The Model Program

Our story about the Model Program begins in 1973 with the award of a federal grant from the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) to the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services to develop a national model for cooperation between educators in the counselor education departments in our universities and professionals serving persons with disabilities in the State/Federal programs throughout the nation.

In accordance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Rehabilitation Services Administration created the Regional Rehabilitation Continuing Education Programs (RRCEP) to provided continuing education programs to upgrade the knowledge and skills of the professionals in state agencies of rehabilitation and related organizations.  Of the 13 grants provided, eleven grants were awarded to universities with counselor education degree programs; one grant was awarded to a private company providing staff development training in Chicago. The final of the 13 grants was awarded to a state agency, the Virginia Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. The grant award to the Virginia Department of Rehabilitation, in addition to the funding for continuing education, set aside special funding for the creation of a model program for the recruitment, training, and professional development of rehabilitation counselors. Upon completion and acceptance, the model program would be a cooperative effort between colleges and universities which provide pre-employment education for rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation practitioners in the state agencies to provide educational experiences more closely aligned with the professional practice.

The model program was the “brain child” of Corbett Reedy, former Acting Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. At that time Corbett Reedy had retired from RSA and was serving as a special consultant to the Virginia Department of Rehabilitation. Corbett Reedy had long felt that there were significant gaps between the pre-employment education of rehabilitation providers in colleges and universities and the professional practice in state agencies. As a result, following employment, the state agencies, in his words, had to “grow their own”. Corbett Reedy envisioned the creation of a model program where higher education and state agencies would share information and create educational experiences more closely related to the actual professional practice. The results, he believed, would provide better educated and trained professionals for service to persons with disabilities.

In May of 1978 administrators, consultants, and training staff of the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services met with faculty representatives from counselor education programs throughout the State of Virginia to discuss areas of cooperation that would bring the educational experience closer to professional practice of rehabilitation counselors within the agency. The outgrowth of this meeting and subsequent research led to the publication in 1981 of Shaping the Future: a Systems Approach to Human Resources Development in Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies. The results of this research were presented in a national conference titled “Shaping the Future” in Chicago, Illinois in April 1980 under the sponsorship of the Office of Rehabilitation Services, Region V and the Rehabilitation Continuing Education Program (RRCEP V).

The publication Shaping the Future provided the structure for a human resources program within the rehabilitation agency, including a design for the recruitment, training, and career development after employment for rehabilitation counselors. Shaping the Future was meant to be a beginning, a blueprint, so to speak.  The publication outlined areas of knowledge with some specifics needed by professionals at each stage of their development.  What it lacked was the identification of specific areas of cooperation. We now know that most of the areas of cooperation the state agency hoped then, and areas in which agencies always had to “grow their own”, concerned vocational and work-related issues, such as an understanding  of the employment needs of  clients served by rehabilitation counselors, knowledge of the economy and competitive businesses, what businesses are looking for in their selection of employees, the kinds of jobs in the economy appropriate for persons with disabilities, and strategies for job placement.

The Model Program for years seemed to have gone by the wayside like so much research in rehabilitation and after an auspicious beginning on those early days in Chicago so much of the hope of cooperation had been lost in time. With the emphasis upon serving the severely disabled first, state agencies moved away from a vocational emphasis, with some exceptions, such as supportive employment, to a medical program of service. What is known about the fate of the model program is that the research from Shaping the Future was used by the vocational rehabilitation agencies in Michigan and the District of Columbia for the restructuring of their human resources programs.

But the needs that the Model Program sought to address remained; and, as the field of rehabilitation has expanded and diversified, those needs have resurfaced with even greater demand. Today, the fastest areas of growth in the field of rehabilitation are outside of the state agencies: private rehabilitation, forensic rehabilitation, vocational experts for the Social Security Administration, human service managers, worker compensation adjusters, and employee relations counselors, to name a few. All of these areas of growth require an understanding of vocational issues, the economy, and the workplace.  One example:  the Social Security Administration has hired over 500 Administrative Law Judges since 2012 and SSA anticipates hiring another 500 by 2022. A vocational expert testifies on every adult case that appears before these judges. The Social Security Administration has identified rehabilitation counselors with job placement experience as the professionals they want to fill the VE positions. Currently, they consider the lack of experienced VE’s a major crisis.

In 2015 the first full-length test book dealing with vocational concerns appeared titled The Rehabilitation Counselor in Professional Practice. This publication is the direct result of initiatives of cooperation begun over 40 years before.  The publication is intended to provide a resource to educators in rehabilitation counseling programs for instruction in vocational and work-related issues. The 10 chapters, addressed directly to rehabilitation counselors, define disability as it relates to work, targets and describes working people and others normally served by VR counselors, explores motivational and empowerment issues in counseling employees and job-seeking clients, identifies job markets and ways to use the new technology to locate jobs for clients, and provides a planned and organized approach to job placement. The clear intent of The Rehabilitation Counselor in Professional Practice is to resurrect the spirit of cooperation, which began so long ago, and to update the needs of practicing rehabilitation counselors in the new century.