by Chellis Hall, Guest Writer
Our Voices features guest bloggers in their own words sounding off on disability issues in Arizona.
Chellis Hall is finishing up a Masters of Social Work degree at Arizona State University. He is a Self Advocate who is passionate about trauma informed care and emergency preparedness especially when relating to individuals with disabilities.
"Don’t settle for less than you deserve, My Experience with Vocational Rehabilitation."
Chellis Hall, July 2021
I enjoy breaking through barriers and exceeding the low expectations of others. The “others” I am referring to are Rehabilitation Services Administration Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Counselors and experts who have doubted me and my abilities. My experience with VR began in August 2013, after I applied and got accepted to Mesa Community College (MCC). A disability resource counselor at MCC told me about VR and suggested I apply for services to help pay for my college expenses. I took the advice and applied. The first thing the VR Counselor did was order testing. After three days of testing with a psychologist and two weeks of testing at Rehab Without Walls, I was informed by all three that I was not ready for college. They said I was close, but I had some work to do.
The experts said I would have a difficult time getting through school. And I must admit they were correct. The experts said I was near normal functioning limits in all categories except for two. I interpreted this as they were advising/encouraging me to settle; and if you know me, I’m not the kind of person that just settles. During the meeting I remember saying “I was not going to let tuition from a community college stand in the way of my dream of getting a Ph.D.” The experts couldn’t imagine that I was going to be such a good student or obtain multiple degrees. I don’t think anyone could have predicted this outcome, including myself. I am very proud of what I have accomplished.
It has taken me a long time to process this rejection, and I’m realizing how much this has pushed me to pursue my goals. I have a lot of respect for the VR Counselor and know she was following the rules prescribed by the system. But a lot of the rules and guidelines were based on experts’ opinions about my abilities, which were wrong.
After I graduated from MCC with an associate degree, (December 2015) I applied to Arizona State University (ASU) and during my first year, I met with a new VR Counselor who had an office on campus. VR helped me through one full year of my undergraduate degrees. The help that VR offers is a vital necessity for college students with disabilities who have difficulty paying for technology, books, transportation, and tuition. I obtained two bachelor’s degrees at ASU, and asked VR to help with my master’s degree, and once again, I was told by my VR Counselor I wouldn’t make it. VR would not fund master’s degrees for any students and that it wasn’t worth the money for VR to continue to support me with my education. This was the explanation despite my maintaining a GPA of 3.81 and receiving the Inspire Award from VR in October 2019.
This time I’m not going to settle. I’m going to begin the process of reopening my VR case.
Under Federal Law, a VR applicant has the right to appeal a decision made by a VR Counselor or other RSA employees that affect your VR services. Previously, I could have appealed the decision but was not aware of the process. VR has a written policy that allows 15 days from the date you receive your decision to give notice that you want to appeal the decision.
Download the Appeal Rights Form to familiarize yourself with the appeals process. Send it to your VR counselor or take it to an office to file your appeal in person. Send all requests by certified mail. If you need assistance completing the Request for Appeal form, contact a VR staff member. If you have questions about your VR services or appeal rights, call the Client Assistance Program at (602) 274-6287 or 1-800-927-2260.
I wonder what might have happened to me if my grit, drive, and tenacity was not as high, or if I left that meeting back in 2013 feeling defeated and alone. I must wake up early to get to school, work, or to my internship. It takes me about three times as someone without disabilities to get ready each day. I must have my rides set the day before to take the paratransit system and I must have my pick-up time and return time set every day. But thank goodness I was not alone. I had full support of my family and friends. So despite the barriers I face, I am successfully completing my graduate studies, maintaining and thriving in my internship, raising children, and living a very full, active life.
I want everyone who reads this to know that you can appeal a negative or denial decision made by your VR counselor. I encourage you to gather evidence and appeal the decision.
"Never let “others” define what you’re capable of. There is always a way to achieve your dreams. Don’t settle for less than you deserve."
Chellis Hall can be contacted at [email protected]