Prior to determining under this subsection that an applicant described in subparagraph (A) is unable to benefit due to the severity of the individual’s disability or that the individual is ineligible for vocational rehabilitation services, the designated State unit shall explore the individual’s abilities, capabilities, and capacity to perform in work situations, through the use of trial work experiences, as described in section 705(2)(D) of this title, with appropriate supports provided through the designated State unit. Such experiences shall be of sufficient variety and over a sufficient period of time to determine the eligibility of the individual. In providing the trial experiences, the designated State unit shall provide the individual with the opportunity to try different employment experiences, including supported employment, and the opportunity to become employed in competitive integrated employment.
To the maximum extent appropriate and consistent with the requirements of this part, for purposes of determining the eligibility of an individual for vocational rehabilitation services under this subchapter and developing the individualized plan for employment described in subsection (b) for the individual, the designated State unit shall use information that is existing and current (as of the date of the determination of eligibility or of the development of the individualized plan for employment), including information available from other programs and providers, particularly information used by education officials and the Social Security Administration, information provided by the individual and the family of the individual, and information obtained under the assessment for determining eligibility and vocational rehabilitation needs.
Determinations made by officials of other agencies, particularly education officials described in section 721(a)(11)(D) of this title, regarding whether an individual satisfies one or more factors relating to whether an individual is an individual with a disability under section 705(20)(A) of this title or an individual with a significant disability under section 705(21)(A) of this title shall be used, to the extent appropriate and consistent with the requirements of this part, in assisting the designated State unit in making such determinations.
For an individual entitled to benefits under title II or XVI of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 401 et seq., 1381 et seq.) on the basis of a disability or blindness, the designated State unit shall provide to the individual general information on additional supports and assistance for individuals with disabilities desiring to enter the workforce, including assistance with benefits planning.
An individualized plan for employment shall be a written document prepared on forms provided by the designated State unit.
An individualized plan for employment shall be developed and implemented in a manner that affords eligible individuals the opportunity to exercise informed choice in selecting an employment outcome, the specific vocational rehabilitation services to be provided under the plan, the entity that will provide the vocational rehabilitation services, and the methods used to procure the services, consistent with subsection (d).
A copy of the individualized plan for employment for an eligible individual shall be provided to the individual or, as appropriate, to the individual’s representative, in writing and, if appropriate, in the native language or mode of communication of the individual or, as appropriate, of the individual’s representative.
The individualized plan for employment shall be developed as soon as possible, but not later than a deadline of 90 days after the date of the determination of eligibility described in paragraph (1), unless the designated State unit and the eligible individual agree to an extension of that deadline to a specific date by which the individualized plan for employment shall be completed.
Each State shall establish procedures for mediation of, and procedures for review through an impartial due process hearing of, determinations made by personnel of the designated State unit that affect the provision of vocational rehabilitation services to applicants or eligible individuals. The procedures shall allow an applicant or an eligible individual the opportunity to request mediation, an impartial due process hearing, or both procedures.
Each State shall ensure that procedures are established and implemented under this subsection to allow parties described in paragraph (1) to disputes involving any determination described in paragraph (1) to resolve such disputes through a mediation process that, at a minimum, shall be available whenever a hearing is requested under this subsection.
The State shall bear the cost of the mediation process.
Each session in the mediation process shall be scheduled in a timely manner and shall be held in a location that is convenient to the parties to the dispute.
An agreement reached by the parties to the dispute in the mediation process shall be set forth in a written mediation agreement.
Discussions that occur during the mediation process shall be confidential and may not be used as evidence in any subsequent due process hearing or civil proceeding. The parties to the mediation process may be required to sign a confidentiality pledge prior to the commencement of such process.
Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to preclude the parties to such a dispute from informally resolving the dispute prior to proceedings under this paragraph or paragraph (5), if the informal process used is not used to deny or delay the right of the applicant or eligible individual to a hearing under this subsection or to deny any other right afforded under this subchapter.
A due process hearing described in paragraph (2) shall be conducted by an impartial hearing officer who, on reviewing the evidence presented, shall issue a written decision based on the provisions of the approved State plan, requirements specified in this chapter (including regulations implementing this chapter), and State regulations and policies that are consistent with the Federal requirements specified in this subchapter. The officer shall provide the written decision to the applicant or eligible individual, or, as appropriate, the applicant’s representative or individual’s representative, and to the designated State unit. The impartial hearing officer shall have the authority to render a decision and require actions regarding the applicant’s or eligible individual’s vocational rehabilitation services under this subchapter.
If the State establishes impartial review procedures under subparagraph (D), either party may request the review of the decision of the hearing officer within 20 days after the decision.
A decision made after a hearing under subparagraph (A) shall be final, except that a party may request an impartial review if the State has established procedures for such review under subparagraph (D) and a party involved in a hearing may bring a civil action under subparagraph (J).
A decision made under subparagraph (F) shall be final unless such a party brings a civil action under subparagraph (J).
If a party brings a civil action under subparagraph (J) to challenge a final decision of a hearing officer under subparagraph (A) or to challenge a final decision of a State reviewing official under subparagraph (F), the final decision involved shall be implemented pending review by the court.
Any party aggrieved by a final decision described in subparagraph (I), may bring a civil action for review of such decision. The action may be brought in any State court of competent jurisdiction or in a district court of the United States of competent jurisdiction without regard to the amount in controversy.
The provisions of paragraphs (1), (2), and (3) that relate to due process hearings do not apply, and paragraph (5) (other than subparagraph (J)) does not apply, to any State to which subparagraph (A) applies.
Unless the individual with a disability so requests, or, in an appropriate case, the individual’s representative, so requests, pending a decision by a mediator, hearing officer, or reviewing officer under this subsection, the designated State unit shall not institute a suspension, reduction, or termination of services being provided for the individual, including evaluation and assessment services and plan development, unless such services have been obtained through misrepresentation, fraud, collusion, or criminal conduct on the part of the individual, or the individual’s representative.
The Director of the designated State unit shall collect information described in subparagraph (B) and prepare and submit to the Commissioner a report containing such information. The Commissioner shall prepare a summary of the information furnished under this paragraph and include the summary in the annual report submitted under section 710 of this title. The Commissioner shall also collect copies of the final decisions of impartial hearing officers conducting hearings under this subsection and State officials conducting reviews under this subsection.
The confidentiality of records of applicants and eligible individuals maintained by the designated State unit shall not preclude the access of the Commissioner to those records for the purposes described in subparagraph (A).