Click each topic below to read:
- The Roles of the Individual with Disabilities and the VR Counselor
- The Role of the VR Agency
- Balancing Informed Choice with Other VR Agency Responsibilities
The concept of informed choice in the VR process has been with us for 30 years and is foundational to person-centered service delivery. Nevertheless, informed choice is a concept that many in the VR program have difficulty fully understanding and operationalizing.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, makes it clear in its policy statement that all programs, projects, and activities funded under the Rehabilitation Act, including the VR program under Title I, must be "carried out in a manner consistent with the principles of respect for individual dignity, personal responsibility, self-determination, and pursuit of meaningful careers, based on informed choice, of individuals with disabilities" (section 2(c)(1) of the Rehabilitation Act). The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 introduced the principle of “informed choice” into the statute and provided individuals with disabilities expanded opportunities for increased involvement in the direction of their VR programming. The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 strengthened the previous requirements related to informed choice and introduced additional requirements that expanded opportunities for increased participation of individuals with disabilities in developing and implementing their VR programs. This policy is reinforced in section 100(a)(3)(C) of the Rehabilitation Act which states that the State VR program must be carried out in a manner consistent with the following principle: “Individuals who are applicants for such programs or eligible to participate in such programs must be active and full partners in the VR process, making meaningful and informed choices-- (i) during assessments for determining eligibility and VR needs; and (ii) in the selection of employment outcomes for individuals, services needed to achieve the outcomes, entities providing such services, and the methods used to secure such services.”
Specific Regulatory Requirements:
More specifically, 34 C.F.R. § 361.52(a) reiterates the general requirements that the VR agency must provide information and support services needed by applicants for and recipients of VR services in exercising informed choice throughout the rehabilitation process.
Further, 34 C.F.R. § 361.52(b) explains that the VR agency, in consultation with its State Rehabilitation Council, if it has a Council, must develop and implement written policies and procedures that enable an applicant or recipient of services to exercise informed choice throughout the VR process. At a minimum, these policies and procedures must provide for the following:
(i) Employment outcome;
(ii) Specific VR services needed to achieve the employment outcome;
(iii) Entity that will provide the services;
(iv) Employment setting and the settings in which the services will be provided; and
(v) Methods available for procuring the services.
Requirements for the types of information that must be provided regarding services and service providers are found in 34 C.F.R. § 361.52(c). In assisting an applicant and eligible individual in exercising informed choice during the assessment process and during the development of the IPE, the VR agency must either provide the individual or the individual's representative or assist the individual or the individual's representative in acquiring, the information necessary to make an informed choice about the specific VR services and the providers of those services that are needed to achieve the individual's employment outcome. This information must include, at a minimum, information relating to the following:
In providing or assisting the individual or the individual's representative in acquiring the information described above, the VR agency may use, but is not limited to, the following methods or sources of information described in 34 C.F.R. § 361.52(d):
In RSA PD-01-03, dated January 17, 2001, RSA described how the individual with disabilities, the VR counselor, and the VR agency each play an important role in implementing the requirements for informed choice. This information is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. The VR counselor is the facilitator of this rather complex decision-making process in which the individual with disabilities engages, with the assistance of their representative, if appropriate.
This decision-making process begins with the individual’s engagement in the assessment to determine their eligibility and their VR needs. It continues with the development of their IPE. Options for developing the IPE, including options for the individual to develop all or part of the IPE with or without assistance, can be found in 34 C.F.R. § 361.45(c)(1). Specifically, the individual exercises informed choice in the selection of an employment outcome as well as the selection of the services the individual needs to achieve that outcome. The individual also needs to decide on the settings for such services and the providers they wish to use for such services.
The counselor describes the range of employment outcomes and service options available to the individual during each step of the process, or to the extent possible, the opportunity to create new options that will meet the individual’s specific rehabilitation needs. It is important that the counselor provide the individual with sufficient information about the consequences of various options so that the individual can fairly evaluate these options.
The counselor must then guide the individual in evaluating the information and in making decisions among the various options, or to the extent possible, must provide the individual the opportunity to develop such skills or support and assistance in carrying out these functions. The counselor contributes their knowledge of the VR process, their experience with guiding other individuals with disabilities through the decision-making process, their knowledge of resources available to the individual, and their familiarity with labor market information. The upshot of the informed choice process is to enable the individual to make decisions in ways that reflect their strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, and interests. Finally, the individual must take personal responsibility, to the extent possible, for implementing their chosen options.
Another helpful resource for counselors is RSA’s TAC-98-01, dated November 3, 1997, which describes assisting individuals with cognitive disabilities in exercising their right to informed choice. Again, this TAC is somewhat dated in the terminology used, but the concepts are sound and remain relevant. Specifically, this TAC provides information and strategies for:
• improving the skills needed by the individual to exercise choice;
• providing support and assistance through other individuals;
• simplifying information; and
• using multiple modes of communication and repetition.
The Role of the VR Agency
PD-01-03 goes on to explain that the role of the VR agency is to administer the VR program in a manner that supports the joint efforts of the individual and the VR counselor. Agencies can provide such support in a variety of ways, which include but are not limited to those listed below:
The policies developed by the VR agency must also ensure that the availability and scope of informed choice are consistent with all other obligations of the VR agency under 34 C.F.R. part 361 and with the Uniform Guidance in 2 C.F.R. Part 200. This means that informed choice is not unfettered, but rather, it is counterbalanced by other requirements of the statute and regulations. Below are some regulatory requirements that the agency must consider as it works to increase the informed choice provided to individuals with disabilities: