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A strong American workforce is an inclusive workforce, one in which all people, including people with disabilities, who want to work can work—and, if needed, have access to the services and supports to enable them to do so. Providing these services and supports is the purpose of the nation’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs. Published quarterly, In Focus highlights innovative ways VR agencies are fulfilling this charge as core members of state workforce systems. It is framed around four focus areas.
Meeting the Needs of Individuals with Disabilities as Customers
The first hints of Raeshetia Cook’s future employment might have been her last name. A young woman from Kankakee, Illinois, Raeshetia has mental illness and is also hard of hearing. After she was referred to Thresholds, one of the oldest and largest service providers for people with mental health conditions in the state, the organization’s Kankakee Individual Placement and Support (IPS) team assisted Raeshetia to prepare for and seek employment. Within two months, she was offered a job as a Food Prep worker at a Panera Bread bakery-café. As part of the process, her VR counselor helped arranged for interpreter services to help her train for the job and connected her with an audiologist, who in turn facilitated her getting hearing aids to help her manage better on the job. Clearly, Raeshetia managed very well—so much so that she was promoted from Food Prep to Line Cook during her 90-day probation period.
Responding to the Needs of Businesses
To support people with mental health conditions in seeking and succeeding in employment, VR partners with Individual Placement and Support (IPS) service providers across the nation. These partnerships have led to positive outcomes for numerous individuals, helping them discover and pursue their passions. But they’ve also resulted in positive outcomes for numerous businesses seeking assistance to meet their workforce needs. Working together, IPS specialists and VR counselors serve these businesses by first learning about their work cultures, preferences and skill needs. Using this knowledge, they then strive to make the best match possible and provide ongoing support to ensure long-term success, for both the business and individual placed. For example, ongoing support might include assistance with onboarding, training and accommodations. Testimonials from just a few of the businesses, both large and small, that have hired individuals through IPS programs, as well as resources for employers interested in learning more about how they can benefit from IPS, are available on the IPS Employment Center Website.
Collaborating with Public Agencies and Community Partners
Effective collaboration between several public and private partners led to a “beautiful” employment outcome for one Wisconsin youth, Frances, who has mental illness. It started when an Individual Placement and Support (IPS) employment specialist assisted Frances, then 16, to sign up for VR services. At the time, Frances was in a negative cycle, doing poorly in school and experiencing low self-esteem. She showed interest in working as a makeup artist, and her VR counselor helped her enroll in LifeWork$, a summer work-readiness program sponsored by the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board. Through this program, Frances did an internship at the State College of Beauty Culture, during which her confidence soared. VR and IPS then helped her find employment as an assistant at a local salon. Her grades have also improved, and upon graduation, she plans to do an apprenticeship as a makeup artist under the salon’s owner—setting her on a long-term career path, one paved by multiple partners committed to helping her, and others with mental illness, discover and pursue their passions.
Informing and Shaping Federal and State Policy and Practice
Colorado VR’s use of Individual Placement and Support (IPS) for people with significant mental illness and co-occurring disorders has been supported by the Colorado legislature as a cost-effective and successful model in Supported Employment service delivery. The legislature has approved funding for the expansion of the IPS model to serve people with a range of disabilities. The expansion, which will be facilitated through the state’s newly established Office of Employment First, grew in part from the success of the Mental Health Supported Employment Program, which brought together the Office of Behavioral Health, the Behavioral Health Planning and Advisory Council, several mental health centers and employers. The result was increased competitive and integrated employment opportunities through assistance with job seeking skills, job development, job coaching and extended services. Colorado’s Mental Health Supported Employment program data for 2016-2018 show that employment outcomes for those receiving services through an IPS program were three times higher than those for non-IPS customers.You can learn more about these stories and other VR success stories on the VR Workforce Studio podcast.
Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
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