June 16, 2009 — People with physical and mental disabilities can be exceptionally dependable, dedicated and reliable employees, and businesses should consider these assets when making hiring decisions, experts in vocational rehabilitation said at a public forum on the State Plan for Vocational Rehabilitation.
The Division of Disabilities and Vocational Rehabilitation within the Department of Human Services oversees about $2 million in federal funds for vocational rehabilitation, Director Vernon Finch said at the meeting. To meet the requirements of its grants, it must periodically update its vocational rehabilitation plan, gathering input from service providers, disabled service consumers, who are among the representatives on the Virgin Islands Rehabilitation Council, and the public, in the process.
Vocational rehabilitation means simply getting a disabled person gainfully employed, though the means of achieving that end are many and may include anything from medical prosthetics or transportation, to guidance on how to dress properly and get along in the workplace. Developing skills for personal self-sufficiency is part and parcel of developing job skills.
"Training to be more independent, training to have access to the resources in the community, makes a big difference in quality of life and how a person functions," said Edna Duzant, assistant administrator of the division. "Knowing where you can go to the theater, to the bank or to go shopping will make life better and help you function."
Like other states and territories, the Virgin Islands get federal grants to operate a comprehensive vocational rehabilitation program. If a resident receives Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, he or she should be eligible unless there is clear evidence the person is too severely disabled to benefit.
The federal act establishing the program requires vocational rehabilitation to serve individuals with the most significant disabilities first when or if there are not enough resources to serve everyone who is eligible. This means that individuals with the most significant disabilities are given a priority over those with less significant disabilities.
Assessment, vocational counseling and referral, and job search and placement services are available without charge. Other services require a fee though in some cases it is on a sliding scale based upon ability to pay.
The system serves about 450 clients a year, successfully finding jobs for nearly four out of five of its clients, Finch said. A counselor is assigned to every eligible applicant who helps put together an individual plan for employment. The division provides assessment and counseling services, vocational, on-the-job and other training, transportation in some cases, signing for the hearing impaired, reading services for the visually impaired and, of course, job placement services.
A second public meeting on the plan will be held 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Head Start Conference Room in Sugar Estate, St. Thomas.
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