Answering the call: counselors reflect on their experiences serving people with disabilities in Washington state

March 22 is National Rehabilitation Counselors Appreciation Day. Together, the Washington State Rehabilitation Council, Client Assistance Program and Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services’ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation recognize the passion and dedication of Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors.

“In the world today, we are often too busy to pause and reflect on the important work done by those around us. On National Rehabilitation Counselor Appreciation Day, I want to say thank you to all the vocational rehabilitation counselors that work for DVR now and in the past. Each one of you impact the lives of our customers as you help people with disabilities explore their career aspirations and provide supports as each customer reaches for their dreams.” — Dana Phelps, DVR Director

Vocational Rehabilitation

This work in Washington state is unique in its mission, and singular in vision: to help students, youth and adults with disabilities be empowered to dream big and achieve their employment goals.

Vocational rehabilitation counselors take the Latin prefix, vocatio, meaning “calling” to heart. This calling — to assist people with disabilities achieve a life of independence, self-reliance and self-direction through meaningful employment — is difficult to describe. So rather than tell you what it is, DVR staff and partners are sharing their voice and passion in this meaningful work:

“Working as a VR professional and an individual with disabilities myself, I believe that this is the most rewarding work I will ever do in my life. Not only does the work we do at VR impact the lives of people with disabilities, but it also creates spaces in the community for people with disabilities to thrive and have connections that may be untenable without our services and support. It offers diverse interactions with a wide range of people from the customers we serve, providers and other professions, making the work dynamic and interesting. Every day is a new adventure and an opportunity for personal and professional growth and learning. Being part of this community has helped mold me into the person I am today and the person I will be tomorrow. I can’t imagine myself wanting to do any other work and feel beyond privileged to be able to do this work.”

Megan Grundbrecher, MA, CRC, CRL
Regional Administrator, DVR

“As a DVR counselor in a past life, a current Certified Rehabilitation Counselor CRC, and the Director of Mainstay at Seattle Central College, I am never more fulfilled in my professional life than securing a career for a job seeker with disabilities. Experiencing the ripple effect that employment has on a person’s life and the lives of the people around them is a privilege which I never get tired of witnessing. As a CRC, I dive deep into trying to better myself and my team in the intersections of culture, race, disability and overall identity. We are a work in progress. My CRC gives me the resources I need to connect employers to an amazing, valuable workforce of people!”

Rebecca Jansson, CRC
Director of Mainstay, Seattle Central College

“I enjoy assisting customers in finding the job that suits them best. I like doing outreach in the community to educate teachers and other professionals about DVR and how we can work together as a team to provide services for students and older customers with disabilities with the resources and services they need to be successful in the employment field. I find joy when the customer has found that first job and the first paycheck. Seeing the excitement in their faces when they can work, even if it is only for a few hours a week.”

Roseanne Morales, MS, CRC
Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, DVR

“As VRCs, we get the opportunity and honor to see our neighbors and community for the multifaceted people they are, in ways that honor their experiences. Overall, U.S. culture is not one that is disability and trauma-informed. Neither are our healthcare system and workforce. Navigating both these systems can be traumatizing, disheartening, invalidating and exhausting. Our job presents us with the chance to not only see someone for all their strength, resiliency, growth areas and struggle, but to let them know through our actions and our word that we see them, hear them and believe them. This corrective experience is a space of reverence and trust not often found in the workforce or the larger community. It is a unique and joyful experience for our field.”

Eliza Lester, MS, CRC
Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, DVR

“Vocational rehabilitation is civil rights in action. Unlike other social services whose goal is meeting basic needs, VR focuses on dreams and opportunities. Whether it’s obtaining a first job or advancing on a career pathway, meaningful employment helps individuals with disabilities gain independence, social engagement and community inclusion. VR counselors are in a unique position to believe in someone’s potential and provide guidance and support to help them along their journey. There is nothing more rewarding than someone setting and achieving a goal they may not have otherwise thought possible. VR services help individuals, but also allows employers to see how individuals with disabilities can and do contribute to a strong workforce and their community.”

Jen Bean, MA
Executive Director, Client Assistance Program

“There is nothing more important to me than equity, and vocational rehabilitation is truly the civil rights movement in action. VR is special because as counselors not only can the person be provided guidance and counseling from professionally trained staff, but that staff member also has the resources to financially support the chosen employment goal. This is unique when compared to most other federally funded programs; DVR has flexibility built into the law to allow for creative serve provision.”

Lesa J. Dunphy, MRC
Community Program Manager, DVR

“Vocational Rehabilitation’s core foundation is rooted in human rights, civil rights and social justice. VR creates opportunities and voice to people with disabilities who have encountered societal barriers, marginalization and biases.

My passion is deeply entrenched in my core values as a disability advocate and belief that everyone, regardless of disability, has the right to experience job opportunities — it’s about equity of access and inclusion.

