Experiences with Vocational Rehabilitation in MN
Often when I tell people I am looking for work, and they know I have disabilities, they will suggest that I try Vocational Rehabilitation. I have done that twice. I don’t think I am going to go thru with it again, though perhaps it might be more useful as more money is now going to be spent on Voc Rehab rather than on sheltered workshops. (This article is not entirely forthcoming, but comments on that later…)
The first time I applied for V.R. was in 2009, after I had interned for the Al Franken campaign in 2007-2008, and my next gig wasn’t until next November as a holiday temp worker at Jo-Ann Fabric.
Some things I wonder about Voc Rehab are: Do they ever talk to experts on the labor market? Or rather the labor market as it really is (as in not the stats that say “X number of jobs were created last year in industry Y” but it doesn’t mention that many of them were part-time jobs that don’t provide benefits. The Social Security people do, as they had a labor/vocational expert testify that I was capable of being a hotel maid, package handler etc. Wow, guys- thanks for the vote of confidence, I had no idea I was able to do such amazing things! *sarcasm* (Applying for SSDI was NOT my idea, by the way) I’m pretty sure the S.S.A. doesn’t talk to state V.R. people because at one time, my counselor told me that she “wasn’t sure I was capable of holding down a job”. At that point, I had been fired *once* and had held various unpaid internships and temporary jobs. But I had experience doing stuff, even if it was kinda random. Like no other 20-something year-old ever! (Sarcasm) I am not sure what this lady was expecting that would make me more employable- she was a VR counselor after all, didn’t she have tons of people with no work experience? Or who had been fired from multiple jobs? Or criminal records? Or simply guilty of the “crime” of being “too old”?
Anyway, the way it works is, you apply and submit various documentation that proves your disabilit(ies) Then you meet with a V.R. counselor and they interview and help you work on an employment plan. This can include evaluations of your skills, classes/workshops on interviewing, resume-writing, or if some miracle you can prove that you *really* need it for your super-specific employment plan, you might even get them to pay for training. This last one is highly unlikely if you are college-educated like me. In the realm of V.R., I was supposed to be an “easy” case, with my education and comparatively mild disabilities- though how “mild” they are doesn’t really matter, if you are competing with a zillion non-disabled people with better resumes and better social skills. I wanted to work in the non-profit field, in some type of entry-level job. I applied for lots of clerical positions. In retrospect I realize that clerical jobs are not really a good fit for me, but hindsight is 20/20. The V.R. person will often refer you to another person who works for an outside organization (a “vendor”) to help you with your actual job search, because the V.R. person is just there to supervise the case in general, and they have a zillion other cases. The first time I tried V.R. they referred me to an organized called HIRED. The lady who worked with me was very nice, though her expectations that I’d be able to easily find a job proved rather unrealistic. I also feel like people who work in nonprofits themselves are more easily impressed by a resume filled with volunteer work. People who do actual hiring don’t seem to be. In the end I had to leave the program, because I was dealing with health & family issues.
The second time I tried V.R. was in 2012. This time I applied because I had learned of an organization called AutismWorks, that as you can guess by the name specifically works with adults on the autism spectrum. What a relief! I would not have to waste a bunch of time explaining my version of autism. I was already working part-time for Erik’s Ranch, but was still considered eligible. What was odd is that I was later kicked off both V.R. and Medical Assistance after I picked up a *temporary* job that was *up to* 15 hours a week, and was estimated to last a month or two. (November-December) But apparently that made me SOOO wealthy and successful that I didn’t their help anymore. *sarcasm* This job didn’t lead to anything else, it was for a very small company and they just needed help on one project. In retrospect I could’ve challenged both of these. But I have a hard time dealing with bureaucracy just getting the paperwork done right and turned in on time. And it was the worst time of year for my stress & depression- December. Merry Fecking Christmas! But yeah- word to the wise, even if it’s hard & stressful, if they kick you of Voc Rehab for a temporary gig, challenge it. Get a letter from the employer saying that it is temporary, what it pays etc. If the employer has told you that this position is unlikely to lead to another permanent one, and he/she is not actively referring you to other clients or something, include that in said letter. Documentation is always your friend, when it comes to disability bureaucracy.
Anyway back to the actual process with Autism Works- they may have changed how they work since then, as they’ve grown and expanded, but this is how I did it then. They did various evaluations including an adult autism quotient (exact name I’m unsure of..) We did an interesting exercise with a social worker who specializes in “community based social work” in other words she does it from the perspective of how the person relates to their community, not just as an isolated individual which I thought was an awesome idea! Basically I went around with her and Greg my AW counselor and showed them around the Augsburg campus and Dinkytown and talked about my experiences and what stuff was important to me and why.
I thought about working with kids with disabilities, and applied for a bunch of aide positions at various schools. I did get a couple interviews- the one I remember seemed out of my league when they asked me about my “pedagogical philosophy” or something. I actually *know what that means* but I..don’t really have one. On paper this are pretty entry level positions but in reality with how teaching jobs are constantly being cut, I have to compete with actual trained teachers.
I did lots of informational interviews with nonprofit people I knew. It’s true that info interviews are a good way to get experience interviewing in a less stressful setting- because you are asking the person questions, and so you don’t have to prove yourself and all that. Greg was thinking that what works well for people on the spectrum is for someone in a company to recognize your abilities and create a position specifically for you. (That sounds rather pipe-dreamy to me!) Info interviews, networking to more people to interview, and yah you’re supposed to follow up with them, and maybe they’ll “keep you in mind” when something opens up and such. I also haven’t seen much of people moving up within the nonprofit realm, I mostly see people who worked in corporate and then “fell into” it, or they ran into their old college roommate blah blah. I talked to various former co-workers at my campaigns and they seemed to have no actual advice for me- just “volunteer forever” and “keep doing what you’re doing” which is…what? If I did a lousy job, or hell they just plain don’t remember me much and don’t really care, and don’t want to help me find work, then just go out and say it. Stop pretending. Otherwise it’s just as much of a charade as any other job interview.
So anyway, I’ve gotten to the point where I think I need to create some sort of mini-Conspiracy to Employ Semi-Awkward People with Goofy Brains…it can consist of people with said brains (whether officially pronounced by a shrinky-dink or not) who are either working, looking for work, run a business, as well as people with other disabilities or no disability who think employing people with interesting minds sounds like a cool idea. People who I’ve identified as Giving a Crap, not just random people I know who just pretend to Give a Crap. I want to talk to people who think I’m a cool person who’s capable of doing cool stuff, and aren’t all uptight about whether I have this perfect resume with no gaps or a cheerleader personality. (well maybe cool isn’t the right word…but something!) Anyone who has an idea for a better name, feel free to suggest!