly
The law mandates that you and your counselor meet at least yearly to review your progress through the steps in your IPE. If your employment goals change so that different services are needed, you should first request a meeting to amend your IPE. Then you can renegotiate what services are necessary to attain that employment goal.
The grievance process up to and including mediation are considered "informal" steps. These steps may differ from state to state. In Virginia, if you cannot come to an agreement with your counselor about employment goals, services necessary, or how services are rendered, you should appeal first to the regional vocational rehabilitation manager and next to the deputy commissioner for services. Contact your local chapter or state affiliate of the ACB for information on how this works in your state. However, by federal law, if you still cannot agree, you can request a mediator. A meeting will be set up with you, any supporting advocate you request, a representative of the department, and the mediator. You will present your case, the department will present theirs, and the mediator will try to help you come to an agreement with the department. Again, your case will be stronger if you have documented your previous attempts to get what you need to attain your employment goals.
This is the first "formal" step in the grievance process. The state retains a pool of fair hearing officers to be called on when necessary. Although retained by the state, they are supposed to be fair and impartial. You can request a fair hearing after the informal steps have failed to render a satisfactory outcome. Again, you will meet, present your case, the department will present theirs, the hearing officer may ask you questions to clarify his or her understanding of the disagreement both at the meeting and after, and then the officer will render a decision.
Review of Fair Hearing
You can request that a review official of the governor of your state review the fair hearing. You would want to submit any further evidence, if available. This is a review, not another hearing, so there would be no meeting necessarily associated with this step.
Continuation of Services
During this whole grievance process, unless you want to stop receiving services, they are supposed to continue. Also, there are not supposed to be any reprisals by the department or its employees. If you feel that either of these provisions is being violated, they should be noted in your documentation and presented as evidence at informal and formal steps of the grievance process.
Up to this point, the department has paid for all services, including a CAP representative for you. If you hire legal counsel, that is your expense. If you are still not satisfied, you can file a civil suit, and go the formal judicial route to try to attain justice.
Your local ACB chapter, state affiliate, members of the rehabilitation issues task force, or national ACB office may be able to provide answers to your questions and help you through the process of attaining services and employment through your state department for rehabilitation services. Most of the time, department employees are as interested in your success as you are - they certainly are not in it for the money. So hopefully, you will be able to come to a compromise you both can agree to at an informal level. ACB has always championed the concept of "informed consent," where you are considered a partner in deciding what and how your services will be rendered. Sometimes there is a difference of opinion on the definition of "informed consent," so it may be necessary to keep asking questions about options available to you at different steps along the way. Good luck on preparing and finding employment!
Previous articles and other information on rehabilitation issues can be found on the rehab issues task force web page at acb.org/node/56. The article in the December ACB E-Forum was on the importance of the state rehabilitation council (SRC) in your advocacy efforts to get jobs for blind and visually impaired members and citizens in your state. If you have ideas for future articles, please let me know at email@example.com or contact any other member of the task force: Sue Ammeter of Washington; Lucy Birbiglia from New Mexico; Paul Edwards of Florida; Sarah Presley of Washington, D.C.; Lori Scharff from New York; Pam Shaw of Pennsylvania; and our staff liaison, Melanie Brunson. And lastly, if you would like to share rehabilitation information, discuss how system changes will affect us, and help formulate advocacy strategies, please go to www.acb.org/mailman/listinfo/rehab-stakeholders and request to join our rehabilitation-stakeholders list.