By: Rachel Grider, College Success Program Mentor
When we think of college and what makes our experiences different from those of our sighted counterparts, we tend to focus mostly on aspects relating directly to our lives on campus - relationships with professors and DSO, adaptive technology, campus navigation, social life, etc. There is one very important aspect, however, with which most of us deal but which is often overlooked: our relationship with our state rehabilitation agencies. The name of this department varies from state to state, but for the purpose of this blog, I will call it the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR). Simply put, the job of DOR is to help individuals with disabilities find a job, including helping them through college and trade programs; they may do this by helping with tuition, technology, or training.
During my first year of college, I did not take my relationship with my DOR counselor very seriously; I soon learned, however, that DOR could be an invaluable resources to help me be successful. Here are eight tips for dealing with DOR. Keep in mind that not every state has the same laws and resources, but the general principle applies to all.
1. BE RESPECTFUL.
When interacting with your counselor, either in person or otherwise, be respectful of his or her time and attention by arriving on time and being prepared. Dress nicely and be well-groomed for an in-person or virtual meeting. In short, treat your DOR counselor with the same respect you would treat a professor or disabilities office counselor.
2. BE DECISIVE.
There is nothing wrong with taking some time to decide on your major and career path during your first few semesters in college or in changing your major at any time; generally, however, DOR prefers its clients to have a fairly solid idea of their career paths from the beginning. Because of this, it is not a bad idea to declare a major right when you start college, even if you think you might change it later. Always be decisive when communicating with your counselor; he or she has many other clients, and your sense of purpose will help you to stand out among them.
3. STICK TO YOUR DECISION.
Once you have chosen a major, taking into account all factors such as aptitude and job market, do not allow yourself to be swayed by DOR. Often, a DOR counselor may try to persuade a student to choose a major with more job security or fewer adaptations which need to be made; do not let your passion be quelled simply because your counselor tries to convince you to change your major. If you are serious about your choices and have accepted any risks or sacrifices, you will hopefully earn the respect and help of your DOR counselor. If your choice of majors may cause DOR to drop you as a client, you will need to decide whether it is worth that sacrifice.
4. DO YOUR RESEARCH.
Having a dream is great, but it is up to you to know how to make that dream a reality. Show your counselor that you are serious by knowing all the facts and figures, as well as any adaptive technology you will need. Don't rely on DOR for every little thing, but when you ask them for something, make sure it is truly essential for what they see as your ultimate goal: obtaining a job.
5. BE PROACTIVE AND PROMPT.
Don't always wait for your counselor to contact you. Check in at least once a month to update him or her on your progress. Always respond to emails and phone messages promptly, and send requested materials, such as transcripts or financial aid forms, as soon as you obtain them.
6. KNOW YOUR LAWS.
You are entitled to certain benefits and rights under your state and federal laws. Understand what your counselor is supposed to do for you, and if you feel that he or she is not doing his or her job, do not be afraid to bring it up with your counselor or even speak with a supervisor if necessary.
7. DO YOUR BEST WITH YOUR RESOURCES.
DOR is investing in your future; in return, they expect you to do your part. The technology and financial means which DOR provides are there to help you achieve your academic and career goals; the technology does not really belong to you until you have achieved those goals, and it can be taken away at any time if they find that you are using it for anything else. Always do your best with what you have, maintaining a high GPA and taking advantage of all opportunities which will help your progress.
8. REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY CLIENT.
Your counselor most likely has a large caseload of clients. If you do not appear to take your schooling seriously, or if you are otherwise difficult for your counselor to work with, your file will probably find itself near the bottom of the stack, and your counselor will be less likely to help you when you need it. If, however, you strive for academic success, utilizing your resources and cultivating your relationship with DOR, your counselor will most likely recognize that you are serious, and he or she will be more likely to give you what you need when you need it.
The above tips are meant to be tools to help you maintain a healthy relationship with DOR. Of course, there are other factors which will influence your experience - such as your counselor's personality and commitment - but overall, if you follow these suggestions, you will most likely see that DOR can indeed prove to be a key to your success in college and beyond.