The mandate of vocational rehabilitation services is to provide clients with disabilities with designated services and financial assistance that would facilitate their progress towards obtaining gainful employment. However, in recent years VR support has been decreasing in most states, many dramatically, affecting postsecondary access and related services for students with disabilities.
The passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 led to a dispute between VR and universities. Vocational Rehabilitation administrators argued that the ADA law absolved them of paying for auxiliary aids and access services, and that postsecondary institutions were fully responsible for provision and payment of such services. The United States Department of Education then countered by stating that the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 held Vocational Rehabilitation ultimately responsible. Many postsecondary institutions joined the debate, claiming that VR was responsible according to the Rehabilitation Act as well.
In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which instructed state VR agencies to develop interagency agreements with higher education institutions which would spell out ‘who was responsible for what’ when it came to supporting access to postsecondary education and training for students with disabilities. There are many approaches that VR and postsecondary institutions can take regarding payment for services which may include but not be limited to: individual billing, shared costs, pre-established formulas, block grants, or simply addressing it on an agency-by-agency or institution-by-institution basis.
In 2002, the National Association of the Deaf joined the debate by writing a position paper titled “Responsibility for Cost of Communication Access Services for Students who are D/HH at Colleges and Universities” which stated that American colleges and universities should be ultimately responsible for the cost of communication services.
It was ultimately determined that the final responsibility falls primarily on postsecondary institutions and there is fast- growing acceptance of this. If vocational rehabilitation cannot, or is not willing to, pay for auxiliary services to students with disabilities, the postsecondary institution is responsible. Furthermore, the institution cannot require students to apply for VR, cannot make acceptance contingent on application or VR services, and cannot refuse to provide services based on cost (unless they can prove an undue hardship, which is rarely successful). Finally, students with disabilities should not be asked to seek external funding to pay for auxiliary services to reduce the burden on the postsecondary institution.
Despite progress in this area, there is a tremendous variation among state agencies and even among individual counselors on the level of support provided to clients and institutions, not to mention, many rules and regulations, and various interpretations of them. A number of resources, including tipsheets, are available on the website of the Postsecondary Education Programs Network (www.pepnet.org/resources).