First off, let us begin by saying that parents, should not rely on just one person to provide accurate and timely information. That is not to say that others purposefully lie or withhold information. Instead, what we have found is that there is just an abundance of information to know, and it makes it impossible for any one individual to keep abreast of everything.
Therefore, here are some ways that you can manage your relationship with your VR counselor in a way that leads to a healthy progression of services and supports by the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and your community.
Get to know your counselor
Much of the services you request from VR depend on your counselor’s professional and personal experience, as well as their perception of disabilities. Here are some pertinent yet non-intrusive questions you can ask your counselor:
How long have you been a VR counselor?
What did you do before?
What are your past experiences as a VR counselor? (Successes vs. Failures)
Have you ever managed a case for self-employment? If so, what were the results? If not, what are your apprehensions?
What are your strengths/weaknesses as it pertains to self-employment?
Do your homework
Know the Statewide VR Counselor Policy Handbook
Know the procedures/requirements for Self-Employment
Contact other families/individuals that have worked with this counselor. Request referrals from the counselor him/herself or the area supervisor.
Know what is required of you
If your counselor gives you information that conflicts with the VR handbook or the VR procedures/requirements for self-employment, kindly show your counselor the relevant portion of the handbook/policy that states otherwise.
If you feel your counselor has made an error in his/her decision, request a second opinion from his/her supervisor or contact the VR Office located in your State Capital.
When a counselor does not hear from you, then you leave room for doubts/questions. Keep your counselor in the loop via email, voicemail, or otherwise, but be sure that you let your counselor know that you take self-employment seriously, that you are working actively and consistently to make it a successful outcome for you, your family member and of course for the Department of VR.
Know how to defend interests/desires as viable options for self-employment
The perception of “abilities” vs. “disabilities” largely depends on your communication, documentation and archives of what a person is able to do. Be sure to be fully equipped to clearly demonstrate that the particular interest is not only a clear path to meaningful employment, but also that there is a concrete potential for income.
Here are some ways you can ensure that your relationship with the VR counselor is focused on ABILITIES:
Take photos of the person pursuing self-employment engaged in activities of interest
Record short videos that clearly demonstrate the ABILITIES of the person
Make sure the person is able to advocate for themselves as often as possible in the presence of the counselor. (i.e. if the person is non-verbal, have the person prepare a letter beforehand that can be read to the counselor, or ensure that a communication facilitator is present for the meeting(s) with the counselor so that the person can communicate feelings, desires or concerns using an iPad, Letter board or computer. It’s a perfect opportunity for the person to be a SELF-Advocate, with a voice of their own.
Know your rights
You have the right to choose your counselor.
You have the right to choose which CBTAC* (Certified Business Technical Assistance Consultant, a VR provider that assists those interested in pursuing self-employment) you wish to work with.
You have the right to appeal any decisions.
By State Law, you have the right to choose self-employment, which is recognized by law as an accepted employment outcome.
You have a right to request a meeting with an area supervisor.
Be well informed. For example, did you know that if your child is still a minor, and you are pursing self-employment through VR, if your child receives Medwaiver services parents do not have to contribute towards the cost of CBTAC services even if your child is not receiving SSI or SSDI?
In Florida, you can request to have an initial meeting for self-employment instead of an employment evaluation through VR.
Don’t be afraid
There is no reason to fear self-employment, the process, your counselor, and certainly not making a mistake. All of these can be an amazing help if you prepare, plan and inform yourself properly.
If you require additional assistance or guidance through the VR process, Picasso Einstein is a CBTAC provider through VR and provides consulting services to address your specific needs.
*Not all States have a CBTAC Program. If your State Department of VR does not, then request a Job Coach that is willing to adapt her/her expertise to creating employment via a small business.