by Doug Powell
The Rehabilitation Act has been amended several times since its passage in 1973. One of the concepts that was strengthened in the 1990s was "informed choice." Basically, what this means is that from the beginning of your relationship with the vocational rehabilitation system through every step to your case closure, you have the right and responsibility to be a partner in the decisions about your Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) and its implementation. You have a say in what your goals are, what services are needed to meet those goals, and how those services will be delivered.
As a reminder from previous articles, the Individualized Plan for Employment is your contract with the rehabilitation agency. The goals of this plan are 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." Some professionals may think they only need to find out what you want and then make the decisions for you about what your plan should be. Some programs are rigid in their structure and delivery - even those developed by other people who are blind. But there are many alternatives to choose from, and you deserve to know what those alternatives are before making your choice. Following are some examples of areas where you may have to ask what alternatives exist:
- You may want to start your rehabilitation at a residential center. If the program at the center in your state doesn't seem to promote the learning style most appropriate to you, you can request alternative programs in other states.
- You may want or need to make a career change, or maybe not. Career counseling can be part of your IPE.
- If you want to be self-employed, you don't have to do food service. Although Business Enterprise Program (BEP) opportunities can be a great career, if you have other skills and interests, you should make sure you can explore alternatives before making a choice of paths.
- Some orientation and mobility specialists may insist you learn to get around with sleep shades on and a long white cane. Although this is one good alternative, folding canes, guide dogs, and night walks without sleep shades are valid alternatives if you prefer.
- Learning braille is an extremely valuable skill, but it is not the only path to literacy for blind and visually impaired individuals. Taking into account your current visual acuity, the long-range prognosis of your visual impairment, and other factors, other assistive technologies may suit you better.
The Bottom Line
No matter what route you choose, getting yourself ready to live a financially and socially successful, independent lifestyle as a blind or visually impaired person is hard work and a series of tough choices. The more you challenge yourself, the happier you'll be in the long run. There will be times where you are totally frustrated, and occasionally you may even want to quit. However, challenging yourself in ways you know you can be successful, and in directions you've chosen will keep you going far longer than with decisions where you have had little or no choice.
We're on Your Side
The ACB Rehabilitation Issues Task Force web page is a valuable source of information, from previous articles to the more in-depth discussion of the ACB position on informed choice in our white paper. To learn more, visit www.acb.org/node/56.
As we've mentioned before, you can also contact someone in your local ACB chapter, state or special-interest affiliate, the national ACB office, or members of the rehabilitation issues task force for help and support: Doug Powell (Virginia), chair, home (703) 573-5107, cell (571) 438-7750, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; Sue Ammeter (Washington); Lucy Birbiglia (New Mexico); Paul Edwards (Florida); Nancy Matulis (Maine); Sarah Presley (Washington, D.C.); Lori Scharff (New York); Pam Shaw (Pennsylvania), and David Trott (Alabama).