A Toolkit for #DeafSuccess: Vocational Rehabilitation Professionals

Data shows there are gaps and barriers for deaf people when accessing vocational rehabilitation (VR) services:


For these reasons, VR professionals play an important role as gatekeepers to provide services and support for individuals with disabilities to make informed decisions to maximize postsecondary training, employment, independence, and community inclusion.

This includes deaf people seeking higher education and vocational training as well as deaf youth preparing to transition after high school. VR professionals should have a nuanced understanding of deaf people’s diverse sociocultural identities, values, goals, communication preferences and access needs to close gaps in education, employment and VR services.

Professionals should also be aware of the laws protecting and supporting individuals with disabilities in education, employment and community settings. Additional considerations are necessary to effectively provide deaf youth with Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This toolkit is a combination of resources, guidance and tools to support VR professionals to effectively collaborate with deaf people and their career pathways.


  • Vocational rehabilitation (VR) professionals play an important supporting role in the transition from high school to continued education or employment. VR professionals need to be prepared to provide high-quality and individualized services for deaf people, who have diverse sociocultural identities, values, goals, communication preferences and access needs. To improve the services you provide to deaf people, consider these tips below. Download these tips here.

    Recognize the diversity of deaf people and deaf communities. Deaf people are a highly diverse population with a wide range of communication preferences, sociocultural backgrounds and additional disabilities that shape their interactions with their environment. Learn more about the diversity within the deaf community and strategies for increasing accessibility in your setting by taking a Deaf 101 course.

    Learn about how to center deaf people in decision-making. Deaf people are diverse with different aspirations, experiences, backgrounds, values and needs. As a professional, recognizing the deaf person’s layered identities and communities is critical to ensure individualized services and the person’s ability to exercise informed choice. This course shares stories and expert lectures by deaf people coupled with research and additional information on the importance of centering deaf people.

    Provide appropriate accommodations for assessments. Deaf people are uniquely at a disadvantage for English-based testing. Learn more about what constitutes reasonable accommodations for placement tests, standardized assessments and psychological evaluations 

    Assess deaf students’ self-determination skills. Self-determination skills are an important component of success. The Self-Determination Inventory (SDI), which is accessible in ASL, measures students’ self-determination skills. An individualized report will provide detailed information to assist in planning to strengthen self-determination and self-advocacy skills.

    Encourage the development of self-advocacy skills. Vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselors who work with deaf clients are in a unique position to support deaf clients’ self-advocacy skill building, especially during the transition into the workforce and other postsecondary settings. This research brief explores strategies on how to promote self-advocacy knowledge and skills for deaf people within employment and educational contexts.

  • Strengthen college readiness among deaf students. There are many barriers that may result in deaf people being less prepared for college. Increasing readiness is a shared responsibility between students, professionals, and institutions. Learn more about this process, and strategies for increasing readiness

    Maximize opportunities for pre-employment skill development. There is an increased focus to support students with disabilities with the transition to life after high school. This guide discusses relevant resources, context, practices and considerations to support vocational rehabilitation professionals in the provision of the five required categories of Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) for deaf youth.

    Use online gaming to strengthen transition skills. Deafverse is an interactive game that supports the development of self-advocacy skills and work readiness for deaf youth. Players navigate common situations in a variety of settings including community, school, and the workplace. Learn more at nationaldeafcenter.org/deafverse

    Pursue professional development opportunities. There are a variety of free e-learning opportunities for professionals who support the postsecondary success of deaf students. Courses include Deaf 101, Deaf-Centered Practice, Effective Communication Access, Test Equity, and more. Earn CRC clock hours by taking courses.

    Believe in the potential of deaf people! #DeafSuccess spotlights working deaf professionals in a range of fields and industries. Role models are one way to foster high expectations, self-esteem and self-determination in deaf youth.

There are a range of accommodations that when utilized appropriately make it possible for deaf people to equally participate in education, employment and social settings. Learn more about access options and how to collaborate with deaf people to individualize accommodations.
The intention behind the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is to support disadvantaged populations to become competitive in the labor workforce. There is an increased focus to support students with disabilities with the transition to life after high school and to provide the five required categories of Pre-Employment Transition Services:
  1. Job Exploration Counseling
  2. Work-Based Learning Experiences
  3. Counseling on Postsecondary Opportunities
  4. Workplace Readiness Training
  5. Instruction in Self-Advocacy
Plan Your Future: A Guide to Vocational Rehabilitation For Deaf Youth includes resources, a checklist and videos to explain the importance of and how to apply for VR and Pre-ETS. This could be an opportunity for VR staff to share the videos and guide to inform deaf youth and maximize the benefits of VR services. For more information and resources on how to provide each of the five required Pre-ETS, visit the Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) Guide. Need more support or guidance? Go to NDC | help team. You can get a personalized response to your question, or post your inquiry to a community of professionals on our listserv.
Preparing students for life beyond high school requires a proactive and coordinated approach. Transition planning is essential for deaf students who face and will continue to face various challenges and barriers with communication, access and discrimination. Having a student-centered, family-involved and multidisciplinary approach are key in effective planning. For more information on planning, visit Transition Planning.  
Deafverse is an interactive video game for deaf youth which offers a safe space to practice and develop self-advocacy skills. See more resources and research at Topic: Transition
Need more support or guidance? Go to NDC | help team. You can get a personalized response to your question, or post your inquiry to a community of professionals on our listserv.

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