Plan Your Future: A Guide to Vocational Rehabilitation For Deaf Youth

Deaf youth, like you, have many different hopes, dreams, and goals. Many programs and services are available to help you succeed. One important program is vocational rehabilitation (VR), which helps you plan to reach your educational and career goals. VR is helpful, but the process of receiving services and the language that VR agencies use can be overwhelming!

This guide summarizes the process and shares important information that will help you get the services you need to succeed. Keep in mind that each state has its own VR system, so each state has a slightly different process.

What Kind of Services Can I Get From VR?

VR services include tests to determine what is a good fit for you, including career counseling, accommodations, and financial support for education or training, among many more services. Services that VR agencies may offer include the following:

Transportation to training, college, or work

Public transportation fare, money to cover gas and/or mileage for personal cars, and so on

Accommodations needed for VR services, specific training, or work

Interpreting, speech-to-text services like CART, and/or assistive technology like captioned phones or screen readers

Assistive technologies to support communication

Hearing aids, flashing/vibrating alarm clocks, captioned telephones, personal amplifiers, screen braille communicators, and more

Assistance with job searches, placement and retention services like job coaching, supported employment, resume development, job application assistance, and practice interviews

Equipment and clothing needed for training or employment

Required costs and materials, which can include clothing, uniforms, equipment, certification fees, computers, and internet access

Remember that you can get services even after you have gotten a job and your VR case has been closed successfully. VR services can help you keep your job or help with career advancement. Services that help you keep a job or get a promotion are known as post-employment services. VR can provide many other services—talk with your counselor! 

How Do I Get VR Services?

For deaf young adults, there are two ways to receive services from VR: pre-employment transition services (pre-ETS) and general VR services. You may qualify for services if you:

  • are willing to work,
  • have at least one disability, and
  • can benefit from assistance with getting, and keeping, a job.

VR is available in every state and U.S. territory. Contact your VR office today to figure out which services are a good fit for you. See the notes at the end of this document to find an office near you!


General VR Services

Age Range

14–21 (age range varies by state)

High school age and above

Who Qualifies

Youths with a disability who are enrolled in school: high school, college, or similar settings

People who face significant barriers to employment as a result of a disability and need assistance to prepare for, secure, retain, advance in, or regain employment4

Documents to Bring

Copy of Individualized Education Plan (IEP) from school, 504 Plan (similar to an IEP) from school, or other medical disability documentation with proof of enrollment in school

Copy of medical disability documentation


  • Proof of Social Security
  • Income or Social Security
  • Disability Income—though not required, can help VR determine your eligibility more quickly

If none of the above can be obtained, VR may provide assessment(s) to determine eligibility at no cost to the applicant.

Wait, What is Pre-ETS?

A recent law, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, has made it possible for students with disabilities to receive certain services. VR agencies can provide pre-ETS for youth with disabilities who are still in high school to help them reach their educational and employment goals.

There are five pre-employment transition services:

  1. Job exploration: Find out how your interests, passions, and abilities may be a good match for some jobs.
  2. Work-based learning: Get real-life experience on the job to learn and apply workplace skills, like internships and co-op programs!
  3. Postsecondary counseling: Plan and work toward a career goal through college, vocational training, or other training programs, with support from VR.
  4. Workplace-readiness training: Gain skills in communicating, working with others, problem solving, and practicing professionalism.
  5. Instruction in self-advocacy: Learn how to communicate about your needs and how to ask for accommodations at college, training programs, or work.

Pre-ETS can give you the tools, skills, and knowledge to be ready for training, college, or work after you graduate. Pre-ETS strives to give you the confidence to make important educational and employment decisions. Pre-ETS also helps you identify and work toward goals for independent living, education or training, and employment. The goal of pre-ETS is to help you overcome common challenges, such as communication barriers, lack of effective accommodations, and discrimination.

To make the most of transition planning, ensure that your family, teachers, IEP team, and VR counselor work together. VR counselors can go to IEP meetings so that your school and VR service providers can work together on transition services that support your needs and goals. Your family should also be involved to provide support, encouragement, and information to help you and others know what to expect.

How Do I Get the Best Services?

VR is designed to help you make the best possible plans for your future. Think about your strengths, abilities, and interests. VR professionals can provide better services when they know about your strengths and your challenges in school, the workplace, and the community. VR professionals can provide assessments and evaluations to learn more about your strengths and challenges and what kinds of careers may be a good fit for you. Federal law requires VR programs to respect individual values and choices. This is called “individualized services.”

Tips to Remember

  • If you are under 18, a parent or guardian may need to attend VR meetings with you and sign any required applications and forms for you.
  • Read and review forms and contracts before signing them! If you have a tough time understanding any of the paperwork, ask your VR counselor to explain. Here are some forms you should expect:
    • Application: These forms will ask for your personal information to help VR open your case and communicate with you.
    • Consent to Release Information: These forms will ask for your permission to share personal medical and nonmedical information between VR and other programs to help understand your needs and provide services. For example, your IEP team may share information about the accommodations you use at school and your goals for the future.
    • Student services plan or Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE): These forms are signed agreements that have the following information:
      • Plan start and end dates
      • Specific steps and responsibilities for continuing to receive VR services
      • VR counselor responsibilities
      • Specific services that may be provided to you
  • Be ready to tell the VR counselor about your future plans. Think about your interests, passions, and dreams. What do you need to reach your goals?
  • Stay in touch with your VR counselor to continue receiving the services you need. Be on time for your appointments!
  • Patience is key. VR is not an emergency program. It takes time to ensure that you are eligible for VR services. However, it can make things smoother if you are prepared and have everything ready beforehand.

What Happens When I Don't Get the Services I Need?

Sometimes, you may face challenges when you apply to or receive VR services. These issues can include the following:

  • Denied eligibility to receive VR services
  • Placement on a waiting list
  • Being told you cannot get services or funding from VR
  • No VR plan development due to disagreements about goals
  • VR not helping you find a job
  • VR counselor not returning calls or communicating with you

There are many ways you can resolve these issues. Start by talking directly with the VR counselor. If that does not work, ask to talk with these people in this order:

  1. The direct manager of your VR counselor
  2. The administrator in charge of the VR manager and counselor
  3. The state VR central office

If your issues still are not resolved, contact your state’s client assistance program, or your state’s equivalent, to help you understand your rights and how to pursue appeals. Every state VR agency has policies and procedures to review and come to an agreement whenever disagreements arise or services are denied. Your VR agency should provide you with information on your rights and remedies. Also review your state VR’s policy manual, which usually is found on the state VR website, for specific appeals information and procedures.

Have More Questions About VR?

Watch these experts share important tips and deaf people’s experiences with VR.

Your Future Awaits! You've Got This!

Remember that VR is there for you—to help you plan for your future and reach your goals. Being prepared and knowledgeable about VR can help you get better services and support. You can use the VR Checklist for Students below as a starting point while you work with your VR counselor.

Need more support?

For personalized support, or to answer any questions you may have, please contact the NDC help team or email us at [email protected].

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