Spotlight on Rachel Anderson, Vocational Rehabilitation Transition Specialist

Meet Rachel Anderson,Transition & Supported Employment Coordinator for the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation.  Rachel has been working with people with disabilities 023for 15 years. She began in college working with children with disabilities in an after school program, then moved on to working in residential care with adults with disabilities. After earning her degree in Social Work, Rachel became a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Transition Counselor with the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, first working in the Salt Lake City School District and then moving into assisting all schools/districts in the state to make the VR connection. 

I have loved, and been extremely passionate about, all of my roles working with people with disabilities. I have always been understanding, accepting and passionate about advocating for vulnerable populations, or those that need help in anyway. I am lucky to have the opportunity to work with transition aged youth in Utah, helping them gain the skills and providing opportunities for them to meet their goals, become independent and be successfully employed.

Rachel’s responsibilities include performing outreach in the communities as well as coordinating statewide transition services between Utah State Office of Education/local school districts and VR.  Rachel works closely with all VR Transition Counselors to provide training, consultation and updating policies to help serve students with disabilities.

Transition Counselors are dedicated to providing services and supports to schools and students while still in high school to help them transition from school to post school activities. We understand that looks different for everyone, so we strive to individualize services and help students identify their needs and employment goals while transitioning into adult services and independence. 

Rachel feels that the most important development in transition has been the reauthorization to the Rehabilitation Act in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

It specifically defines transition and the expectation for providing support for students with disabilities. The VR system now has the authority to update policies, implement programs and procedures specific to transition, and to meet the individualized counseling and training needs of each student with a disability. It raises the expectation for youth with disabilities gaining employment skills and becoming a part of the workforce. It also raises the expectation for providers and professionals in helping people with disabilities gain employment. I think its really exciting. 

Rachel is passionate, and enthusiastic, about her career working with youth.

Youth are still impressionable and have hopes. Not that adults don’t, but many times youth aren’t jaded by life and still have hopes and dreams. I love helping youth in transition discover their strengths and abilities and helping them mold their future. Its so cool to see a youth ‘discover’ who they are and what they are capable of. I think it is amazing to be one of the people to help the youth succeed. ​

While Rachel experiences much success in her work, she also recognizes the many challenges seen in the adult system.

Sometimes policies and procedures don’t match reality. It can be difficult to navigate the system and make sure all the team players are at the table. It is also very challenging when families are not comfortable with identifying with the word ‘disability’. Many times, parents don’t want to tell their kid they have a disability, but when they get to adults services, they have to talk about it in order to be eligible for the program. In my opinion, the word disability will continue to be a negative word, as long as we let it be. 

There are many rewards in Rachel’s work with transition youth. 

Being able to integrate into the community and get to know families, educators, employers etc is so rewarding. Seeing that so many people believe in employment for people with disabilities and those people working together. I have multiple clients that I worked with for years. It is so rewarding to see people change, and grow and accomplish their goals. Working can sometimes be very difficult, especially if it isn’t the right job match.

When asked what she feels the most crucial issues are facing students with disabilities as they transition from highs chool to adulthood, Rachel highlights what she consistently sees in education and adult services: resources and people.

What I mean is, many school districts and charter schools struggle with funding and being able to provide the supports that each student needs, and sometimes the training for educators that is needed to provide transition supports. Its the same in adult services. We often times don’t have all of the funding needed to provide supports to all of those in the community that need it. Also, most adult service agencies and educators have multiple people they are serving. It gets really difficult to do it all. In Utah, I think we are doing a good job with what we are given, but we need to keep advocating and showing why youth with disabilities need multiple supports in order to be successful. Its all about team work. 

Collaboration between schools and VR with regard to students transitioning adulthood is in a better place than ever before, according to Rachel. She attributes this to the development and nurturing of stronger relationships and greater consistency in the VR message acorss the state, as well as an increasing number of educators becoming vested in the value of partnering with VR.

There is still a lot of work to do. We have assigned counselors to over 200 schools across the state, but only around 40 counselors providing transition services. We are working hard to collaborate at the local level, with administration and with USOE to find out the best way to partner. One size does not fit all, but VR is willing and able to be flexible in our collaboration to help meet the needs of VR, the educators and the students. 

Rachel has these sentiments about her work:

My work with youth is so inspiring and helps me keep ‘fighting the good fight’ when I see them find the perfect job, and begin to really mold who they are. I truly believe that work is one of the most valuable things we can do for ourselves, and I am lucky to be able to help youth discover this. 

Rachel Anderson can be reached at rachelanderson at utah dot gov

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