As vocational counselors, we wield unique influence in our ability to champion as disability advocates; identify and address profound injustices; counsel on disability issues, artificial barriers, employment barriers; and lift those we serve during their journey in education, employment and building their community.”

Yvonne Bussler-White, M.Ed
Customer Relations Manager, Pro-Equity Anti-Racism Consultant, DVR

“Being a vocational rehabilitation counselor is all about legacy at this point. DVR does something very unique that I believe very strongly in. DVR invests in people. The underlying humanistic belief is what motivates me to do this work. Everyone — and I mean everyone — can change and grow. That is the foundation.

Having the opportunity to invest in people means I can build people up so they can improve the lives of people that they encounter as they go through life. That means I have the opportunity to benefit people I will never see and know through the DVR customer in front of me who I do get to see and know. To me that creates tremendous meaning.

To succeed in this work, you have to listen. You must listen to and accept unconditionally the whole person. You have to listen to what they believe they need to succeed. That means seeing and acknowledging who they are. I believe most problems in this world can be solved by active listening. Call me a dreamer, but that dreamy belief has carried me since 1990.”

Perry Anderson
Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, DVR

“Each condition impacts each person differently, and so you cannot assume that everyone that experiences a disability is the same. I have learned so much about disability and people in general; it has truly inspired me and encouraged me to continue with my career.

Vocational rehabilitation creates equity in our communities through ensuring people with disabilities have a quality of life and are included in their communities. Employment helps ensure that persons with disabilities are not considered second-class citizens in our society. Everyone deserves the right to work and employing persons with disabilities within the workplace diversifies the workplace.”

Nick Harris, MA, CRC
Regional Transition Consultant, DVR

“Like many, I found rehabilitation counseling by accident. I knew I wanted a career with meaning, and I looked at a variety of pathways. When I found rehabilitation counseling, it felt like home. Being able to support someone to build identity and confidence has been so rewarding. Rehabilitation counseling is so unique — there is a remarkable balance of empathy, accountability and goal directed energy. At Orion, I have loved being able to build programs and services that meet the needs of our community and realize every individual’s journey is unique. Being able to see someone build their skills and confidence, manage barriers and find the right job match is what it is all about. The work we do builds belonging. Partnering with DVR offers support to individuals we support with significant disabilities. Having a team supporting an individual helps us all achieve more positive results.”

Kathy Powers
Vice President of Services, Orion

“Every year in March, I am reminded of how I got to where I am in my career. March holds National Rehabilitation Counselors Appreciation Day but also the anniversary of my graduation and testing for the CRC 11 years ago. My graduate school experience at the University of Wisconsin-Stout sparked fond memories of growth, friendship, inspiration and finding a new community. My journey before I learned of VR was focused on occupational therapy. Within the first few days of my VR graduate program, I knew I was in the right place.”

Mishana Williams, MS, CRC, CVE
Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Lead, DVR

“I am a problem solver at heart. I love working with people regarding employment. The real issue is that it is never just the job that customers need help with- it is the type of job, the location, transportation, work styles, financial limitations or needs, childcare, work life balance, interpersonal relationships, family and so much more. The chance to help individuals and support them through so many difficult choices and decisions is what makes this job special.”

Douglas Burkhalter, MA
Assistant Director, Client Assistance Program

“I’ve been drawn to the counseling field since college. The combination of counseling, employment training and assisting people to overcome barriers aligns with my values and goals. When VR customers are successful and prospering in their community, it is better for the entire community.”

Pablo Villarreal, M.Ed
Workforce and Youth Chief, DVR

“When I was young, I witnessed my father experience challenges in maintaining employment due to a disease that impacted him in the prime of his life. These experiences led me to pursue a career in vocational rehabilitation. I wanted to learn everything I could regarding reasonable accommodations, benefits and the law. Years later, after working in this field for 20+ years, my “why” for continuing working this field expanded. I get to work with passionate staff and lead efforts in helping to reduce barriers for many people. I get to work with youth with disabilities to help them feel like they can pursue their dreams. I get to work with employers to help educate them on why hiring someone with a disability is a beneficial decision for their business. I get to help people become what they always wanted to. What other job allows that?”

Mandy Kipfer, MA, CRC, CRL
Deputy Regional Administrator, DVR

The Power of Employment

In fiscal year 2022/2023, DVR successfully employed 2,167 customers between the ages of 16 and 65-plus. Through VR services including counseling and guidance, employment and job readiness training, benefit planning, independent living, assistive technology and so much more, our counselors were able to help customers achieve their job goals. DVR, WSRC and CAP stand proud and passionate about VR, deeply rooted in the ideal that everyone, regardless of disability, has the right to work. It is about equity and access for all Washingtonians.

Learn more about DVR services in Washington by visiting