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Written by Lucy S., Sprout Contributor
Source: Rehabilitation Services Handbook

After receiving multiple emails asking us for information on the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), the Erie Sprout Web Development team would like to publish information regarding their services so that all viewers have the opportunity to learn more. The information in this article is taken from the Rehabilitation Services Handbook, printed by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

What Is OVR?
The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) serves people who have disabilities that present a substantial impediment to employment. Services are provided to individuals to prepare for, enter into, engage in, or retain employment. OVR has 21 District Offices located around the State. Our counselors work every year with thousands of persons who have physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.

Should I Apply to OVR?
You should apply if:

  1. You have a disability.
  2. Your disability causes you substantial problems in preparing for, obtaining, or maintaining a career.
  3. You want to work.

How Do I Get Started?
For more information about services, call or write the OVR District Office that is nearest to where you live. Contact information is at the bottom of this article.

Will I Be Eligible?
When you apply to OVR for help with employment, a counselor will be assigned to work with you. The counselor will meet with you face-to-face to get to know you in order to decide how OVR can best assist you to help yourself. With your written consent, your counselor will gather information about your needs, your interests, aptitudes, education, work experience, family, and finances. Your counselor will arrange any needed medical examinations and testing, at no cost to you. You will be eligible for OVR services if:

  • You have a disability that is a physical, mental, or emotional impairment which results in a substantial impediment to employment and you can benefit in terms of an employment outcome from services provided.
  • Vocational rehabilitation services are required for you to prepare for, enter, engage in, or retain gainful employment.

How Long Will It Take to Determine if I Am Eligible?
You will know if you are eligible for OVR services within 60 days of the date you apply for OVR services, unless:

  • Exceptional and unforeseen circumstances beyond our control preclude us from completing the determination and you agree an extension is warranted.
  • An extended evaluation is required to determine your eligibility.

What Happens After I Become Eligible for OVR?
You and your counselor will work together to make informed choices regarding a cooperative plan of action to include a career goal, the services needed to assist you to help yourself to get started in or maintain your career, and your responsibilities. This plan of action is called the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). Deciding on your goal usually takes time. During this time, you will receive information and options to assist you in developing a successful program. You will have the opportunity to consider different types of careers, your job skills, chances for employment in your local area, potential earnings, family responsibilities, training, and other matters of importance to you and your family.

Your counselor wants you to pick a career, one that you will still want and at which you will still be able to work years from now. Your IPE outlines the steps you will take to obtain a job, and can be changed if your needs change. You and your counselor will work together to make any necessary changes.

What Services Are Available to Me?
Some services can help you overcome or lessen your disability; others can directly help you prepare for a career. The services you receive will be arranged to meet your individual needs. Not everyone will need every service.

Diagnostic Services include medical, psychological, and audiological exams and tests used to better understand your disability and your needs for specific types of services.

Vocational Evaluation includes testing such as aptitude, interest, general ability, academic exams, work tolerance, and “hands-on” job experience used to understand your vocational potential.

Counseling Services are offered to assist you find ways to better help yourself throughout the rehabilitation program from the first meeting with your counselor to your starting and maintaining a career. Counseling services help you to better understand your potential, rely on your abilities, set realistic vocational goals, change them when necessary, develop successful work habits, and begin a satisfying career.

Restoration Services include many types of medical services and equipment such as physical and occupational therapy, wheelchairs, automobile hand controls, and other types of rehabilitation technology that may be provided to enable you to pursue your career and achieve independence.

Training Services include education to prepare you for a job including but not limited to basic academic, vocational/technical, college, on-the-job, independent living skills, and personal and work adjustment training. It may be necessary for you to leave home to get the training you want and need.

Placement Services include counseling, job-seeking programs, job club, and job development used to increase your ability to obtain a job. You will receive ideas, practice, and advice on finding job leads, filling out applications, getting interviews for a job, and how to interview. Your counselor may also give you job leads or explain to employers about tax credits they can receive when hiring you. The more contacts with employers you make, the better your chances are of starting your career. Support services are provided if they are necessary for you to start your career. Services may include:

  • Room, board, and transportation costs during your evaluation, or while you are completing a rehabilitation program.
  • Occupational tools, licenses, or equipment.
  • Home modifications, adaptive or special household equipment related to obtaining or maintaining a job.
  • Van or car modifications, including special driving devices or lifting devices to enable you to travel to your job.
  • Personal care assistance provided to help you with your daily needs in order to enable you to participate in a vocational rehabilitation program.
  • Job site modifications that will enable you to obtain and maintain a job.
  • Independent living training to provide the means for you to become more self-sufficient and thereby make it possible for you to participate fully in the vocational rehabilitation program.
  • Text Telephone (TTY), signaling devices, hearing aids, and interpreter services may be provided to help you communicate if needed to participate in the vocational rehabilitation program.

How Much Will This Cost Me?
It does not cost you anything to apply for services. There is no charge for diagnostic services, vocational evaluation, counseling, or job placement assistance. If you are eligible for services, your counselor may ask you to provide documents about your income and expenses. Depending upon your income, you may have to contribute to the cost of OVR services. OVR cannot pay for any services you received before you applied to OVR. Even after you apply, OVR can pay only for those services approved in advance by your counselor.

How Long Will It Take to Start my Career?
That depends on your abilities, the career for which you are preparing, and on your individual needs. Most importantly, it depends on how much responsibility you take for helping yourself to prepare for, start, or maintain a career. You can help things move along as quickly as possible if you:

  • Help your counselor get the needed information.
  • Keep all appointments or call if you can’t be there.
  • Stay in touch with your counselor (if your counselor cannot find you, things are bound to slow down).
  • Tell your counselor if you feel things are going too slowly.

