Friday, October 09, 2015

A Public Forum: Coordination Between the Schools and Vocational Rehabilitation

Purpose:Increasing employment/education outcomes for students with disabilities

“Every single person in this country has skills and talents to contribute to the workplace and every single person has an inherent right to work.”-Neil Romano, former Assistant Secretary Dept. of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy
Hi, my name is Shannan and I am a Vista working with Erin on a project to create intentional inclusion for teens and young adults with developmental disabilities including Autism at St. Paul Public Library. As a VISTA I serve as an Adaptive Program Coordinator, gathering teen, family/ caregiver and community input, influencing programs, services and training. One issue that Erin and I have been looking at is when teens and young adults with disabilities go through transition or planning for life after high school whether it be higher education, employment or a little of both. We recently attended a forum hosted by the State Rehabilitation Council to look at the ways the new Workforce and Innovation and Opportunity Act will change how schools and Vocational Rehabilitation Services work together to ensure that students with disabilities have successful educational, employment, and community integration outcomes after completing high school.
Key points:

What was the traditional model of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS)?
•Engaging with students just before graduation
•Joining the Individual Education Plan (IEP) team to provide counseling and guidance
•Services occur primarily after graduation

VRS specialists learned from the University of Minnesota’s Disability Services that their staff were concerned that students with disabilities were not prepared with solid independent learning skills that they need to have to survive in college. While the students had the academic skills and knowledge they needed, many struggled with knowing how to get around on their own, how to take notes, how to use the assistive technology they had only received shortly before graduation, financial literacy skills, etc.

What is Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)? Why is it essential in increasing employment in youth who are disabled?•Increases partnerships between vocational rehabilitation services and schools•More job exploration while in high school- starting at a younger age•Ensuring ALL students with disabilities engage in career preparation opportunities
How is the WIOA changing VRS? What is changing in the VRS field in terms of service delivery? •Engaging with students and school staff earlier to address work experience and career prep needs•Coordinate work readiness and work experience opportunities as needed.
There are barriers to service delivery in the field of VRS-There is NO new funding for VR therefore it is essential to make-careful decisions about when to invest funds. Starting services earlier, while beneficial,  also means that VRS and schools will be drastically increasing the number of students they need to serve from about 4,2000 to potentially 40, 918. •Partnering with schools and other community partners on creative approaches is crucial•To include low-cost, no cost and/or blending and braiding of funding

Under Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) there are 5 required work activities-
Pre-employment training skills (PETS) that youth are required to have:
  • Job exploration counseling  
  • Work-based learning experiences
  • Counseling on opportunities for enrollment in postsecondary education
  • Workplace readiness training
  • Instruction in self-advocacy

Job exploration consists of:
–Researching career options
–Providing and discussing labor market information about careers
–Assisting with understanding the vocational implications of a disability
–Administering interest/ ability assessments
–Determining what sets of skills the student has and needs to have prior to graduation
–Discussing pros and cons of career options
–Setting up and/ or supporting job shadowing, situational assessments or informational interviews

Work based learning consists of:
–Regular paid employment (part-time or full-time)
–On-the-job evaluations
–Job try-outs
–Youth apprenticeships
–Opportunities through other workforce programs

–Researching options online
–Going with a student to tour and/ or meet with staff in education or training programs
–Assist in applying for and getting registered for training programs
–Supporting students who are in training or education programs while they are still in school

Workplace readiness training consists of:
-Work preparation training
–Job applications, interviewing skills, resumes
–Addressing soft skills
–Social security benefits planning and sessions (VRS and schools would love to see all students in transition using DB 101 which stands for Disability Benefits 101 and helps individuals with disabilities and their families plan how to coordinate employment and benefits. Under current law you can jeopardize benefits which can provide access to health care and other services if your income goes over a certain amount. This may change somewhat in the future with the ABLE act, but for now it is the case that you need to coordinate employment so you don’t lose benefits.)
–Transportation/ bus training

Some Minnesota Department of Education programs designed to ensure student success are World’s Best Workforce, having students starting in 4th grade create personal learning plans (for students receiving special education these plans need to align with their IEP’s)

_Learning to take ownership of life activities
–Social and independent living skills training
–Job accommodations needed
–Peer mentoring

Vocational Rehabilitation Services and St. Paul Public Schools coordination could be  enhanced with the assistance of St. Paul Public Libraries (SPPL) by offering accommodations, homework help,  workskills training and e-learning.
Mission: We connect people in Saint Paul with the imperative and the joy of learning through a lifetime.
Vision: We are a cornerstone of a thriving city: welcoming people of all ages and cultures; strengthening neighborhoods and learning networks; and inspiring all with the world of ideas.
Strategic Goals: We advance Saint Paul's Learning Priorities:
  • Every child ready for K
  • Student success in school and life
  • Essential workforce skills

What can we offer to students in transition? Here are a few ideas:

When doing school outreach we hope you will consider looking at special education programming and schools.
The Office of Specialized Services, Saint Paul Public Schools has this chart of who oversees services at the various St. Paul Public Schools.
Focus Beyond is a SPPS Transition program and Bridgeview is a K-12 Special Education school in the SPPS system. All other schools provide special education services as well.
Some other useful contacts who we heard speak at the forum are:
State Services for the Blind: Sheila Koenig, Transition Coordinator: Sheila runs a program called Bridge to Employment that connects teens who are blind, deafblind, or low vision with programs and services that prepare them for college and career success.

Here is Vocational Rehabilitation Services’ Transition Counselor Directory
Please contact Shannan (, Adaptive Teen Program Coordinator Vista or Erin ( for more information or questions. If you do outreach with classes of students receiving special education or other related programs with this audience we’d love to hear about your experiences as we are documenting best practices to share with other staff.

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