Federal Legislation and the Development of Vocational Education
Employment should be available to everyone who wants it, despite any physical or educational limitations. If a person is capable of doing the work, then they should be given the opportunity to do it. It has been proven time and time again those workers who really want to work, disregarding any said “handicaps” they may have, are among the most loyal and dependable of employees.
The National Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1920 was the foundation of the laws that now govern the United States’ stand on employment of persons with disabilities. It went into force in 1920 but was amended many times through the next three decades until 1954, when it was put in force as the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1954. The deepest impact came when through Public Law 93-112 renamed it in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. “The 1973 law forbade any program receiving federal assistance from discriminating against the handicapped.” (Hotchkiss, 2003, p.1)
Through a laborious process, the federal government has presented employers of all sizes (except those with fifteen or less employees) a mandatory and also encouraging role in employing the handicapped. “Other groups such as religious groups, social clubs, family members, American Indian tribes, and farm or domestic workers are also exempt from having to hire disabled employees.” (Hotchkiss, 2003, p.2) All others fall under either federal or state discrimination laws for the handicapped.
Following the federal government’s lead, the states have imposed their own legislation on employment of the disabled within their state. This is advantageous and beneficial to the handicapped workers but the main regulations had to start and come from the federal legislation. It was not always an easy task to accomplish in the slow process to reach the point it has now as it had to override a great deal of prejudice against the capabilities of the disabled. In a sad reflection of this country’s past, the handicapped were often shunned and considered helpless, let alone unemployable. They were placed in institutions with usually deplorable living conditions, a usual lack of care or interest by the staff of these places, and many simply spent their entire lives confined and unacknowledged by the government or society. Through the courage of a few determined people, many of them handicapped themselves, they began to bring before the lawmakers the plight of these citizens and so the change began.
This also came about because of the return of WWI disabled veterans. These people went to war to fight for this nation as whole and came back crippled from permanent injuries and still had families to support when they returned home. Though former wars had created the same situation, WWI was a much larger war in scale and the amount of Americans that participated in it was vast. There was a clear and decisive need for something to be done to aid these veterans and help them retain a life treated with respect and dignity.
“The Soldiers Rehabilitation Act of 1918 provided these funds to rehabilitate these disabled veterans and the Federal Bureau of Vocational Education was to administer these services. In 1921, the Veteran’s Bureau was created and in time, this evolved into the Bureau of Veteran Affairs.” (Savickas, 2005, p.322)
It became apparent that not only did the disabled veterans need laws against discriminating about employment for them but due to some of their injuries, many of them were unable to do the jobs that they did before the war. They needed to be re-educated into a different type of work and so a form of vocational training was encouraged by the federal government and the Veteran’s Bureau. The service people were given certain types of training in order to return them to the workforce and to a more independent life.
In 1943, the Disabled Veterans Act was put into law and then followed by the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act in 1944 to aid the men whose education was interrupted by serving in the armed forces during WWII. In 1952, the Korean War brought about the Veteran’s Readjustment Assistance Act. The federal acts aided and helped the war veterans to resume their lives as much as possible and were considered enlightenment into the state of the disabled for employment but there were many others who were disabled by acts of war and who also needed to have a way to work. What followed was a series of new laws and amendments that went on to rectify that situation.
For example, the Barden-Lafollette Act of 1943 was passed to give persons with mental retardation or mental illness services to help with their employability due to the shortage of workers in the country during WWII. It opened the doors to people who were formerly considered unemployable and filled a much needed slot in the U.S. for workers to fill the jobs brought on by war.
The Vocational Educational Act of 1963 had its original roots in the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 which is considered ground-breaking for its time. It began the process that would revolutionize vocational education for the next nearly fifty years. These two acts have brought amazing changes to both public school systems and in time, the advance of vocational technical schools beyond the public school system requirements of twelve grades.
When a student who was fourteen or older could begin take vocational classes in school such as shop, home economics, or agriculture classes, it was to prepare that student for possible employment after school which included some jobs that did not require a college or university degree. As technology advanced, then so did the demands for more skilled workers who could through federal grants or loans attain a secondary education in thousands of vocational schools. Yet, the simplest of programs had to begin somewhere. It was begun in the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 which lead to the advancement of the Vocational Education Act of 1963.
There are varying opinions on the quality of the federal legislation of vocational education. Some historians have stated that it was outstanding in the pursuit of educating the general population of Americans but others have had a difference of opinion. In one quotation:
“The structure of vocational education,” they state flatly, “has remained largely unchanged since the passage of the 1917 Smith-Hughes Act.” They, however, extend the lack of real change beyond 1963, despite subsequent amendments to the law. Their stress on “persistent failures” and continuities in vocational education after 1963 sets them apart from other writers.” (Kantor, 1982, p.53)
When the VEA (Vocational Education Act of 1963) came into existence, it was brought forward by the fact that in the mid 1950’s and early 1960’s that was a “vocational epidemic” of a sort. There were ever increasing numbers of high school dropouts and a large percentage of the American workforce were untrained in any one skill. Unemployment rates rose and in what is often considered a “honeymoon” period of economic growth within the United States, it seemed to be an opposite contrast to the idea that the country was advancing quickly in progressive growth. The country’s youth, which was the country’s future, were digressing instead of moving forward. The children termed as the Baby Boom generation were of prodigious numbers and though their parents had made historical changes in the way that society viewed family life, the new generation seemed to be stagnated into some sort of a rut when it came to employment. Young people with too much time on their hands tended to find themselves into activities of no decent direction such as crime or militant group of protestors. It was the hope that the new vocational training offered by the enactment of VEA of 1963 would change that and to some degree it did.
