From July 2011 through June 2012, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, through its Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, assisted 6,716 people with disabilities in finding work.
The DVRS, which serves people with disabilities and employers interested in hiring them, placed seven percent more people in jobs than the year before. The division assists people with all types of disabilities including mental health problems, intellectual disabilities, substance abuse issues or physical disabilities any of which are a direct impediment to getting or keeping a job.
Getting people back to work is the primary focus of the DVRS. Division director Linda Harrington said, “That’s our central mission, providing to all our consumers the needed counseling, training, education or other services to get them ready to work. We can then match them up with businesses’ needs, saving the employer time and money.”
Besides pre-screening, Harrington says there are other factors that give DVRS’s applicants an edge with prospective employers. Some benefits include continuing, follow-up consultations to make sure the employee and job remain a good match and compensation to employers for providing their referral on-the-job-training, at the end of which, the employer has the option to hire the trainee as a regular employee.
There are also tax incentives for hiring people with disabilities and for adapting the workplace to accommodate a new employee’s specific disability. National data shows that often no accommodations are required in these situations. When required, accommodations can usually be met at minimal or no cost.
According to the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, individuals typically pay back the cost of their services through taxes in two to four years of employment. Further, employment of these individuals generates savings in the cost of no-longer-needed benefits.
Harrington said, “We serve every county in North Carolina. For every employer, we have a local office not very far away.” Residents of Ashe County that qualify for vocational rehabilitation services are served by offices in Watauga and Wilkes Counties.
Libby Keller of NC Vocational Rehabilitation in Boone specializes in substance abuse and mental illness cases, and serves clients in Ashe.
“Vocational Rehab is a service for individuals with chronic disabilities that are a substantial hindrance to employment,” said Keller. “We’ll sometimes have our Ashe clients come in to Watauga Opportunities for an assessment then try to place them in jobs in their community that are a good fit for them.” According to Keller, Vocational Rehab is able to provide a variety of services, in conjunction with other agencies, to meet the individual needs of their clients. Some services may include job placement, job coaching or supported employment. If necessary, Vocational Rehabilitation may also assist clients with treatment for mental illness or substance abuse, treatments or physical therapy for clients with physical disabilities, and can help clients find resources to help them go back to school for retraining.
Keller illustrated the importance of having a network of agencies in providing the many different services necessary for rehabilitation. “It takes a village. It’s hard to do this kind of thing by yourself, so partnerships with other agencies are vital,” said Keller. “We are not a one-size-fits-all agency. It’s all very individualized based on the client’s own specific case.”
Despite the challenges associated with the current economic climate and coordinating resources of different agencies, Keller said, “It’s very rewarding to see someone getting ready to work. It’s important not only for the economy, but also for a person’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.”
David Buel with Wilkes Vocational Services, who serves Ashe County clients with physical disabilities, said for each person qualifying for vocational rehabilitation services, a case worker creates an individual plan for employment which may include physical therapy and counseling and job search services.
“We find successes if the person has entered into a partnership with us. If they feel like they have something at stake—and what’s at stake is them finding a job or career they enjoy,” said Buel.
For more information about services offered by DVRS, or to sign up for an informative orientation held at Family Central the second Friday of each month, call (336) 667-1205. For information about DVRS services in Watauga call (888) 521-5054.