Florida PYs 2020-2023 Published Approved

Located in:

a. 1. Input provided by the State Rehabilitation Council, including input and recommendations on the VR services portion of the Unified or Combined State Plan, recommendations from the Council's report, the review and analysis of consumer satisfaction, and other Council reports that may have been developed as part of the Council’s functions;

Current Narrative:

Input of State Rehabilitation Council

The Florida Rehabilitation Council (FRC) is pleased to be a strategic partner with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). The FRC promotes high standards and expectations for every area of service delivery by recommending best practices in policies using data driven recommendations and by sharing each council member’s unique perspective from the constituency they represent.

The FRC emphasizes the need to improve deaf services by the creation of a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Bureau by VR and the Florida Department of Education (DOE). Over the past year, the Council has reviewed presentations and received additional information that when combined with survey results, leads the Council to believe that a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Bureau should be created to better serve this underrepresented and underserved population. 

The FRC is equally concerned, as is the agency, with staff retention and turnover. The current high level of turnover has serious and significant impacts on the clients being served as well as staff. For Florida to have a state of the art program of services for individuals with disabilities, actions should be taken to, at minimum, achieve parity with national salaries. Action is needed by policymakers who can approve budgetary authority so that VR can be competitive in recruiting, hiring and retaining staff.

The FRC appreciates the vision that new leadership has brought to the agency. The FRC is ready to meet the challenges with VR as a partner.

State Rehabilitation Council Recommendations

The FRC offers the following robust recommendations to enhance service delivery and career achievement by individuals with disabilities.

Recommendation 1. Deaf and Hard of Hearing

  • The FRC recommends the creation of a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Bureau be considered by VR and the DOE.

Agency Response:

The Division appreciates FRC’s concerns about how the needs of individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing are addressed; however, VR disagrees with this recommendation.

  • As a cross-disability organization, VR strives to create organizational structures and strategies to build capacity to meet the needs of people with all types of disabilities, including those who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deafblind.  VR also relies on the recommendations of the Comprehensive Statewide Needs Assessment (CSNA), conducted in conjunction with FRC, to make data and research driven strategic decisions. 
  • Section Three of the CSNA, “Needs of Individuals with Disabilities from Different Ethnic Groups, Including Needs of Individuals Who May Have Been Underserved or Unserved by the VR Program,” provides the following observation: “Deaf individuals were characterized as potentially underserved because there is a shortage of qualified interpreters in many parts of the State.”  The CSNA goes on to recommend that VR “recruit and hire bilingual staff, including those that are fluent in sign language,” 
  • VR agrees with this assessment and recommendation and has taken action in anticipation of it.
  • In recent years, VR has:
    • Elevated Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deafblind Services to a specific unit, rather than being a part of the general VR policy team.  Moved Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deafblind Services to the Bureau of Field Services to strengthen the connection between the technical assistance and coordination services the unit provides and the field staff who deliver the services, thus increasing the capacity of all field staff.  Creating a separate bureau would risk severing the connection. 
    • Recognizing that one of the main barriers to serving individuals who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deafblind, is the lack of qualified sign language interpreters, and the difficulty in retaining staff interpreters, VR has entered into a contract with ServiceSource to increase the number of staff interpreters that are available.  This contract added nine interpreters in geographic areas of need identified by field staff.  VR staff members who are qualified interpreters are eligible for salary enhancements during the hiring process or if they obtain credentials while employed by VR.  To the extent this has not been sufficient, the ServiceSource contract is intended to expand capacity further.

Recommendation 2. Counselor Recruitment, Retention

  • Implement the Learning Management System and other training opportunities that will increase staff confidence and skillsets.
  • The FRC strongly recommends additional, immediate pay incentives to meet or exceed the national average for Certified Rehabilitation Counselors currently hired or working to attain the credential and upon recruitment of Certified Rehabilitation Counselors. The FRC believes this is a critical need to stabilize the VR workforce.
  • Provide supervisors with opportunities for the training they need in an environment where they can be productive.
  • Ensure that staff is equipped with state of the art resources to do their job duties.

Agency Response:

  • VR agrees with all aspects of the Counselor Recruitment and Retention recommendation and has every intention to continue these activities.
  • Pay incentives are more complex than just the agency approving and requires legislative involvement.  While this recommendation is supported by VR, the project will be complex and take additional time to complete or approve.

