Vocational Rehabilitation Update
Authors: Cheryl Fuller, Director Vocational Rehabilitation Division, Texas Workforce Commission
Keywords: disability, blind, visually impaired, Vocational Rehabilitation, Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program, Summer Earn and Learn, Texas Workforce Commission, Health and Human Services Commission
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It’s been an exciting year in the Texas Workforce Commission’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs. Just over one year ago, the VR program and staff were transferred to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), as mandated in Senate Bill (SB) 208, 84th Texas Legislature. TWC welcomed VR staff and worked diligently to ensure a smooth transition for staff and customers. On October 1, 2017, TWC completed another SB 208 requirement: combining Blind Services and Rehabilitation Services divisions into one Vocational Rehabilitation Division. The new division features a streamlined structure that retains specialization in serving individuals who are blind or visually impaired at the state, regional and local level. VR counselors from the legacy Blind Services division will continue to serve customers with visual impairments. VR counselors will continue to specialize in serving students and those with needs in other areas of disability such as deaf and hard of hearing, and neurodevelopmental disorders. The newly combined VR Division will continue its high standards of service by providing qualified staff to serve all customers, while also seeking opportunities for efficiency, consistency and improved customer service.
TWC-VRS is also continuing to implement the many changes to the VR program that were enacted by Congress in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and by the Rehabilitation Services Administration in its final implementing regulations, released in the fall of 2016. One of the required changes is that each state must establish a single starting age for students with disabilities who are interested in applying for VR services. Previously, Blind Services and Rehabilitation Services divisions had different starting ages for students. Earlier this year, TWC held public meetings around the state to seek feedback on the proposed change to establish age 14 as the standard starting age to begin receiving VR services. This is an earlier starting age than the VR programs in most states, but it aligns the Texas VR program with the age by which students in special education programs in Texas schools must begin transition planning. This change became effective on October 1, 2017. TWC- VRS has been working with the Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program (Blind Children’s Program) at the Health and Human Services Commission to ensure that this change was communicated to students and families participating in the Blind Children’s Program. We wamted to ensure that families with children aged 10-14 interested in VR Services were referred to TWC-VRS for a determination of eligibility before the change in starting age. In addition to coordinating referrals between Blind Children’s Program and TWC-VRS, both programs are working to discuss opportunities for joint activities, such as group skills trainings.
One of the most exciting programs launched by TWC this year is the Summer Earn and Learn (SEAL) program for students with disabilities who want the opportunity to gain work experience. In collaboration with the 28 local workforce development boards, over 1,500 Texas students with disabilities participated in a paid work experience with a local employer between June and August. Staff members have received numerous stories from students, parents and employers about the powerful impact of this program. Some students did such a great job that they were hired by their host employers and continue to have a part-time job during the school year. Here are their stories:
Through participation in Summer Earn and Learn, one young man completed a weeklong Job Readiness Boot Camp led by WIOA youth contractor, Goodwill Industries of Central Texas. He is quiet and shy, but demonstrated remarkable progress including leading group discussions. Over the summer, he received work experience through a job internship at an HEB grocery store in south Austin where he has continued to develop skills that compliment his strong work ethic and customer-focused mindset. His hard work and dedication impressed his supervisors so much that they want to hire him full time. “I wanted to do it to experience what a job is”, says this VR client, “so when I am ready to have a job, I will know what to do and am able to work. The other employees were so nice to me, it touched my heart.”
There is this note from a mother whose daughter participated in Summer Earn and Learn: “Thank you for telling us about the Summer Earn and Learn program! From the time she found out about it, my daughter was so excited about being in a supported job situation where she could learn job skills, gain work experience, and get paid. She was especially excited when she found she would be placed at CVS Pharmacy. It complemented her education of an Associate’s Degree of Science, as she is interested in a career as a pharmacy technician. Because of her participation in the program, her family and friends have seen her blossom with self-confidence and a sense of belonging. Thank you for helping her gain the skills that she needs to find a job that she loves.”
TWC plans to repeat this program in future years, so stay tuned for an upcoming issue of TX SenseAbilities when we will share more information about Summer Earn and Learn 2018! To find the VR office nearest you, please go to http://www.twc.state.tx.us/find-locations.