Over the years, I have written much but I’ve never done a blog so this invite from Martha is a first for me. With an assigned theme to highlight my journey in becoming a rehabilitation professional, I really didn’t know how to begin. The struggle was I’m not sure what interest someone would have about what I’ve done or not.
So I’ll just start by echoing what others have said in the previous blogs. Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a profession that merits the attention of anyone who may be interested in working with people and particularly people with disabilities. There is no question in my mind that the rewards of working in rehabilitation have been far greater than I would have imagined when I began. While my ending up in rehabilitation was not particularly accidental (I needed a job and with a baccalaureate in psychology/sociology/art, employers were not clamoring at my door) it was certainly not planned. But I came in during the era of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and there were plenty of opportunities. This was in many ways truly an age of expansion. I believe it remains true as even today, there is opportunity and plenty of room for folks wanting to make a difference. The bottom line for me is that it has been an incredible run and I truly believe it can be for you who are reading this now.
First and foremost, my career in rehabilitation has allowed me to learn from folks who have been or are visionary and inspirational. Many have played a role in enhancing my journey (counselor, psychologist and educator) and I certainly owe a debt to them. It has been a tremendous honor to have known and worked with so many different folks over the years. I mention a few knowing full well that the list is not all inclusive – Sylvia Walker, Larry Stewart, Yoshiko and Justin Dart, Tim Nugent, George Wright, Claude Meyer, Nancy Kerr, Lee Meyerson, Beatrice Wright, David Wayne Smith, Kent Kloepping, Kate Seelman, Bob Sakata, Stuart Holtzman to name a few – some whom you may know, others perhaps not as much… and there are many more I could list.
Second, as some of you know, the majority of my rehabilitation career has been spent as an educator sharing what VR is and has to offer. I’ve had literally hundreds of students … who I am sure I bored a bit but they have kept me thinking and learning. So many have taken on positions of influence not only with individuals as those who became rehabilitation counselors but others who have had impact on institutions and systems as well plus a few whom became educators too. I can’t take credit for their accomplishments but I can be proud I played a role in their development and journey.
Third, it has been great to witness the evolution and changes in rehabilitation that have occurred in the last half century. We no longer think in terms of institutionalization or sheltered workshops for persons with disabilities. VR has grown from a paternalistic program to where it is (almost though not quite) a partnership with those whom we aspire to work. Persons with disabilities are now more often than not are seen as contributors to society. There have been changes in legislation as well, beginning with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act that became the model for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Finally, perhaps because of my own ethnic background, I am more than aware that VR has slowly become a bit more inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities who have backgrounds and life experiences different from the middle-class European background traditional to American society.
To be a part of rehabilitation has been an exciting journey. I invite you to consider rehabilitation as a career pathway and may that choice also reward you as richly as it has me.
Dr. Paul Leung, Ph.D., CRC is a professor within the Department of Disability and Addiction Rehabilitation at the University of North Texas. Dr. Leung’s research interests include disability and rehabilitation related to diverse ethnic/cultural populations and postsecondary students with disabilities.