Breaking Ground 103 - Disability Rights TN Client Assistance Program

By Disability Rights TN staff Tricia Griggs and Becky Allen

Are you a person with a disability getting help with employment from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR)? Are you working with an Independent Living (IL) Center? (Editor's note*: Tennessee’s IL Centers are: Memphis Center for Independent Living; T.A.R.P. in Paris; Jackson Center for Independent LivingEmpower TN in Middle TN; TRAC in Chattanooga; and Disability Resource Center in Knoxville)  Have you ever asked your VR counselor for something to help achieve your goals and they said “No?” Do you ever feel confused about what services or help they could give you? Do you have problems with your counselor not calling you back?

If you have answered “YES” to any of these questions and have a problem like this now, you can call Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) for help. You can talk to an advocate to see how we might be able to assist you. The Client Assistance Program (CAP) at DRT can help you resolve these kinds of problems and many others. Every state has a Client Assistance Program created by the Rehabilitation Act. (That’s the federal law that created Vocational Rehabilitation and Independent Living programs.)

The Client Assistance Program provides education, advocacy, and representation to people with disabilities being served by VR and IL programs, if needed. CAP’s role is to help people with disabilities using VR and IL programs:

  • understand their rights and responsibilities under these programs,
  • solve problems and misunderstandings between counselors and customers,
  • assist customers with appeal efforts, and
  • advocate for appropriate transition services.

Our CAP staff will explain VR policies and federal law. We can give you options to solve the problem you are having with VR. Sometimes, CAP advocates will explain to you why VR cannot give you the service you want. At other times, the advocate can help you get the services you need to help you find and succeed in the job you want. VR can provide certain services and not others. Your CAP advocate will help you understand the VR program and help you and your counselor get back on the same page. We all disagree sometimes. However, we need to work together so you get the services you need to achieve your job goal.

VR is required to provide their customers with information about CAP, including how to contact us.  These are the times when you are working with VR that they must give you this information:

  • when you apply for VR services,
  • when you are assigned to a priority category,
  • when your Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) is developed, and
  • when any of your VR services are suspended, reduced, or ended.

Be sure to read any papers VR gives you at these times and look for our CAP information.

CAP can also help if you have concerns or questions about services from a Center for Independent Living.  We can help you understand the core services which all IL programs must provide.  CAP can help you in working with IL staff to develop your independent living plan.  We can also help if you have been denied services or your case has been closed and you disagree with that decision.

CAP staff mainly help individuals with issues about services from Vocational Rehabilitation or Centers for Independent Living. CAP also assists in other ways:

  • Explain employment rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Meet with the VR administration to try to solve common problems for VR customers
  • Review VR policies and discuss concerns with VR
  • Provide training about CAP services to VR staff and customers

The goal of CAP is to help customers who have problems with IL or VR programs, which also helps make services better for future customers.  Contact us if you need help with a current problem. Phone: 1-800-342-1660 ; Email:

*Correction: An earlier version of this article failed to include the Jackson Center for Independent Living in the list of Tennessee CILs. We apologize for this mistake on the part of the editors.

Tricia Griggs and Becky Allen are advocates at Disability Rights Tennessee. With their West Tennessee counterpart, they have over 25 years combined experience advocating for Tennesseans with disabilities.