Vocational rehabilitation, also abbreviated VR or voc rehab, is a process which enables persons with functional, psychological, developmental, cognitive, and emotional disabilities, impairments or health disabilities to overcome barriers to accessing, maintaining, or returning to employment or other useful occupation.
Vocational rehabilitation can require input from a range of health care professionals and other non-medical disciplines such as disability employment advisers and career counsellors. Whilst, traditionally, the focus of vocational rehabilitation was job retention, an increased focus on an all-encompassing approach has become popular in contemporary approaches. Approaches differ between countries, however, due to the differing amounts of financial and political support vocational rehabilitation receives.
In 2008, the UN introduced the “International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” which provided internationally recognised rights to people with disabilities. It is often argued that this convention redefined the understanding of disability adopted by governments and further changed the way in which disability related issues were approached.
Vocational rehabilitation varies greatly between countries. However, it generally focuses on improvements to the socialisation, healthcare and physical and mental wellbeing of the person receiving the services. People eligible for vocational rehabilitation generally include those with long-term sicknesses, mental health disorders, common health problems and severe medical conditions. Services offered to those who are eligible commonly include financial support, psychological support and social support. There are a range of techniques utilised in the process of rehabilitation, including:
- assessment, appraisal, program evaluation, and research;
- goal setting and intervention planning;
- provision of health advice and promotion, in support of returning to work;
- support for self-management of health conditions;
- making adjustments to the medical and psychological impact of a disability;
- case management, referral, and service co-ordination;
- psychosocial interventions;
- career counselling, job analysis, job development, and placement services;
- functional and work capacity evaluations.
Commonly, healthcare programs rely on their successes to gain support. However, vocational rehabilitation is unique as it is largely reliant on employer compliance and willingness to involve themselves in the process. Subsequently, it is often marketed in a way that focuses more on the business gains of the program.
There is a large amount of research dedicated to the development and improvement of vocational rehabilitation. Contemporary focus on vocational rehabilitation arose from an increased focus on social security systems on a governmental level. It is believed to be beneficial for people to return to work and to experience full integration into society, which is typically assisted by vocational rehabilitation. Moreover, rehabilitation programs encourage fewer people to rely on governmental financial support by facilitating greater movement into jobs for people with disabilities who, typically, are excluded from the workforce.
There is a large cultural influence on approaches to disability and subsequently, disability services. Developed countries such as America, England and Australia have had systems in place for rehabilitation services for many years. Developing countries, however, have historically been more focused on combatting diseases and thus, have had less resources to dedicate to the development of rehabilitation programs. There is large amounts of stigma surrounding disability in developing countries. As a result, there is a lack of vocational rehabilitation programs in these countries which in turn has consequences on the economic and social development within them. The World Health Organisation, however, have implemented programs within developing countries in order to better establish their rehabilitation plans for people with disabilities.
Whilst it is a popularly used form of intervention throughout many countries, vocational rehabilitation is often criticised for being inefficient and unsuccessful. Furthermore, some critics claim that there is not enough emphasis placed on women with disabilities in need of vocational rehabilitation services.
Vocational Rehabilitation in the USA
The Vocational Rehabilitation Program was created in 1920. This program was created under the supervision of the Rehabilitation Services Administration which was formed by the American government to facilitate a variety of programs for vocational rehabilitation.
The President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped was formed in 1945, which later became the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and today is known as the Office of Disability Employment Policy.
By the end of the 20th century, a number of services were created to facilitate support for vocational rehabilitation. In the 1980s, jobs specifically for people with disabilities were created and the idea of ‘equal access’ became more widespread. The ‘Americans with Disabilities Act’ was implemented in 1990 and afforded people with disabilities the same set of rights that had historically been granted to women and marginalised groups.
Currently, a variety of federal services exist to facilitate vocational rehabilitation in the United States. The Department of Disability Services has a dedicated sect to vocational rehabilitation services where applicants are provided with a counsellor to develop an Individual Plan for Employment. The Office of Disability Employment Policy further facilitates employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
The Social Security Administration pays benefits to people with disabilities whilst the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) administers grants to those eligible. Eligibility is determined, firstly, by whether an individual’s disability is preventative of employment. Furthermore, the individual needs to benefit from vocational rehabilitation services and further be able to succeed in employment goals. Sometimes, for clients where job retention is not a feasible outcome, vocational rehabilitation services are more geared towards proliferating vocational skills.
Some programs offer clients education services in conjunction with their rehabilitation, which has been shown to improve their occupational outcomes. Other programs facilitate jobs in mental health services for people with mental health histories as they often prove to be of great use in such job fields. Overall, however, a strong link between successful recovery and maintaining employment has been made.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs offers vocational rehabilitation programs specifically for veterans whose disabilities are related to their years in active service. Such programs include employment assistance, business assistance and job retention. All veterans are provided with a Vocational Rehabilitation Counsellor to create a rehabilitation program. These counsellors tend to dictate the success of individual rehabilitation programs, particularly through the relationship developed between the veteran and the counsellor.
Of people who use vocational rehabilitation services in America, only 17% are successful in their employment. Furthermore, only 20.5% of the United States labour force is made up of people with disabilities and on average they are paid about 37% less. Vocational rehabilitation further tends to cater to advantaged communities, with people from disadvantaged backgrounds less likely to reach out for vocational rehabilitation services and are furthermore, less likely to be found to be eligible.
