Rehabilitation counselors assist disabled vets and others achieve economic independence as part of an SDSU program.
The SDSU rehabilitation counseling master's degree program is one of the top 10 in the country.
Everyone knows, finding a job in this economy is difficult. But for people with disabilities — it can be even more challenging.
In fact, while the overall unemployment rate in the country is hovering around 10 percent, unemployment and underemployment for individuals with disabilities is at an alarming 70 percent.
“The overall population with disabilities is growing substantially with higher autism rates, psychiatric disabilities related to an aging population and an increasing number of wounded warriors returning home from war,” said Caren Sax, chair of San Diego State University’s Department of Administration, Rehabilitation and Postsecondary Education.
The department is home to the rehabilitation counseling program that prepares students to help people with disabilities find work and support themselves.
Nationally ranked program
The master’s degree program, which is ranked among the top 10 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Graduate Schools 2012,” trains students to work with individuals with all levels of disability — from post-traumatic stress disorder to traumatic brain injuries — and help them find work so they can become economically independent.
For students like Jesus de la Pena, this line of work is more than a career; it’s personal.
The student veteran has seen friends come home battered and scarred, both physically and mentally, from their time at war.
Serving those who served
“Because of my experience, I can relate to the men and women who’ve served and serve them better,” said de la Pena, who has been in the Navy since 1990.
“I will be able to help veterans understand what they have gone through and give them the tools they need to get back into working society.”
And the work is rewarding.
“Rehabilitation counselors get to help people find satisfying and rewarding work that provides structure, social interaction and for many, a sense of identity — something that for veterans in particular can be hard to grasp once out of the military,” said Charles Degeneffe, professor and coordinator of the Rehabilitation Counseling program.
Training veterans and others for new careers goes well beyond helping the individual. It also helps minimize the economic impact they have on the rest of the country.
“The work being done by rehabilitation counselors makes a difference to tax payers,” Degeneffe said.
“If people with disabilities are working, then they won’t be reliant on public support.”
That’s why the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration awarded more than $2.5 million in grants last year to help the SDSU College of Education bring more professionals into the field of rehabilitation counseling.
Increasing need for rehab counselors
According to the California Department of Rehabilitation, it is estimated there will be a need across the state for 500 new counselors within the next five years as persons with disabilities continue to have the highest unemployment rate of all underrepresented groups.
SDSU’s program graduates approximately 25 students each year through the traditional on-campus program and an additional 20-25 through its distance-learning (online) program.