President John F. Kennedy formed a Panel of Consultants on vocational education to review the existing programs and services on the subject. This quote that follows diagrams the results of the reviews of this panel.
“This panel, just as critical of vocational education as the Russell Report (although restrained in its language), established clearly the need for expanded vocational education. Eight of ten youths would not complete college, the panel found, and only 18 percent of the high school students surveyed by the panel staff were taking a predominately vocational curriculum. Existing programs, the panel concluded, were insufficient to meet shifting national manpower needs or to integrate large numbers of unemployed, disadvantaged youth into the economy. Moreover, the amount of vocational education that was available varied dramatically by region and socioeconomic status.” (Kantor, 1982, p.53)
Through the findings of this Panel, it was proposed to expand the vocational programs for high school students, more federal aid for the re-educating of high school drop outs, and more federally funded training for the disadvantaged and poor. If the programs were applied right, then there would numerous opportunities for anyone who wanted to work and also wanted a better paying job. Doors could be opened that had before been closed due to the lack of education and training.
After several months of investigation and conclusive action to propose these changes, the Panel presented their proposal to President Kennedy in November of 1962 and it was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson thirteen months later. The VEA of 1963 had made sweeping changes in federally assisted vocational education. This law is sometimes called “the second Magna Charta” with the Smith-Hughes Act being deemed the first one. Yet, little historical writing has been done of either of these acts and the impact they had on vocational education.
The Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was perhaps of less magnitude than the forerunners listed in the preceding text but it did cause some dramatic changes in other areas of vocational education. It brought to the fore front the lack of vocational rehabilitation in penal and correctional facilities. Convicted prisoners once released bear a strong disability that is neither physical nor mental in nature, it is a disability of society’s view upon them. Having been found guilty of crime, most former prisoners find the path to honest employment very difficult. Employers are hesitant to hire them for fear that they are untrustworthy. In hopes that these people after having served their time would find gainful, legal employment and not return to crime, the federal government encouraged correctional facilities to incorporate vocational training in their rehabilitation programs to aid these people. A worker who is skilled is still attractive to an employer even if they have served time for a crime. Of course, some crimes carry a heavier stigma than others, and even a former prisoner who has exceeded with this vocational training, may still find it hard to find work after being released but the chances are better with a trained skill than with none. The VRA put these funds into motion and gave ex-convicts a stepping stone to return to the outside and succeed.
The VRA also addressed the issue of people with psychiatric disabilities. This is an extremely sensitive issue since these particular individuals, among the disabled, are the ones who often find it the hardest to locate jobs. It seems to be the common consensus that persons with a physical handicap are far more employable than someone with a mental one.
“Although mentally disabled clients make up the largest number of cases eligible for vocational rehabilitative services, they have the least probability of success before and after rehabilitation (NIHR, 1979). Historically, the success rate for assisting individuals with psychiatric disabilities in returning to work has not been optimistic. The Rehabilitative Services Administration (RSA) began to serve individuals with mental handicaps nearly 23 years after its inception in 1920. Since then the number of individuals served has risen dramatically. In 1977, the number of individuals with mental illness who received vocational rehabilitation services reached 61,000. This increase, however, is not so dramatic when considering that the RSA estimates that there are at least two million individuals with psychiatric disabilities who could benefit from vocational rehabilitation services (Skelley, 1980).” (Hirsch, 1989, p.1)
Amendments were made to the VRA of 1973 to offer housing and living facilities to the mentally disabled so that not only could they work but by dwelling within a group environment that was compatible to them, then they were farther ensured of gaining employment and managing to maintain those jobs for long periods. The “group” homes were often given extra funding by the federal government. It was considered all a part of the rehabilitation process.
The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 developed the phrase of “mainstreaming” in the federal legislation. Too often individual needs are bypassed for the good of the whole and it had been observed that handicapped children were often denied the right to proper education for them. Most public school systems claimed that they simply did not have the facilities and the money to offer the specialized schooling that many handicapped children required. It is a common thought that everyone can learn, no matter what their disability may or may not be.