What if I Have Questions or Complaints?
This is your rehabilitation program. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about anything. You are entitled to the best service OVR can give you. Your comments, suggestions, and criticisms are important.

If you are an applicant or a customer of OVR and are dissatisfied with a determination or service OVR is providing, please contact your counselor or your counselor’s supervisor to discuss your concerns. You may request a hearing before an impartial Hearing Officer. A written request for a hearing must be made within thirty (30) days. This request must be mailed to or filed with the Director, Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (BVRS), Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, 1521 North Sixth Street, Harrisburg, PA 17102. An impartial Hearing Officer will be assigned to hear and decide your case. You will be given the opportunity for an informal administrative review prior to the impartial hearing. At any time during your program, you may contact the Client Assistance Program for help.

What Is the Client Assistance Program?
The Client Assistance Program (CAP) works with you and your counselor to:

  • Act as an advocate for your rights.
  • Answer your questions about rehabilitation.
  • Explain rules, regulations, and procedures.
  • Assist you through the appeal process.
  • Help you to establish and maintain open communication.

Any applicant for OVR services who wants general information or who would like CAP’s involvement during their rehabilitation program can contact CAP for assistance. If your case is about to be or already has been closed by OVR, you may ask CAP to review the case to ensure that you have received maximum benefits from OVR. To contact CAP, call this toll-free number 1-888-745-2357 Voice/TTY.

What Are Important Things to Remember if I Am Dissatisfied?

  • Try to solve the problem with your counselor first.
  • Your counselor will help you with an appeal if you ask for help.
  • You will not be penalized for making an appeal.
  • You may bring someone with you to help you at the appeal.

When Do I Leave OVR?
A perfect ending is when you have started your career. Even though you are working and your case is closed, it is possible that help can be provided if you begin to have problems with your employment or with your disability. If this happens, please contact your counselor. You may choose to end your involvement with OVR at any time, but you should let your counselor know if you make such a decision. If you do not follow through with the steps you helped to plan, are uncooperative, cannot be located, or if OVR cannot help you reach a vocational goal, your counselor may find it necessary to close your case.

Can I Start Over Again?
Yes. You may reapply at any time.

What are my Rights?

  • You may not be discriminated against by reason of political or religious opinions or affiliations, race, age, sex, national origin, or disability.
  • You are entitled to a thorough evaluation to find out if you are eligible for rehabilitation.
  • All information that is given to your counselor or obtained about you will be used only for your rehabilitation.
  • You have a right to ask to change counselors.
  • You have a right to continuing service if you should move to an area serviced by a different district office within PA. Discuss your move with your counselor.

How Will I be Treated?
You will be treated in a manner consistent with the principles of:

  • Individual dignity, personal responsibility, self-determination and pursuit of a meaningful career based on informed choices that you make.
  • Respect for your privacy, rights and equal access as an individual.
  • Inclusion, integration, and full participation as an individual.
  • Support for the involvement of a parent, family member, guardian, advocate or authorized representative if you request, desire, or need such assistance.
  • Support for individual advocacy and community involvement.

What are my Responsibilities?
You are in charge of your rehabilitation program and must be willing to help yourself. You must participate actively in setting your vocational goals and work hard to achieve them. It is very important that you talk to your counselor about your needs, your deadlines and anything else that could speed up, slow down or stop you from starting and maintaining a career. Rehabilitation will work better if you:

  • Keep all appointments, or call if you can’t be there.
  • Ask questions if you do not understand something.
  • Are honest about your needs and feelings.
  • Help yourself.

What Are my Counselors’ Responsibilities?
Your counselor understands how disabilities can get in the way of a career. It is your counselor’s responsibility to help you understand your strengths and the steps needed to overcome your substantial impediment to employment. Your counselor will help you decide on a career that builds on your strengths, give you information, provide guidance and support, and arrange for you to receive the services you need to prepare for, start and maintain a career. We hope this information will help you understand OVR, and that it marks the beginning of a successful partnership. If you have any further questions, please ask your counselor.

PLEASE NOTE:
When OVR does not have enough money to provide services to all eligible individuals, it is required to provide services according to an Order of Selection. Under an Order of Selection, a certain group (or groups) of individuals receive services while others are placed on an indefinite waiting list for when sufficient funds become available. OVR’s Order of Selection places all eligible individuals into one of three groups as follows:

  • Individuals with the Most Significant Disabilities.
  • Individuals with Significant Disabilities.
  • All remaining eligible individuals.

Should you be eligible for OVR services, your counselor will inform you if OVR is on an Order of Selection and whether you will be provided services or placed on a waiting list.

OVR’S Nondiscrimination Policy
An applicant or customer of OVR may not be discriminated against by reason of religious creed, age, race, sex, color, national origin, ancestry, or disability. Any applicant or customer of OVR who believes he or she is being discriminated against may contact OVR at the following address:
Office of Vocational Rehabilitation
1521 North Sixth Street, Harrisburg, PA 17102
Telephone 717-787-5244 (Voice), 717-787-4885 (TTY),
800-442-6351* (Voice), 866-830-7327* (TTY)
BBVS 717-787-6176 (Voice), 800-622-2842* (Voice)
* Toll free within Pennsylvania

Local Contact Information
Erie BVRS (Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation Services)
3200 Lovell Place, Erie, PA 16503
Phone: 814-871-4551, 1-800-541-0721
TTY: 814-871-4535, 1-800-217-1710

Erie BBVS (Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS)
3100 Lovell Place, Erie, PA 16503
Phone: 814-871-4401, 1-800-521-5073
TTY: 814-871-4599, 1-800-884-5513

For more information on the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, please visit http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/vocational_rehabilitation/10356