Recommendation 3. Transition

  • Promote early contact and assistance to all students with disabilities under an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan.
  • Expand and offer career paths to include vocational exploration, technical training, apprenticeships and post-secondary options for transition students.
  • Continue to emphasize peer mentoring in Florida, especially to underserved groups who are deaf and/or hard of hearing. Assure that there is a network of proficient providers and supports for those providers, including those working with individuals who are deaf.

Agency Response:

  • VR has many pilot projects and initiatives anticipated to create additional training and employment opportunities for students and youth. There are 35 school districts currently participating in the Work Based Learning Experience (WBLE) as a provider for VR.
  • The current caseload of VR customers is 50% youth age 14-21.  This demonstrates the intentional focus the agency has on the youth population.

Recommendation 4. Job Placement Strategies

  • Analyze and identify any trends in services provided under the rehabilitation engineering service category by service type and VR area.
  • Continue strengthening efforts with business leaders to improve employment opportunities and meaningful careers, including increasing partnerships with local Chambers of Commerce.
  • Develop a deeper understanding of customer strengths and develop tools to communicate effectively and succinctly to potential employers.
  • FRC applauds VR efforts to increase capacity of the number of providers using the Discovery model.
  • Continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the Abilities Work Help Desk and provide regular reports to the FRC.
  • Further build capacity for job customization and Innovation and Expansion projects to include unserved and underserved populations.
  • Evaluate self-employment services across the board to include the evaluation of the Certified Business Technical Assistance Consultant model. Consider ways to streamline and expedite the provision of self-employment services.

Agency Response:

  • VR will continue to provide rehab technology service data to FRC and plans to provide regular updates.
  • VR will continue will to evaluate self-employment services and the current Certified Business Technical Assistance Consultant model.
  • VR has made great effort to increase the number of providers for Discovery, Customized Employment. VR will continue to provide frequent training to increase the number of providers certified to offer these services.
  • VR will continue to strengthen efforts with business leaders to improve employment opportunities and meaningful careers, including increasing partnerships with local Chambers of Commerce.
  • VR is currently working with the University of Montana’s Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities to improve and modernize the Supportive Employment program and develop tools that will provide for support to staff and providers.

Recommendation 5. Rights and Conflict Resolution

  • Promote advocacy and a Disability Rights curriculum for clients, staff and providers as a core principle. Collaborative discussions enhance informed choices.
  • Implement strategies to improve satisfaction survey results on client knowledge of all levels of rights to resolve any difficulties with VR.

Agency Response:

  • VR agrees with FRC in the importance of Rights education and is included in training required of all VR staff. VR requires staff to complete training on confidentiality procedures, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Client Assistance Program, and Disability Etiquette and Auxiliary Aids. VR redesigned its customer orientation process, VR Works!, to ensure focus on customer rights and responsibilities within the rehabilitation process.

Recommendation 6. Public Awareness of VR

  • Develop a media campaign to share the history of VR, Florida specific services, successes and accomplishments.
  • Implement an online application system.
  • Engage businesses and mandated partners.

Agency Response:

  • VR agrees with the recommendation of an accessible, online application process, but at this time, resources are not available for this project.
  • VR agrees with up-to-date modernization of our marketing tools, including updated brochures and informational packets.

Customer Satisfaction Survey

The FRC is required to review and analyze the effectiveness of and consumer satisfaction with VR agency functions, rehabilitation services and employment outcomes achieved by eligible individuals including the availability of health and other employment benefits. The FRC and VR contract with Market Decisions to obtain this information. The wealth of data is being used effectively by the FRC and VR to focus on specific areas of excellence for recognition, as well as, specific opportunities for improvement.

Annual highlights from the SFY 2018-19 survey results are below.

VR customers satisfied with Florida’s VR program..........................................................................82%

VR customers satisfied with the services provided by VR...............................................................82%

VR customers satisfied with their involvement in their VR experience............................................85%

VR customers who say VR staff treated them with dignity and respect..........................................96%

VR customers satisfied with their choice of vocational goal............................................................84%

VR customers who say VR staff were helpful in achieving their job goal........................................85%

VR customers who say the VR services they received helped them become more independent.....................................................................................................................................84%

VR customers who say the VR services they received helped them become more financially independent.....................................................................................................................................81%

VR customers satisfied with what they are doing at their current job.............................................80%

VR customers who would tell their friends with disabilities to go to VR..........................................93%