“Public Law 94-142 may have built-in flaws. Ironically, the very law that was designed to safeguard the options of handicapped children and their parents may, in the end, act to constrict their choices and result in disservice to the very children the legislators sought to help, by forcing schools to place them in programs that are not equipped to meet their needs. The normalization principle and the practice of mainstreaming may have deleterious effects on some children by denying them their right to be different.” (Meisel,1982, p.2)
Handicapped children do not fall under the term “normalization” but are by their very nature different and require a different method of education. They can not be mainstreamed. They have special needs and those needs must be met and the rights of these children should be tramped upon simply because of that difference or the lack of either money or interest. Every child of this country is guaranteed the right to an education and handicapped children are just as much a part of our youth as any other child.
Through federal enforcement, monetary assistance and general education for people unawares, these children have been given an opportunity to be educated and to grow and progress as far as they are capable of. The limitations, if any, should only be that of the child’s limitations and not of society’s.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments 1997 continue where the Education for All Handicapped Children 1975 leaves off as it addresses the many different types of disabilities. Not every child is actually visually or severely disabled as many of these education disabilities can be classified under the term of “learning disabilities”. ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) which will cause a child , who is by all appearances perfectly normal, to have to struggle in school to learn what other children absorb with general ease. Dyslexia can cause a child to see things backwards and therefore, make constant mistakes in the way they read and write or do math. There are, of course, solutions and programs to aid these children but still yet, many of these children simply fall through the cracks in the school system. Then when they fail to meet the requirements to succeed in school, they are held to blame instead of blaming a school system that has failed them.
These learning disabilities can be just as debilitating to a person who has a physical or mental handicap. Children with LD (learning disability) are termed as “mildly handicapped.” Yet, in the long run, these individuals suffer just as much from a proper education as an individual who receives a better education simply because their disability is more recognizable.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments 1997 was designed to address these “minor handicaps” in school with funding for more teacher and staff awareness and programs to aid these children so they can continue to learn in the same environment as the others but also achieve the same level of education.
This law also contains amendments to focus on the education of individuals with disabilities that are past school age. Once a handicapped child has completed all of the education that is possible to obtain, then this law offers different options to those people to ensure their highest obtainable goals.
“In 1994, Congress passed the School-to-Work Opportunities Act with overwhelming bipartisan support and the strong endorsement of national business and education groups. The National Association of Manufacturers, the National Alliance of Business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Committee for Economic Development, the National Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing, and the National Employer Leadership Council all threw their weight behind the law.” (Olson, 1998, p.15,16)
The common thought about this law was that it was meant to concern students who did not intend to go to college but as time has shown the pay rate for persons who had only a high school education or less was so poor that most families fall into poverty if they depend on these wages to live, even two parent households where both parents work. With a strong showing of money where the federal government matched two dollars to every state or local community dollar, better programs have developed to offer these individuals a chance to learn a more desirable skill and therefore increase their chances at a larger wage or salary and to improve their living conditions. Some schools actually have programs that can certify a student in such fields as an auto mechanic, skilled tradesmen such as a plumber or electrician or some other type of technical position where the student can obtain a good job right after graduation. Community colleges also offer these vocational programs so that the student may advance their education without having to attend a four year university for a degree. It has been satisfying that many of these programs have been taken advantage by students and there is a encouraging drop in the ranks of the unemployed and unskilled workers.
In less than a century, the federal government through legislation and laws have made great progress to offer to their citizens a chance to better themselves, whether they are disabled or just disadvantaged. Vocational programs all too often see severe cuts in their funding when the administration and Congress attempt to cut back to control the national deficit but hopefully, this will not continue to be so. Vocational education has been one of the better conceptions of the Unites States government.
1. The School-To-Work Revolution: How Employers and Educators Are Joining Forces to Prepare Tomorrow’s Skilled Workforce
Book by Lynn Olson; Perseus Books (Current Publisher: Perseus Publishing), 1998
2. The Labor Market Experience of Workers with Disabilities: The ADA and Beyond
Book by Julie L. Hotchkiss; W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 2003
3. Handbook of Vocational Psychology: Theory, Research, and Practice
Book by Mark L. Savickas, W. Bruce Walsh; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
4. Work, Youth, and Schooling: Historical Perspectives on Vocationalism in American Education
Book by Harvey Kantor, David B. Tyack; Stanford University Press, 1982
5. Requirements and Rewards of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Magazine article by Alan Appel; Corrections Today, Vol. 57, April 1995
6. Meeting the Vocational Needs of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities through Supported Employment
Journal article by Shari Weisz Hirsch; The Journal of Rehabilitation, Vol. 55, 1989
7. Mainstreaming Handicapped Children: Outcomes, Controversies, and New Directions
Book by C. Julius Meisel; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986
8. Transition: Facilitating the Postschool Adjustment of Students with Disabilities
Book by Edward M. Levinson; Westview Press, 1998
9. Everybody Belongs: Changing Negative Attitudes toward Classmates with Disabilities
Book by Arthur Shapiro; Routledge Falmer, 2000
10. Voices from the Edge: Narratives about the Americans with Disabilities Act
Book by Ruth O’brien; Oxford University Press, 2004