The Transition to Adulthood: How the Department of Rehabilitation Can Help
What is the DOR?
The California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) provides vocational rehabilitation services to people with disabilities. It is overseen by the state’s Health and Human Services Agency and is funded in part by grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
The DOR’s mission is to assist individuals with physical and mental disabilities in preparing for, entering into, and retaining or advancing in competitive employment in integrated work settings. The department provides employment services to approximately 115,000 individuals annually. The DOR has about 85 offices throughout the state.
What does the DOR do for young adults with disabilities?
Pre-employment transition services
While the DOR’s vocational rehabilitation services are primarily focused on adults, the department also offers pre-employment transition services for students with disabilities ages 16 through 21 who are in high school or in a recognized program of study.
Carol Asch, Assistant Deputy Director for the Vocational Rehabilitation Employment Division of the DOR, describes the five pre-employment transition services that her division is required to provide for students:
- Job exploration counseling
- Work-based learning experiences, including paid work experiences
- Post-secondary education counseling for students
- Workplace readiness training
- Self-advocacy training
These services, which are not necessarily offered by schools and can be provided directly by the DOR, are available to any student who has a 504 plan, an IEP, or a documented disability. To access these services, a student with a disability between the ages of 16–18 or their parents may contact any DOR office. A student or their parent may also invite a DOR representative to the IEP meeting.
Asch told us, “When the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) passed, for the first time the DOR had the opportunity to serve both eligible individuals and potentially eligible individuals, so students with disabilities who have not applied to our services can still receive those five pre-employment transition services.”
Setting goals with an individualized plan for employment (IPE)
An individualized plan for employment (IPE) helps a student map out their career path before they graduate. You can think of an IPE as being similar to an IEP or a IPP in that an IPE sets out a student’s goals and objectives, including the services and supports needed to help them achieve those goals and objectives. In addition to the DOR, an IPE may include other organizations such as community providers, Regional Centers, colleges, and community colleges.
Asch says, “Students with disabilities can access the full range of our vocational rehabilitation [VR] services if they apply and are found eligible for VR services; these may include support for training, college education, or other services that are needed for that individual — anything that’s needed to reach their career goal as identified in their individualized plan for employment.” The DOR can also help students with greater support needs gain work experience as part of their pre-employment transition services, including funding any auxiliary aids that they need as well as on-site coaching.
The DOR can also support students with disabilities in taking college classes if that is part of their IPE. This can include transportation, books, supplies, and assistive technology. For tuition and course fees, students are asked to apply for financial aid first; if financial aid is denied, the DOR can help cover college courses, trade schools, career and technical education programs, apprenticeships, and transition to independent living programs (such as the Redwood SEED Scholars Program). This fact sheet from Disability Rights California goes into more detail about what the DOR can and cannot provide.
It’s important to know that, unlike with Regional Center, students do not have to wait until they exit the public school system to access DOR funding, since the funding is provided by the WIOA.
How do you apply for DOR services?
Students or their parents can apply for DOR services by filling out the form on the DOR’s website, emailing email@example.com, or calling their local Department of Rehabilitation office to request student services by phone. Your local office should have a staff member dedicated to providing services to students with disabilities. The DOR can also provide counselors and service coordinators. It can be important to access the DOR’s Work Incentives Planning if the student will be earning money while gaining work experience to learn how it’s going to affect their benefits.
Asch explains the enrollment process in this clip:
How schools and the DOR work together
Many schools have a Transition Partnership Program Plan in place that is provided in collaboration with the DOR. In these schools, DOR services — including pre-employment transition services — will be offered by school personnel rather than DOR staff. The DOR also has liaison counselors working with each school district who are available to provide pre-employment transition services directly to students.
Asch explains, “Where it’s jointly funded, generally in those situations, there’s a DOR counselor available to work with the student. But for the five pre-employment transition services, those are offered by school personnel dedicated to that contract.”
Workability is not a DOR program, but some schools may facilitate a partnership with both the DOR and Workability programs. Having a Workability program at your school, whether you participate or not, does not preclude participation in DOR’s student services.
Asch says the DOR makes a concerted ongoing effort to reach out to all of the school districts so that they know about the DOR’s services and how to access them. It’s not just about reaching out to parents; rather, says Asch, “It’s making sure that every school district knows how to access them.”
She continues, “The ideal is no wrong door. And that’s what we’ve worked on with our local partnership agreements with Regional Centers and local educational agencies to really do cross-training with other organizations, so they know how to make these referrals.”
As many parents in our community know, the ideal and the reality do not always match up when it comes to our schools. Our advice, based on the experience that families have had trying to access DOR services, is to ask for the DOR representative assigned to your child’s school — and if you do happen to hit a “wrong door,” keep trying other doors. Make sure you are clear about which services you are requesting: pre-employment transition services or vocational rehabilitation services for adults. The DOR has excellent services to assist both youth and adults with disabilities in working toward meaningful careers.