Consumer Rights -- Vocational Rehabilitation Program
As an applicant or eligible individual for the Division of Blind Services Vocational Rehabilitation Program, clients/applicants have rights as mandated through federal and state legislation which are outlined below. Attached to this summary sheet is a more thorough explanation of the Vocational Rehabilitation Program and rights of an applicant or eligible individual.
The DBS Specialist will provide clarification of this information to clients/applicants. Clients/applicants may also contact Disability Rights Florida for this purpose as well at 1-800-342-0823 (voice), 1-800-346-4127 (TDD) or the Division of Blind Services, Client Advocate at 1-800-342-1828.
It is the Division’s policy that an applicant or eligible individual for the Vocational Rehabilitation Program have the right to:
- An eligibility determination for vocational rehabilitation services within 60 days of application;
- An extended evaluation that includes trial work experiences prior to an ineligibility determination due to severity of disability;
- To be informed of the reasons for an ineligibility determination and written notice prior to case closure;
- Request a review of any determination concerning the denial or provision of services, or change in services;
- Confidentiality of records and reports; release of information to any person, agency, or organization will be done only in accordance with Federal Law 42U.S 2000aa-11 and 28CFR part 59.1-56 and Florida Statute 394;
- Full involvement in the planning of services;
- Advance notice of changes in their Individualized Plan for Employment;
- Freedom from discrimination based on age, gender, disability, race, color, creed, or national origin.
It is the Division of Blind Services (DBS) policy to provide services through the Vocational Rehabilitation Program which are required for clients to retain, prepare for, secure, or regain employment. Services are planned for and provided with the client’s full involvement, and adequate information is provided for the client to make the most appropriate choices regarding their vocational goal, services, and providers of those services.
Vocational rehabilitation services will be provided without regard to age, gender, disability, race, color, creed, or national origin.
Eligibility for Vocational Rehabilitation
It is the Division's policy to conduct a determination of eligibility for applicants to the vocational rehabilitation program. Eligibility will be determined based solely on the following criteria:
- An applicant must have a bilateral visual impairment.
- An applicant’s visual impairment must result in a substantial impediment to employment; and
- An applicant must require vocational rehabilitation services to retain, prepare for, secure, or regain employment.
It is the Division’s policy to determine eligibility within 60 days of applying for VR services unless 1) both the applicant and specialist agree to a specific extension of time due to exceptional circumstances or 2) participation in a trial work experience is required to make an eligibility determination.
Trial Work Experiences
It is the Division’s policy to presume that all individuals can benefit in terms of an employment outcome from vocational rehabilitation services. The Division will adhere to this policy unless it can be demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that an individual is incapable of benefiting from VR services in terms of an employment outcome due to the severity of the disability of the individual. Such a demonstration must be made through the use of trial work experiences. The DBS specialist can provide further information to the applicant about this process.
Individualized Plan for Employment
It is the Division’s policy that if an applicant is determined eligible for the Vocational Rehabilitation Program, an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) must be developed to proceed with the rehabilitation program. The IPE must include an employment outcome and the services that the client needs to prepare for, retain, secure, or regain employment. The specialist will provide the client with or assist the client in obtaining adequate information that the client requires in making appropriate choices regarding their vocational goals, services, and providers of those services.
All services provided under the client's IPE must directly relate to the attainment of the client's vocational goal. The client’s IPE can be amended any time there are significant changes affecting the client's vocational goal or need for services.
It is the Division's policy to provide several options for the client to choose from in the development of an IPE. They include the following:
- Assistance from the DBS Rehabilitation Specialist in developing all or part of the IPE;
- Assistance from an entity other than DBS (Example: Disability Rights Florida, Small Business Development Center) based on the client's informed choice in developing all or part of the IPE; and
- Independent development by the client of all or part of the IPE.
Regardless of the development method that a client chooses, the IPE must be:
- Agreed to and signed by the client or, as appropriate, the representative; and
- Approved and signed by the DBS Rehabilitation Specialist, Supervisor, or District Administrator.
The DBS Rehabilitation Specialist will evaluate the client’s progress towards achieving an employment goal as indicated on the IPE. As part of the process of achieving the employment goal, the client must agree to the following:
- Keep appointments;
- Attend training or other planned activities;
- Use own resources and any comparable benefits available as specified on the plan; and
- Actively seek employment in cooperation with the Division of Blind Services
Provision of Services
It is the Division’s policy to request that an applicant/client submit information regarding their monthly income in order to receive certain vocational rehabilitation services. These services include monthly maintenance. DBS is federally mandated to utilize comparable services and benefits when providing vocational rehabilitation services in certain situations. These benefits may include Medicaid, Medicare, Pell Grant, and private health insurance.
