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Vocational Services for the Disabled

Updated on May 9, 2017

Individuals with disabilities often have difficulty obtaining competitive employment due to the nature of their disabilities. Others may not be able to work a regular full-time job because it may negatively impact their disability benefits. However, there are programs available that provide opportunities to obtain meaningful work with little to no impact on disability benefits. In Virginia, the two primary forms of vocational assistance are Pre-Vocational Services and Supported Employment. These services are funded through Medicaid Intellectual Disability Waiver or through the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS).

Sugar Plum Bakery of Virginia Beach
Sugar Plum Bakery of Virginia Beach | Source

Pre-Vocational Services

Pre-vocational services provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to work and develop skills in a “pressure free” environment. Pre-vocational services are sometimes referred to as “sheltered workshops”. Pre-vocational programs are most appropriate for individuals who want to earn money but are not quite ready for a full time job or need a high level of support to complete work tasks. Sheltered workshops typically have several staff members on hand to supervise and to provide direct assistance.

Pre-vocational services provide vital services to the community in ways you probably never knew. Companies often provide contract work to pre-vocational providers. These contracts are beneficial to both parties because the employees enjoy the work and the companies are able to get work done at a lower cost. Most employees that work in pre-vocational setting do not get paid an hourly wage. Instead, they are paid what is called a “piece rate”. This means that they are paid according to how many items they produce or package (example, .25 per box folded).


Supported Employment

Supported employment services allow people with disabilities to work in normal work environments with the “support” from a job coach. Supported employment services are provided in a competitive work environment instead of the sheltered environment of pre-vocational services. Job coaches assist individuals with looking for jobs, preparing for the interview, and provide direct support on the job. Job coaches can also assist the individuals with conflicts on the job such as attendance, conduct, performance, accommodations, etc. Job coaches typically spend a great deal of time with the new employee and then taper off as they gain more experience and become more comfortable with the job.

Supported employment can occur in just about any work setting. Job coaches provide these services in grocery stores, department stores, restaurants, offices, and more. These employees typically earn hourly wages and enjoy benefits such as vacation time and health insurance if they don’t have Medicaid.


Community Impact of Pre-Vocational Services

Pre-vocational services have a huge impact on the community that is often overlooked. Many of the products you purchase were produced or packaged by individuals with special needs. I have listed just a few of the local companies that help create job opportunities for the disabled community.

Cox Communications- Employees with special need s are responsible for assembling boxes, assembling cables, and cleaning remote controls. They also package the cables and phones.

Dollar Tree- Have you ever purchased a hula hoop or inflated ball from the Dollar Tree? There is a good chance that they were assembled and packaged by employees with special needs.

Stihl- If you purchased a Stihl chain saw, the box was probably assembled by employees with special needs. They also sort and package other parts that are used to assemble other tools such as gas tanks and various bolts.

Walmart- Have you ever purchased chicken from Walmart? The labels were likely packaged by special needs employees. I’ll never look at Walmart chicken the same again.

Hampton Roads Transit- HRT has a contract with a local agency that employs individuals with special needs. These employees are responsible for cleaning the buses and other vehicles inside and outside.


Community Impact of Supported Employment

Supported employment services provide individuals with disabilities the opportunity to work in competitive environments and earn normal wages. I have listed some of the areas that special needs employees are making a difference.

Laundry Services- Supported employment agencies also offer laundry services to local restaurants and hotels. These services are particularly vital during the summer tourist season.

Military- The military also has maintenance contracts with agencies that employ the disabled. These employees are responsible for light janitorial services in various military office buildings.

Individuals with disabilities are some of the most hard working and dedicated employees. Every time I visit a site the employees are so happy and they are so proud to have a job. Sometimes I wish I had the same enthusiasm. The areas I pointed out are just a snapshot of the impact that vocational services have on our community. These programs prove that everyone has the ability to make a difference regardless of physical or developmental limitations.

© 2013 Martin D Gardner


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    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Individuals with disabilities are usually referred to Vocational Rehabilitation by their local Human Services Agency or the high school where they receive special education services. Vocational Rehabilitation provides the transition services necessary to help students move from school based services to community based care. Employment opportunities are a large part of this benefit. In addition to job coaching, they may provide ongoing education opportunities for individuals that are functioning at a higher level of ability.

    • mdgardner profile image

      Martin D Gardner 3 years ago from Virginia Beach

      Yes. Some high schools also provide some pre-vocational training before they graduate. Thanks for the input.

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