- Program-Specific Requirements for Vocational Rehabilitation (Combined or General)
The Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services Portion of the Unified or Combined State Plan  must include the following descriptions and estimates, as required by section 101(a) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended by title IV of WIOA:
 Sec. 102(b)(2)(D)(iii) of WIOA
- o. State's Strategies
Describe the required strategies and how the agency will use these strategies to achieve its goals and priorities, support innovation and expansion activities, and overcome any barriers to accessing the VR and the Supported Employment programs (See sections 101(a)(15)(D) and (18)(B) of the Rehabilitation Act and section 427 of the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA)):
- o. State's Strategies
o. 3. The outreach procedures that will be used to identify and serve individuals with disabilities who are minorities, including those with the most significant disabilities, as well as those who have been unserved or underserved by the VR program
ADRS is committed to effective outreach to racial and ethnic minority groups and other disadvantaged and underserved populations. ADRS outreach procedures are aimed at eliminating barriers to participation and ensuring representative diversity and inclusion. We believe this commitment begins with diverse, well trained staff members. The agency employs a diversity & recruitment coordinator to ensure that we have a diverse staff to meet the varied needs of the consumers served by the agency. ADRS maintains a diversity plan that has been approved by the administration. This plan indicates strategies to hire minority staff to work within the agency. The agency conducts diversity training for all agency staff to address the needs of diverse consumers the agency serves.
ADRS recognizes and has addressed statewide impediments to participation that arise from language barriers. ADRS has established an account with Linguistica International to provide interpreting on a real time basis so staff can converse with non-English speaking consumers and minimize any language barriers. To assure that limited English proficient populations can access VR services, essential written and online materials have been made available in all languages spoken by at least 500 people in the state.
Regarding “unserved” populations, ADRS is fortunate in that it has never operated under an order of selection and has therefore never instituted a waiting list or turned away eligible individuals from services. Alabama’s VR program does not have “unserved” population in this sense of the term. Another interpretation of the term “unserved” might consist of Alabamians with disabilities likely to meet eligibility guidelines who never apply for services. This group presumably consists of: those in need of services who are unaware of the VR program and, those who are aware but elect to pursue employment independently or via other resources. Concerning the first group, those in need of services unaware of the VR program, ADRS directs ongoing outreach efforts through multiple channels on a statewide basis. ADRS services are made available, for example, via every One-Stop center and public high school in the state. Furthermore, the VR program broadcasts its availability through strategic partnerships with the Department of Mental Health, the Alabama Head Injury Foundation, and the Alabama Council on Developmental Disabilities, to name a few.
Regarding “underserved” individuals, federal guidelines do not prescribe specific groups for analysis. Rather, it has been suggested that each state should examine matters from multiple perspectives to identify potentially underserved populations. The 2017 CSNA considered input received from the State Rehabilitation Council via the 2017 Unmet Needs Survey and also by way of its Report of Public Forums. It also conducted an analysis of internal program data, and in doing do, the 2017 CSNA defined the term “underserved” as any group for whom it may be shown that any of the following conditions are true; a higher than average percentage of those closed from eligibility for reasons that the individual’s disability was too severe, or, a rehabilitation rate that is far below that of the agency average, or average weekly earnings far below the agency average. All things considered, the 2017 CSNA identified the following groups as potentially underserved: A.) Individuals with Autism, B.) Individuals who are Blind, C.) Individuals who are Deaf, D.) Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities, E.) Individuals with Major Physical Impairments, F.) Individuals with Serious Mental Health Impairments, and G.) Individuals with Disabilities who receive Social Security.
Regarding services to Individuals with Autism: Autism is an emerging disability with increasing numbers requesting services from the public rehabilitation program. This holds true for Alabama. VR staff have participated in several training programs during the current fiscal year related to autism. The agency will provide consultation to supported employment projects and CRPs who need technical assistance and support in serving this expanding population. This effort is intended to build capacity within our existing provider network. We have identified Triumph, Inc., a successful supported employment provider for individuals with autism, to serve as the consulting organization. Triumph continues as a vendor to provide supported employment services. Lakeshore Rehabilitation Facility hosts a Connections programs for students, youth and young adults with Autism. This year—long social skills training takes place in the classroom, but then is applied in real world settings in the community where classroom skills taught are then utilized. Nearing completion of the program the participants are referred to community— based rehabilitation programs for employment or supported employment based on their needs. We currently have three (4) Connections programs. The goal is to expand this program throughout the state so that individuals and their parents will have access to this program. Many of the programs have a parent support group component that meets in conjunction with the Connections classes.
