Vocational Rehabilitation: A Quick History

Posted by Donna Valverde-Hummel on 3/30/2021 9:45:00 AM

Parents and students with disabilities may not be aware that the history of vocational rehabilitation (VR) stretches back more than a hundred years ago, starting after World War I with injured soldiers returning home. Many vets needed training or services to assist them in going back to work, often in a different field with specific modifications or accommodations, like someone who might’ve lost a leg during the war could be trained for an occupation not requiring standing or extensive walking.

Widely popular among the American public, Congress eventually passed legislation in 1918 to allow these important vocational rehabilitation services for veterans. By 1920, the law was expanded to include workforce services for all people with physical disabilities. Continued expansions and additional acts resulted in 1943, 1954, 1965, and 1973. 

Congress eventually expanded VR disability criteria and later included services for students, ages 14-22 who have disabilities, with the passing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) in 2014, bringing sweeping changes to the VR system. Once solely under the US Department of Education, WIOA placed shared responsibility for VR equally under the Department of Education and the US Department of Labor. 

All of this was meant to bridge the gap between K-12 students and their transition into post-secondary education or the world of work. WIOA instructed local labor boards, known in Texas as Workforce Solutions, to provide additional services to students with disabilities, from age 14 and up to age 22. VR was then integrated into the state labor department, Texas Workforce Commission. Additionally, WIOA directed state VR agencies to allocate 15% of their budgets to serve students eligible for Pre-Employment Transition Services.

With VR Pre-Employment Transition Services, students with disabilities now benefit from:

  • Job exploration counseling
  • Work-based learning opportunities
  • Counseling on post-secondary opportunities
  •  Workplace readiness training
  •  Instruction in self-advocacy 

For Texas students who are deaf or hard of hearing and approaching transition, the Statewide Outreach Center (SOC) at Texas School for the Deaf, Texas Workforce Commission, and others are working together to offer excellent pre-ETS I Can! opportunities:


SOC at TSD also gives technical assistance to students, their families, and professionals who may need help navigating VR services. Students should start their journey as soon as possible to ensure that they have their seat at the table in the world of work. Explore all upcoming SOC student programs or contact us to get started.