With new guidance, the U.S. Department of Education is warning state vocational rehabilitation agencies that they need to provide more than minimal services in their efforts to help people with disabilities gain employment.

In a 21-page technical assistance directive, the Education Department’s Rehabilitation Services Administration says states should make changes to promote “meaningful and sustained engagement” in the vocational rehabilitation program.

“Simply providing basic service alone is no longer enough to constitute meaningful engagement with the individual,” wrote Carol L. Dobak, deputy commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration.

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“RSA encourages VR agencies to ensure that services not only meet but exceed the expectations and needs of individuals with disabilities because the quality of VR participants’ experiences, i.e., the perception that participants form based on their interactions with the VR agency and the services they receive, has a direct impact on a VR agency’s potential for success with those participants,” the document states.

For too long, federal officials say that vocational rehabilitation has been considered a “best-kept secret.” The guidance outlines strategies that states can use to better promote their offerings and urges them to engage with individuals in a timely manner by simplifying the application process, expediting the determination of eligibility and other efforts to eliminate barriers.

There should also be policies to ensure a minimum level of communication with individuals with disabilities who are part of the vocational rehabilitation program to ensure that issues and challenges can be addressed as needed and that job placements are on track, the guidance notes.

Meanwhile, federal officials said it’s important that vocational rehabilitation programs recognize the successes of their personnel and participants. Mentorship programs connecting people who have seen positive outcomes from the vocational rehabilitation program with individuals with disabilities who are just starting out can also be helpful, they said.

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