There are different agencies in the United States that run VR programs, including the following:
|VR state agency or division||Headquarters of agency or division||Notes|
|Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS)||602 S. Lawrence Street, Montgomery||Toll free number restricted to Alabama residents only|
|Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR)||550 W. 7th Ave., Suite 1930, Anchorage||Address is for DOLWD main office in Anchorage.|
|Arizona Department of Economic Security, Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA)||1789 W Jefferson Street, Phoenix|
|Arkansas Department of Career Education, Rehabilitation Services Division (RSD)||525 W Capitol Ave, Little Rock|
|Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Services for the Blind (DSB)||700 Main Street, Little Rock|
|California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR)||721 Capitol Mall, Sacramento|
|Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency||1718 Peachtree Street NW Suite 376 S||Atlanta, GA 30309|
|New York State Education Department, Adult Career and Continuing Education Services - Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR)||89 Washington Avenue, Albany|
|South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department||1410 Boston Ave #2138||West Columbia, SC 29170|
Vocational Rehabilitation in the UK
Vocational rehabilitation has been in practice in the UK since the early 1900s. However, initially it was simply seen as a measure taken after the individual had received the necessary medical treatment. In 1946, the ‘Egham Industrial Rehabilitation Centre in Surry’ became open for public use, following the Second World War. In 1951, the National Health Service (NHS) had primary control over rehabilitation services, offering a variety of programs. However, in the 1980s, the recession in the UK saw a decline in focus on vocational rehabilitation. The NHS shut down many of their rehabilitation service centres which consequently led the Department of Employment to take over responsibility for rehabilitation services.
From 2000 to 2002 the Vocational Rehabilitation Association led a government funded research project into vocational rehabilitation and how to better improve it in the UK. By 2003 nearly 2.7 million people in the UK were receiving government disability benefits which the government could not sustain. Such large numbers indicated the lack of vocational rehabilitation services throughout the UK. As a result, ‘Jobcentre’ was created to facilitate work services for disability, overseen by the Department for Work & Pensions.
Currently, a variety of services are in place to facilitate vocational rehabilitation. In 2005, the Department of Health released “The National Service Framework for Long-term Conditions”. The report was a part of a government plan to improve support for those with long-term health conditions and worked closely with improvements to the NHS, who are in part responsible for assisting those in need of vocational rehabilitation.
The British Society of Rehabilitation Medicine represents medical professionals involved in vocational rehabilitation services, who are an important part of the rehabilitation process. However, it is widely understood that the responsibility for the success of vocational rehabilitation services is largely with the employer. This includes creating healthy workplace environments, providing mentors, creating stable work hours and providing a large variety of workplace necessities. As a result, the Vocational Rehabilitation Association supports businesses who facilitate vocational rehabilitation for their employees. In 2016, the NHS released “Commissioning Guidance for Rehabilitation” which served as an official document for rehabilitation providers. It outlined clear guidelines on expectations and policies in regard to administering rehabilitation services, including vocational rehabilitation.
JobCentre Plus provides people in vocational rehabilitation programs with a variety of services to support their rehabilitation process. Firstly, they provide Disability Employment Advisors which supervise the process of somebody returning to and staying in the workplace. They also provide the Alternative and Augmentative Communication scheme to facilitate those with limited communication skills in the workplace, and the Access to Work Scheme which provides employers of people with disabilities with suitable resources.
Only 14% of brain injury patients in the UK successfully remain at full time work 30 months after their injury, even after the use of vocational rehabilitation services. Whilst a large amount of money is put into such services, the average payback period for people who successfully maintain employment is as long as 20 months.
Vocational Rehabilitation in Australia
The ‘Disability Services Act’ in 1986 created standards for Australians with disabilities and was later amended, in 1993, to include financial support. In 2014, it became the ‘Disability Inclusion Act’ which officially recognised the human rights of people with disabilities. In 2007, the ‘Disability Services (Rehabilitation Services) Guidelines’ was developed to create outlines on how to provide rehabilitation services in Australia. In 2017, it was amended and included further guidelines on the facilitation of rehabilitation processes. In 1990 the Australian government created the ‘Disability Reform Package’ which improved financial support for disability related issues.
Vocational rehabilitation is also made available to veterans in Australia, with the ‘Veterans’ Vocational Rehabilitation Scheme’ being created under the ‘Veterans’ Entitlement Act 1986’ which focused on stable employment and further, employment retention for veterans. The importance of recognising not only physical but mental disabilities of veterans, however, is a recent revelation that has led to an increased focused in programs to support such disabilities.
From 2006, the Australian government introduced a policy where people who were capable of seeking and maintaining employment had an obligation to do so. In return countless services and financial support options are made available to facilitate the return to work.
To be eligible for vocational rehabilitation services an individual must have some form of a disability that is preventative of employment retention. Some people may be eligible for counselling services, as well as guidance and rehabilitation services. Financial and housing services and assistants in the workplace are further available to those who qualify for such level of rehabilitation. The differing levels of support offered are determined through a Job Capacity Assessment in which an individual’s needs are assessed and then appropriately met.
Typically, vocational rehabilitation services are offered through independent organisations associated with workplaces, or individual workplaces themselves with occupational therapists, psychologists, physiotherapists and exercise physiologists often utilised in the process.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme was introduced in 2013 as a means of providing better financial support for people with disability. It was an important factor in better improving job security for people with disability by providing them with increased social and economic freedom.
The ‘Employer Incentive Scheme’ (Australian Government, 2016) provides financial support to employers who actively participate in vocational rehabilitation; however, such support is only available if employers comply with ‘Disability Services (Rehabilitation Services) Guidelines’.
In Australia, there has been limited research dedicated to vocational rehabilitation, with most of the research coming from America. Furthermore, providers of vocational rehabilitation in Australia are not required to obtain any form of certifications. Resultantly, the teaching of vocational rehabilitation at universities needs to be improved in order to improve the state of vocational rehabilitation in Australia.
- European Platform for Rehabilitation
- Occupational rehabilitation
- Psychiatric rehabilitation
- Rehabilitation counseling
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