It is the policy of the DBS Vocational Rehabilitation Program to assist clients in successfully obtaining suitable employment. Services are provided which enables the client to reach this goal, as well as to enable clients to retain employment once the client has a job. The client and counselor will work together in finding appropriate employment, as well as ensuring that the client has the skills and services in place to maintain employment after the DBS case is closed.
Once the client becomes employed, the DBS case will remain open for at least 90 days to ensure that the client and employer are satisfied. Once this determination is made, the DBS case will be closed after 90 days of successful employment.
Post-employment services are available to the client after their DBS case is closed. These services are those that the client may require to maintain or advance in employment. The DBS counselor will discuss post-employment services with the client prior to case closure.
Protection, Use, and Release of Personal Information
The Division of Blind Services collects personal information under the authority of the Division Director under Florida Statute 413. The principal purpose for collection of personal information is for a determination of eligibility, development and implementation of the client's rehabilitation program, and compliance with federal reporting requirements. All personal information in the possession of the Division will be used only for the purposes directly connected with the administration of the vocational rehabilitation program.
Applicants are required to provide the following information in order to be considered for an eligibility determination:
- County of residence
- Social Security Number
- Source of referral
- Visual disability
- Date of birth
An eligibility determination cannot be made until the applicant provides this information to the DBS specialist. If an applicant cannot provide evidence of a visual disability, the Division will purchase an eye exam.
Applicants will be required to provide information mutually agreed upon, as an indicator of progress toward the completion of the client's rehabilitation program, such as grade reports, training reports, and medical reports.
Clients are subject to suspension of services and/or case closure if they do not provide such information in a timely manner to the DBS counselor.
Client’s written consent or, as appropriate, that of the client's representative is not required for release of personal information in the following situations:
- Personal information required for rehabilitation is routinely released to the Division's Rehabilitation Center, and any contracting facilities providing rehabilitation services to the clients.
- The Division routinely releases information regarding legally blind individuals to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, as authorized under Florida Statute 413.012. This information includes the following: name in full, place and date of birth, sex, social security number, and resident address of the individuals.
- Florida Statute 394 requires Division staff to release information in order to protect clients or others if client pose a threat to their safety or the safety of others.
- Personal information may be released to an organization, agency, or individual engaged in audits, evaluation, or research only for purposes directly connected with the administration of the Vocational Rehabilitation Program, or for purposes that would significantly improve the quality of life for applicants and eligible individuals.
- The Division will release personal information as required by Federal Statute 42U.S 2000aa-11, and 28CFR part 59.1-56, and Florida Statute 394, or regulations.
- Release of information to a client, or as appropriate, the client's representative may occur under the following conditions:
- Except as provided in paragraphs (b) and (c) of this section, if requested in writing by the client, an appropriate representative, the Division will make all requested information in a client's record of service accessible to and will release information to the client or representative in a timely manner.
- Medical, psychological, or other information that the Division has determined may be harmful to the client may not be released directly to the client, but will be provided to the client through a third party chosen by the client, which may include, among others an advocate, a family member, or a qualified medical or mental health professional, unless a representative has been appointed by a court to represent the client, in which case the information must be released to the court-appointed representative.
If personal information has been obtained from another agency or organization, it may be released only by, or under the conditions established by, the other agency or organization.
If a client believes that information in their record of services is inaccurate or misleading the client may request that the Division amend the information. If the information is not amended, the request for an amendment must be documented in the client's record of service.
Upon receiving the client's informed written consent or, if appropriate, that of the client’s representative, the Division may release personal information to another agency or organization for its program purposes only to the extent that the information may be released to the client or client's representative, and only to the extent that the other agency or organization demonstrates that the information requested is necessary for its program.
An applicant or eligible individual for vocational rehabilitation services has a right to request a review of any decision made by DBS regarding their rehabilitation program. At any time an applicant/client is entitled to request one of the four review processes that are described below. An applicant/eligible individual may request such a review through an informal review process (District Review conducted by a Supervisor or District Administrator, an Administrative Review conducted by the Client Advocate, or mediation which is conducted by a certified mediator) or formal review (Fair Hearing) procedures as outlined below.
DBS has three procedures for conducting informal reviews as requested by an applicant or eligible individual with regard to decisions made by a rehabilitation specialist or supervisor concerning the provision or denial of services.
- A District Review is to be conducted by the specialist's direct supervisor or District Administrator at the verbal or written request of an applicant or eligible individual or, as appropriate his/her representative.
- If the individual is dissatisfied with the results of a District Review or chooses to bypass a District Review, he/she may make a request for an Administrative Review to be conducted by the Client Advocate or designee. The Client Advocate shall act on behalf of the client and may take a position adverse to that of Client Services.
