Vocational Rehabilitation Teachers (VRTs) Empower Transition Customers to Gain Skills and Build Self-Confidence Needed to Achieve Employment Goals and Live Independent Lives
Authors: Belinda Lane and Becky Browning, VRT Program Specialists, Vocational Rehabilitation Division, Texas Workforce Commission (TWC)
Keywords: Vocational Rehabilitation Teachers, VRTs, independent living skills, assessment, transition, group skills training, GRT, employment goals, Big Six, Commission for the Blind
Listen to the Article
How It All Began
In 1931, the State Commission for the Blind was created in Texas by the 42nd Texas Legislature in Regular Session with House Bill 844 to provide vocational rehabilitation (VR) and other services to blind Texas residents, to help prevent blindness, and to maintain a registry of blind individuals in Texas. Interestingly, it was not funded by the state because it was assumed that the new agency would be supported by philanthropic donations. Two years later, however, the 43rd Texas Legislature found that the donations were insufficient and appropriated $8,250 for the Commission. The Commission then went to work with a staff of 15, only one of whom was a full-time regular employee, to serve the entire state of Texas.
Home Teachers and Lighthouses for the Blind, the first programs administered by the Commission, began operating In 1934. Their purpose was to train people who were blind to become self-sufficient, self-reliant, independent, and capable of fulfilling their duties as citizens in their communities. Home Teachers, themselves either totally blind or with impaired vision, taught braille reading and writing and handicrafts in classes and to individuals at the Lighthouses, workshops for the blind, and in private homes. Around 1966, this service was renamed the Rehabilitation Teacher Program. The new rehabilitation teachers were to be “walking adjustment centers,” bringing a condensed version of the programs offered at formal adjustment centers directly into an individual’s home. Teachers assisted those with recent vision loss develop special skills in communication, homemaking activities, personal grooming, and the use of leisure time.
Today’s Vocational Rehabilitation Teachers (VRTs) play a major role in the Vocational Rehabilitation process. They provide assessment and training services in blindness skills that are crucial to an employment lifestyle. These essential skills are broken up into six areas: Adjustment to Blindness and Visual Impairment, Independent Living Skills, Communication Skills, Travel Skills, Support Systems, and Vocational Skills. These are referred to as the “Big Six” and are the foundation upon which all their services are provided.
Under the provisions of the 1975 Act for the Blind, the Commission was able to initiate four cooperative school projects to provide services for youth requiring special education, habilitation, or rehabilitation to enhance their development. This project is now the Transition Program which provides services to young persons between the ages of 14 and 22 years of age. Transition services focus on vocational awareness, career planning, and coordination with education. The program helps younger customers make the transition from high school to adult life.
How VRTs Work with Transition Students
It is said that “It takes a village to raise a child.” VRTs are key members of the VR village, working with transition-aged customers to help them gain needed blindness skills and build self-confidence that empowers them to achieve employment in a field of their choice, as well as live productive, independent lives. VRTs work in partnership with transition VR counselors (TVRCs), teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs), families, and others involved in the customer’s program.
Transition customers are referred to VRTs for blindness skills training by a TVRC. Using their observations, assessments from the school, and discussions with parents and the customer, the TVRC outlines specific skill areas that need to be addressed in the referral. While the areas the TVRC recommends may be somewhat general, such as personal care, grooming, organization, etc., this gives the VRT a direction in which to focus their services. Based on the customer’s current level of ability and family expectations, the VRT may identify additional age-appropriate skills that are needed.
VRTs must be creative when working with transition customers and often provide training in group settings. D’Ann Galvan, a VRT in Dallas, describes an event that incorporates learning across many skill areas of the Big Six in a fun way:
“One of the big events that I have been involved in over the years here in Dallas with our transition kiddos are our cooking competitions. We get the best chefs here in DFW, and we group each chef with about five transition kids, and they are tasked with making a meal. Of course, it’s a competition, and they usually only have about 45 minutes to make the meal with the chef. In the process of this, the kids are taught teamwork, organization, measuring, kitchen safety, and cooking. The majority of the time, the kids come in because parents enforced it, but when they leave, they are excited and motivated to learn and gain more independence. Parents are also encouraged to hear that their child was slicing potatoes, which provides motivation for the parents to allow the kids to do more at home.”
D’Ann concludes by saying, “We want everyone to have an opportunity to learn something new in this training, whether it be cooking the meat or just organizing the tables. VRTs are essential to transition students who need basic instruction with achieving their goals.”
Myra Garza, a VRT in San Antonio, believes that participating in a group skills training (GST) is a segway to opening more services for our young blind and low vision (BVI) customers. She says, “Through the 13 years of being a Vocational Rehabilitation Teacher, what I have noticed is that GSTs open the doors to new referrals for the VRT. As the transition customer gets to participate in activities, not only does the customer get to see what they can learn, but parents see as well.”
How to Apply for Services
For more information or to apply for services, contact your nearest Texas Workforce Solutions—Vocational Rehabilitation Services office by calling TWC Vocational Rehabilitation Inquiries at 512–936–6400 or emailing them at email@example.com. In your email, include your name, phone number, and address, including city, state, and ZIP code. Do not include your Social Security Number or birthdate. You can read more about the program on the Vocational Rehabilitation— Youth & Students website.