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Student participating in a small-group online class

Counselors Benefit from Disability-Related Training

In New York state, over 53,000 working age (21-64) people had a disability and were looking for a job in 2022, according to New York state employs over 700 vocational rehabilitation counselors and supporting staff who assist New Yorkers like these with finding the right position and planning a career. These counselors and staff require training, so they can expand and update their knowledge.

Cornell ILR’s Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability completed a three-year training contract earlier this year with New York state to develop and offer 44 courses to counselors and staff, based on up-to-date, documented best practices. Called VR-TED – or Vocational Rehabilitation - Training, Education, and Development – the program was a collaboration between the institute and the New York State Education Department’s Adult Career and Continuing Education Services - Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR).

Educators at the Yang-Tan Institute developed customized training modules for New York state to address concerns in the field of vocational rehabilitation and counseling. Topics included post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, psychological safety, panic attacks, autism spectrum disorders, intellectual and developmental disabilities and emotional regulation. Considerations woven into the curriculum were ethics, diversity and inclusion, trauma-informed practices, counseling techniques, working with youth and families, and details about specific disabilities.

“The presenter did an excellent job in explaining, and the case study questions were thought-provoking and helpful.” – ACCES-VR trainee

Another set of modules aimed to help counselors and staff with their own stress levels and emotional health so they can take care of themselves while assisting others.

“We were pleased to have ACCES-VR request these topics because self-care and emotional health can directly impact work productivity and critical thinking,” Gina Oswald, VR-TED principal investigator and a senior extension associate at the Yang-Tan Institute, said. “These topics have historically been minimally addressed in rehabilitation counseling educational programs. This is a troublesome trend as self-care monitoring and practices are required in graduate counseling programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and mandated in the 2023 Code of Professional Ethics for Certified Rehabilitation Counselors and the 2014 Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association,” Oswald said.

“Feedback from the training showed that many appreciated the validation and permission to focus on their own mental and physical wellness. Encouragement to honestly check in with themselves and strategies for healthy habits in a sedentary work environment were especially well-received,” Oswald said. Oswald also shared a tip from these trainings, which is to explore the resources about emotional wellness from the National Institutes of Health.

“Valuable information given these challenging times. I look forward to using some of these strategies for myself, as well as my participants.” – ACCES-VR trainee

The training was provided online in a live, small-group virtual format. The institute has offered online training for many years, and it scaled up its capacity when the pandemic began. For New York state employees, who live and work across the entire state, online training removes barriers such as travel time and weather.

In addition to teaching courses, educators at the institute provided over 30 sessions to assist ACCES-VR staff with developing and delivering their own training about a new electronic case management system. They also trained supervisors on fostering ethical counselor behaviors and provided training to ACCESS-VR leadership and staff on national trends and evidence-based practices.

“Through this project, our trainers have developed a versatile portfolio of timely and engaging trainings that address current concerns within state vocational rehabilitation agencies and common gaps in counselor skills,” Oswald said. In fact, the Yang-Tan Institute now offers similar training in Montana and Oregon. “We look forward to additional opportunities to enhance the knowledge and abilities of the professionals tasked with supporting individuals with disabilities seeking meaningful employment in their communities,” Oswald said.

Providing practical information to educators, policymakers and others who assist people with disabilities is a core focus for the Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability, which is part of Cornell’s ILR School. The institute conducts a combination of research and outreach. Its mission is to advance knowledge, policies and practice that enhance equal opportunities for all people with disabilities. Its research, training and technical resources expand knowledge about disability inclusion, leading to positive change. The institute currently leads over a dozen active projects. They include the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN), Disability Statistics and New York state Subminimum Wage to Competitive Integrated Employment (SWTCIE).