Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Regina Garza Mitchell, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

D. Eric Archer, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Glinda Rawls, Ph.D.


This qualitative study explored the experiences of vocational rehabilitation counselors (VRC) serving racially diverse clients and how VRCs are trained and educated to work with racially diverse clients. VRCs are typically employed by federally funded state or federal rehabilitation agencies. In their role, they aim to provide individualized tools and services that empower people with disabilities by alleviating barriers to being successful when preparing for and maintaining employment and being independent in their adult life (Donnell et al., 2013). Often tasked to work with clients who have marginalized identities including race and disability, VRCs must be able to understand and address the client’s racial identity as well as their disability. My goal with this study was to understand the experiences of VRCs in serving clients from racially minoritized backgrounds and the training VRCs receive to work with racially diverse clients.

This study used combined lenses of critical race and critical disability theories to analyze the experiences of eight VRCs employed in Midwestern states, including Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana. Their experience ranged from 6 to 16 years on the job. Four participants identified as Black women, two as White women, and two as White men. Participants were interviewed using a semi-structured protocol that included visual stimuli, which allowed them to go beyond the “here and now.”

The experiences and perspectives of the eight rehabilitation counselors were categorized into five themes that captured their experiences when serving racially diverse clients: (1) My Life's Work; (2) Our Hands are Tied; (3) Power, Permission, and Privilege; (4) The American Mask; and (5) Training Counts but it Doesn’t Add Up. An unexpected finding was the distinction in experiences between Black and White counselors regarding power and privilege in serving clients and working as a rehabilitation counselor. This finding demonstrated that the persistent and difficult history experienced by people of color impacts both clients and counselors. Another important finding was the perceived lack of value and impact in attending multicultural training to better serve racially diverse clients receiving VR services. Participants did not believe that currently available training accounts for the overlapping factors of race compounded with disability, making it challenging to translate to the population they serve. Findings from this study suggest a difference in serving racially diverse clients concerning alleviating barriers to preparing and maintaining employment. This study also found that multicultural training and education do not translate into the field due to the systemic restraints counselors have to work within, as well as a lack of applicable information.

This study provides implications for assessment guidelines, examination, and amendment of policies using discourse analysis and evidence-based practices. It also underscores the need to effectively train all VRCs to serve racially diverse clients effectively.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access