Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Voc Rehab: Let the disabled consumer beware

Earlier today I was reading a post about vocational rehabilitation services by Dora Raymaker who blogs for change.org along with Kristina Chew. This reminded me of my own lousy experiences with the California State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.

In 1985 I was unemployed, not skilled in anything except being able to type very rapidly. Due to my severe fine motor coordination problems that made handwriting and printing very difficult for me, I learned how to type at a fairly young age, so I had that skill. My terminations from jobs were starting to pile up, though I still did not yet qualify for the Guiness Book of Records as I do now. I felt that I was at the end of the line, I would have no choice but to get a job for a handicapped person. My mother called the Los Angeles chapter of the Autism Society of America to ask for their advice. In those days, autistics as high functioning as myself were still considered quite an anomaly, so they said that they really had no programs to help someone whose autism was as mild as mine. They suggested the California State Department of Rehabilitation. I had the requisite evaluations by a primary care physician and a psychiatrist to qualify for the services. I met with a voc rehab counselor who suggested I learn word processing and medical transcription due to my ability to type. In those days, word processing was still considered sort of a novelty and had not even quite made typewriters obsolete yet. Word star was the DOS based software of choice and sort of the hot ticket program. Word perfect may have been in its infancy (version 5.1 had still not been written) and not as popular as it became later. Microsoft had not yet written Word.

They sent me to a school that was part of the local school district of a middle sized town which is a city in the Los Angeles area. This was an adult program. They also provided the funding for a separate word processing class, so that I would be attending this office skills school for part of the day to learn office skills and medical transcription. When I was met by the person who ran the school, she stated that she felt I was not ready to learn word processing and informed my rehab counselor of this. My rehab counselor solely based on her recommendation immediately discontinued the funding for my word processing class that the state had set aside. They put me in another much cheaper word processing class that the school had to offer. The voc rehab counselor claimed that it was the same as the more expensive class but the teacher would give more attention to the students. Also, the class met in the late afternoon, so basically I would be going to this school, the entire day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The word processing class was done on these cheap crummy Apple IIE computers (not on a DOS based computer) and the word processing packages that we were to learn were these very obscure programs that had been written only to run on an Apple IIE and were not word star or one of the other marketable stand alone word processing packages that were in use in the mid 1980s and which in those days were in huge demand by employers due to the short supply of persons who were familiar with the packages. Word star would be taught as part of the class later, but it turned out we were expected to learn this on our own and the teacher did not even know word star! This was so crazy that I asked my rehab counselor if I could drop the class and he acknowledged it was my option. I ended up paying about $400 for a private word star class out of my own pocket.

It gets even worse with the office skills medical transcription part of the course which I did not drop. After learning some rudimentary office skills, they gave me these medical transcription exercises with a limited workbook which was published in 1967 and was nearly 20 years obsolete. I found out later that medical transcription terminology changes all the time. I was expected to learn everything on my own. I did the exercises out of the book during the class with the teacher not giving me any assistance. She knew nothing about medical transcription yet was paid by this city's school district and got money from the State of California voc rehab department to teach this class. She deliberately avoided correcting my exercises. After I finally finished the exercises in the book, she told me that she knew of an opportunity where I could do an internship in a hospital, but I would have to wait to get a certificate. She stated that I was unable to get my certificate as I had not done the exercises correctly. I then complained to my rehab counselor and got her to start correcting some exercises.

But this class was so awful the teacher was so awful, I applied for jobs on my own and found someone who was willing to give me training in medical transcription based on what little I had learned in this course. I was paid on production and my earnings came out to about $1.50 an hour when I was first working for this person in 1986. I was fired from some medical transcription jobs doing hospital medical transcription the most difficult type of transcriptions, but then finally got some jobs doing clinic based and workers' comp reports which were easier to do but still required knowledge of medical terminology. I was able to work for various places for indefinite periods of time. I finally got a job doing most kinds of hospital reports as an independent contractor and made a semi-decent living for a brief period of time. When that job ended I had other problems and was forced to retire in my early 50s as I have written before.

When I was still doing medical transcription (albeit as not a great transcriptionist) I thought about what Temple Grandin said about Medical transcription being an unsuitable profession for a person on the spectrum. She based this assessment on just one other person (whom I was acquainted with also) who had failed in her endeavor to become an autistic medical transcriptionist due to sound sensitivity issues. I felt a certain satisfaction in having proved Grandin wrong. When I stopped doing medical transcription, however, I never dreamed I would end up meeting Temple in person at the 2008 ASA conference in Orlando, Florida and tell her what had happened to me and Temple again repeating what she said in her writings about the unsuitability of transcription as an occupation for a person on the spectrum. Well, I suppose life does have its little ironies.

I still think of this bad experience I had with vocational rehabilitation. I will never know whether or not this internship in the hospital was on the level or if the teacher was lying to me. I suspect the latter though. Though I was able to work in medical transcription sporadically in spite of the way voc rehab treated me, I was never good enough in it to steadily keep jobs or continue working in it, as the field changed.

Some persons whom I met have suggested that I give them another try. They say that it was over 20 years ago, that they may have changed and turned over a new leaf and may give decent classes, but I don't think so. I still remember the old saw once bitten twice shy. Most other persons whom I have spoken with who went to California's department of rehabilitation concurred with me and did not feel they were helpful and would only recommend it to their worst enemies. Perhaps some persons may have or may have had better experiences with them than I did, but I still don't recommend them and I am as skeptical about voc rehab programs being another quick fix that is promoted for autism. All I can say is let the disabled consumer beware.


Stephanie said...

I'm going to Voc Rehab because there is no where else for me to go. The Mental Health Center doesn't treat people with HFA/AS and there is a year long waiting list just to get evaluated for autism services and an even longer waiting list to actually receive those services. Plus, since I'm "high-functioning," I'm always the last group to be served.

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