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4.2. Self-Advocacy at School, Work, and in Your Community
As a veteran with a disability, you may find it necessary to seek out and request different resources and services at school, at work, and in your community.
a. Self-Advocacy at School
Postsecondary schools (universities, community colleges, and technical schools) do not have a duty to find veteran students with disabilities. Rather, it is incumbent on a student to notify a school about veteran status and/or any disability that may require an academic adjustment or reasonable accommodation.
- Requesting accommodations at school does not mean you are requesting a different standard, it simply means allowing you to demonstrate what you know in a mode that best fits your needs.
- There is no one list of reasonable academic accommodations that will serve the needs of all students with disabilities. The following are some basic examples:
- Extending time on examinations (this does not mean extended preparation time, except in rare instances)
- Providing exams in alternate format (If appropriate to subject matter), and might involve a reader or a taped version of an exam or an alternative to computer-scored answer sheets
- Providing a note taker or allowing a note taking device for class
- Taking exams in a distraction-reduced setting and/or in a different format (oral, taped, or typed)
- Arranging for students with a hearing loss to have sound amplified this may require faculty to wear a voice amplifying microphone
Before, during, or after admission, if you believe you will need academic adjustments, find out which office provides services to students with disabilities (this may be referred to as Academic Support Services, Disability Support Services, or something similar). Contact the office as early as possible and determine what supporting documentation is required to establish that you have a disability and are eligible for academic adjustments [Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability rating paperwork will often suffice]. You should expect the school to work with you in an interactive process (e.g., begin a conversation) to identify what you need and how it can be provided. If you do not actively participate in the process, you are much less likely to receive appropriate academic adjustments.
- VA's VetSuccess on Campus is a program that strives to provide resources for servicemembers, veterans, and their family members to ensure a successful transition to college life. Vet Success on Campus representatives can work with servicemembers and veterans (both with and without service-connected disabilities) as well as their dependents. A complete list of VetSuccess on Campus locations and contact information is available at https://www.va.gov/careers-employment/vetsuccess-on-campus/
b. Self-Advocacy at Work
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are only required to provide accommodations for employees who are experiencing workplace problems because of a disability. Therefore, unless you disclose to your employer that you have a disability and need an accommodation, the employer is not obligated to consider accommodations under the ADA.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you only have to let your employer know that you need an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition. You can use "plain English" to make your request and you do not have to mention the ADA or use the phrase "reasonable accommodation." Here are some examples:
- Example 1: An employee tells her supervisor, "I'm having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I'm undergoing." This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.
- Example 2: An employee tells his supervisor, "I need six weeks off to get treatment for a back problem." This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.
- Example 3: A new employee, who uses a wheelchair, informs the employer that her wheelchair cannot fit under the desk in her office. This is a request for reasonable accommodation.
- Example 4: An employee tells his supervisor that he would like a new chair because his present one is uncomfortable. This statement is insufficient to put the employer on notice that he is requesting a reasonable accommodation, as he does not link his need for the new chair with a medical condition.
Two resources available to you regarding self-advocacy, accommodations, and employment include the VA's Veteran's Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program's VetSuccess and the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).
- The primary function of the VR&E program is to help veterans who have service-connected disabilities become employed, maintain employment, or achieve independence in daily living. This may include the creation of an individualized rehabilitation plan, medical and dental referrals, the coordination of an employment-focused training allowance, tutorial assistance, adjustment counseling, the purchase of assistive technology, and more. Apply for services in person at any VR&E office or online at https://www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/index.asp
- JAN offers a variety of resources related to disability and accommodations. Particularly related to self-advocacy is information on disclosure, such as Disability Disclosure and Interview Techniques and the Dos and Don'ts of Disclosure.
c. Self-Advocacy in Your Community
You may find yourself needing assistance in accessing services and resources within your community aside from at school or at work. Maybe you need help locating accessible or affordable housing, or maybe you are in need of services related to your veteran status. Remember, you are both a veteran and a citizen of your community so you have generic, community-based services available to you, as well as any veteran-specific services you may already be receiving. Some of these resources include, but are not limited to:
- Centers for Independent Living (CILs) are private, nonprofit organizations that provide services to maximize the independence of individuals with disabilities and the accessibility of the communities in which they live. These centers offer services such as: advocacy, information and referral, peer counseling, and more. Many CILs across the country partner with veterans organizations to ensure that veterans with disabilities know about and have access to these services. Contact a Center for Independent Living in your state for more information.
- If you served in any combat zone (any era), Vet Centers are available in many communities and can provide assistance in a number of areas, including employment screening and health-related referrals. These centers partner with organizations in the community and also have VA benefits specialists available if you need help navigating the VA Benefits system. Find a Vet Center in your area, https://www.vetcenter.va.gov/ or call 877-927-8397 (877-WAR-VETS).
- The National Disability Rights Network is a nonprofit organization and the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States. Resources are available at the state level and include issues related to community living, criminal justice, employment, and more.