Newswise — Rehabilitation counselors can help clients with physical or mental disabilities—or both, as is often the case—find employment and live independently, according to South Dakota State University professor Alan Davis. More than 56 million Americans live with disabilities, according to the 2014 Disability Statistics Annual Report compiled by the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability. October is National Disability Employment Awareness month.

“Rehabilitation counselors have a career they can be proud of and in which they can take a deep amount of satisfaction,” said Davis, coordinator of the SDSU rehabilitation counseling program.

Sylvia Buboltz, a 2012 SDSU rehabilitation counseling graduate, agrees.

“What keeps me in rehab is the ability to make a difference, to see that growth in our clients,” said Buboltz, who is district supervisor at the S.D. Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation Services in Brookings. “My hope is that our clients are able to find fulfillment in their lives, fulfillment through their work and be as independent as possible.”

Counselors work closely with their clients to establish a goal for employment in the community, explained Buboltz.

“On the surface, it’s about finding employment,” she noted, but that often requires dealing not only with physical limitations but also mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and sometimes substance abuse.

Dealing with a physical disability, particularly later in life, can affect clients’ mental health. “These things tend to go hand in hand,” she added.

Counselors must have the knowledge and ability to access all the resources of a particular community, Davis explained. “It takes a dedicated, creative and ethical person to be a rehabilitation counselor.”

In addition to the core counseling curriculum, rehabilitation counseling graduate students must have specialized knowledge about the history, legal and policy issues that affect people with significant disabilities. This includes medical and psychological aspects of disabilities.

A combination of more clients in need of their services and a large volume of retirements within the profession means graduates are in an enviable position, according to Davis. Students find it challenging to finish the program, which typically takes 2.5 years, before being hired.

As part of the effort to fulfill the needs of veterans and their families, a grant from the Rehabilitation Services Administration through the U.S. Department of Education helps support graduate students specializing in rehabilitation counseling.

The training grant covers students’ tuition and fees. In exchange, graduates work for a state rehabilitation agency for two years for each year of fulltime scholarship support they received. The federal government has rehabilitation services in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and work payback can be met through employment at any of these agencies.

“There will always be individuals with disabilities, people who need our services,” Buboltz said. “To increase that ability for someone to be more self-sufficient and to have gained confidence in themselves is the most rewarding part.”

About South Dakota State UniversityFounded in 1881, South Dakota State University is the state’s Morrill Act land-grant institution as well as its largest, most comprehensive school of higher education. SDSU confers degrees from eight different colleges representing more than 175 majors, minors and specializations. The institution also offers 32 master’s degree programs, 15 Ph.D. and two professional programs. The work of the university is carried out on a residential campus in Brookings, at sites in Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City, and through Cooperative Extension offices and Agricultural Experiment Station research sites across the state.