The Client Advocate shall contact the District Office involved to ascertain facts and law that the District Office relies upon. If the Client Advocate determines the action of the District Office to be incorrect, he shall recommend the District Office take corrective action. If the District Office disagrees with the recommendation of the Client Advocate, the issue shall be brought before the Division Director for resolution. If the Client Advocate concurs with the action of the District Office, he shall so inform the client in writing.
The Client Advocate is located in the DBS State Office and can be contacted by phone at 1-800-342-1828.
- If an individual prefers mediation, the individual can request mediation at any time during the informal or formal procedures.
An applicant/client has the right to pursue mediation with respect to any decision concerning the furnishing or denial of services by DBS. The process of mediation is voluntary, must not be used to delay or deny an individual's right to a formal hearing, and will be conducted by a certified and impartial mediator who is trained in effective mediation techniques. The cost of mediation is the sole responsibility of DBS.
The DBS representative must have full authority to settle with an applicant/client demands without further consultation.
Each session in the mediation process must be scheduled within 45 days of an applicant/client’s written request. The individual must submit such a request within 30 days of the decision regarding service provision to the Client Advocate. If the parties of the dispute in the mediation process reach an agreement, it will be set forth in a written mediation agreement.
Discussions that occur during the mediation process are confidential and will not be used as evidence in any subsequent due process or civil proceedings. Each party to the mediation may be required to sign a pledge of confidentiality prior to the commencement of the mediation process.
The process of mediation must not delay a formal hearing, if so desired by the individual unless the individual agrees upon an extended time frame or, as appropriate his/her representative.
Each of the informal reviews must be conducted and a written decision provided within a time frame agreed upon by both parties, but at least within 45 days of the request to allow for a formal review if desired and requested by the individual. The informal review process will not delay a formal hearing if so desired by the individual, unless the individual agrees upon an extended time frame or, as appropriate his/her representative. A written decision resulting from either a supervisory review or administrative review or mediation must be included in the individual's record of services.
Impartial Due Process Hearing Procedures
An applicant/client may request a formal review of a decision concerning the furnishing or denial of services through the process of a Fair Hearing. Fair Hearings are conducted by an impartial hearing officer from the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) within 45 days of a written request by the individual, unless informal resolution is achieved prior to the 45th day or the parties agree to a specific extension of time. The individual must submit such a request within 30 days of the decision regarding service provision to the DBS Director.
DBS does not suspend, reduce, or terminate services being provided under an evaluation, assessment, or Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). Such services will be provided pending a final resolution through either mediation or an impartial due process hearing unless there is evidence that such services have been obtained through misrepresentation, fraud, collusion, or criminal conduct on the part of the individual.
The individual, or individual's representative, must be afforded the opportunity to provide additional evidence, information, and witnesses, as well as the opportunity to examine all witnesses and other relevant information and evidence. The individual may elect to be represented by counsel or other appropriate advocate including a representative from the Disability Rights Florida.
The DOAH impartial hearing officer will make a decision based on the provision of the approved State Plan, the Rehabilitation Act, Federal VR regulations, and State regulations and policies that are consistent with Federal requirements. A written report of the findings will be provided to the individual or, if appropriate, his/her representative within 30 days of completion of the hearing.
Either party involved in the hearing may choose to seek an impartial review of the decision of the hearing officer by the Commissioner of the Department of Education. A request of such review must be submitted to the DOE Commissioner within 20 days of the mailing of the impartial hearing officer's written decision. This process must provide an opportunity for submission of additional evidence and information relevant to a final decision concerning the matter under review.
The Commissioner may overturn or modify the impartial hearing officer's decision only if, based on clear and convincing evidence, the decision is clearly erroneous because it is contrary to the approved State plan, the Rehabilitation Act, Federal VR regulations, or State regulations or policies that are consistent with the Federal requirements. A final decision, full report of findings, and grounds for decision will be provided in writing to both parties within 30 days of providing notice of review.
Except for time limitations established in 34 CFR 361.57 (b)(1) and 361.57(b)(5), reasonable time extensions may be provided for good cause shown at the request of either or both parties.
A decision made by the Commissioner is final unless the party aggrieved by such decision brings a civil action in any state court of competent jurisdiction or in a district court of the United States of competent jurisdiction without regard to the amount of controversy.
Disability Rights Florida
Disability Rights Florida has been established for the purpose of assisting clients/applicants with:
- Understanding services available through DBS;
- Pursuing appropriate remedies to ensure the protection of client's rights; and
- Helping to resolve any dissatisfaction that the client may have with regard to the furnishing or denial of services from DBS through the processes of informal, mediation, or formal reviews.
DISABILITY RIGHTS FLORIDA services are free, and DISABILITY RIGHTS FLORIDA is independent of all state agencies providing services to individuals with disabilities. DISABILITY RIGHTS FLORIDA is a statewide program and can be contacted by calling toll-free: 1-800-342-0823 (voice) or 1-800-346-4127 (TDD).