As I live in Texas, the state vocational rehabilitation program is called “Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services.” (DARS) This is a wonderful program for individuals with disabilities who wish to go to college and/or get a job but might need a little assistance doing so because of their disability.
I first heard about DARS a few years ago when a professor at my previous school told me about Vocational Rehabilitation. At that point, I was majoring in Deaf Education. (Funny how I’m now about to graduate with my Rehabilitation Studies degree!) I went and met with a case manager, “M”, and she was very helpful in educating me about DARS, the qualifying process, and the services they provide. Since I’m not legally blind, although I’m very close, we didn’t know if I’d qualify. However, they require you to have 30 degrees of field vision or less in order to qualify and that is exactly what I have. As soon as I gave them the paperwork, we were on the way.
Just so you know, there are different divisions at DARS. There is a Division for Blind Services, Office for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and then what I call the “regular” DARS which encompasses basically all the other disabilities such as cognitive impairments and physical impairments. You can go in for a session where you meet a case manager and they learn about you, you learn about their services. After that, they help counsel you and then refer you for other services. Keep in mind that all my services are either to help me right now, or to teach me skills that I will need when my vision progresses downhill. Since I am working with DARS and with my Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, we had to identify a vocational goal. My original goal was to become a Deaf Education teacher however now it is to become a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor myself. In order to do that, I have to complete my Master’s Degree.
The services they provide for me:
1. Assistive Technology
2. Orientation and Mobility Training
3. Home teaching, including Braille training
4. College Assistance
Assistive technology is such an important part in the lives of individuals with disabilities. For individuals with a hearing loss, this could be a hearing aid or cochlear implant. For individuals with mobility impairments, this could be a grabber/reacher. For individuals with vision loss, this could be a cane, assistive technology on the computer, etc.
DARS sent me to Austin, TX for the technology evaluation. It was an absolutely incredible experience because I got to live in a facility for a night that was built for individuals with visual impairments. It was pretty fun!
They recommended to my DARS case manager that I get a CCTV (closed caption television) as well as an external monitor. They also recommended a small handheld cctv. They are all very cool advices. I find myself, right now, using the external monitor the most. I imagine I will be using the CCTV more in the future.
Assistive technology, especially for a geek like me, is very fun!
Orientation and Mobility Training:
Orientation and Mobility training is AMAZING. Originally, I started so that when my vision goes downhill even more, I will have a cane for travel. However, as I progressed through several trainings I learned that I can definitely use my cane skills at night time when I’m traveling. Travelling could mean walking from one person’s house to another, or taking an airplane, or anything in between. 🙂 Micha, my Orientation and Mobility Instructor, is great. She works with the Visionaries of Texas. We went to the mall and various streets and intersections. She made me get from Point A to Point B with a blindfold on and a cane. I learned so much. When I moved, somehow my cane disappeared and I now miss it quite a bit. I have ordered a new one. Micha and I didn’t finish our training because of my school schedule. We are going to work more together now that I’m back in Dallas/Denton.
Orientation and Mobility works with cane training, helping individuals with vision loss figure out public transit, as well as working with individuals who have guide dogs to successfully navigate/travel. It’s such a great service.
This is a service which I haven’t used that much. The service is providing a home teacher to come out and help you learn to navigate your house and live well. They can teach you so many skills from cooking to Braille to laundry. All lessons are tailored of course to individuals with vision loss. She gave me some neat tools such as large playing cards, a high contrast cooking board, and a Braille book. She started teaching me how to use Braille. I hope I won’t need that for many years but it is cool to know it. We were going to work more on cooking, because I really didn’t feel the need to do it more. I may take it up later.
Because my vocational goal is to become a VR counselor, I have to get my Master’s first. My current vocational goal is to get my Bachelor’s degree and then after I complete that it will be to get my Master’s. DARS helps me with college because it is required to reach my vocational goal of becoming a Rehab Counselor. They help me pay for various things such as textbooks, room and board, and tuition. It’s quite nice.
One last thing that I feel important to note is they do a sort of means-testing, but usually don’t require their consumers to pay much at all. I haven’t had to pay anything and it’s been a blessing. If you do pay anything, you would help pay for the assistive technology or something like that. You would never pay the counselors.
If you have any other questions about VR (Vocational Rehab) or DARS, please feel free to ask! 🙂