The agency maintains an excellent service delivery system to consumers who are blind or have low vision. This service delivery system includes a network of Rehabilitation Counselors specializing in blindness, Vision Rehabilitation Therapists, Orientation and Mobility Specialists, Assistive Technology Specialists, Pre- Employment Transition Specialists, and Vision Rehabilitation Assistants who provide a wide range of services to individuals who are blind or have low vision. Additionally, there is a State Coordinator of Blind Services who oversees these services. ADRS Blind Services semi-annually partners with the Alabama School for the Blind Alumni Workers Association and the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind to provide a statewide Technology Symposium. During the symposium, blindness professionals conduct training sessions related to activities of daily living, independence, recreation, and employment for staff members, Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVI’s), school administrators, and consumers and their families. Vendors are also on hand to showcase and demonstrate the latest assistive technology devices. ADRS’s blind and deaf division developed a new class of employees called Blind and Deaf Pre-Employment Transition Specialists to identify and serve students in the public-school systems who are blind or deaf. In addition to these new outreach activities these specialists provide direct pre-employment transition services to blind and deaf students in public schools across the state. This is done through the Blind and Deaf Pre-employment Transition Specialists working collaboratively with LEA’s and VR staff statewide.
ADRS has a long-standing commitment to the full inclusion of Alabama’s deaf community. ADRS continues its strong working relationship with Troy University and their Interpreter Training Program. ADRS Staff interpreters help mentor Troy students as they progress through the program. This will increase the supply of interpreters and eventually mean more support for deaf consumers. In conjunction, the agency is attempting to establish an interpreter job classification to hire permit level interpreters who can be promoted to nationally certified positions after passing the test. The agency will also continue its active involvement in the One-Stop Career Center system to ensure full inclusion of consumers who are deaf. The agency will utilize the Deaf Advisory Committee (DAC) to help shape ADRS policy in terms of service provision to the deaf community. The DAC is comprised of members from state/national organizations such as the Alabama Association of the Deaf (AAD) and the Alabama Black Deaf Advocates (ABDA). The Committee also serves as an advocate to legislators and other state officials and is a subcommittee of the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC).
The agency has made significant efforts over the past eight years to identify and work with the most significantly disabled. The agency has a state specialist overseeing the expansion and effectiveness of the agency’s supported employment efforts. Two additional specialists have been hired to assist with the growth and expansion of supported employment in Alabama in the last 2 years. This growth includes expansion of project SEARCH sites including youth Project SEARCH programs, Individualized Placement Support programs for individuals with serious mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorder, and expansion of the Connections program for individuals with Autism. We are currently collaborating with the LEAs and training rehabilitation transition counselors on provision of services to students at an earlier age while in the secondary setting. This should increase participation of students with more significant disabilities and provide those services earlier. We currently have jointly funded Pre-ETS specialist contracts with secondary education for students with most significant disabilities. ADRS will collaborate with local school systems to develop and implement a transition initiative; ensuring students who are appropriate for SE services have access to providers prior to their exit from high school. SE providers will be active in the local high schools to present information regarding their programs to parents, students and staff. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in community-based assessments before they exit school, to facilitate a seamless transition. Many students with most significant disabilities are participating in our summer JET program which is a work-based learning experience and includes paid work.
ADRS continues to work cooperatively with Department of Mental Health to move consumers towards community—based employment from sheltered workshops. Many of the providers for ADMH that have traditionally supported day programs are vendors with ADRS for SE. We continue to work collaboratively on Employment First endeavors. Partners include: Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, Alabama Department of Mental Health, Alabama State Department of Education, Alabama Medicaid, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and the Alabama Department of Post-Secondary Education. These partners will continue to collaborate with human service agencies that work with people with disabilities and the workforce investment/development agencies to work together to support the concept of employment first.
The agency has an active program in serving individuals with traumatic brain injury. The agency has a staff person who oversees various activities related to traumatic brain injury and secures/directs traumatic brain injury grants. The agency has a task force related to brain injury. It includes members of various social service organizations who have contact with individuals who have traumatic brain injury. This organization meets on a quarterly basis for the exchange of information which will benefit services to individuals with traumatic brain injury. The agency has a network of TBI care coordinators located strategically throughout the state. The role of the care coordinator is to receive the initial referral of someone with a brain injury, then provide counsel and assist the individual and family in accessing the state’s network of services for persons with TBI. This includes services of the agency and services of other agencies. Alabama has two specialty caseloads in Mobile and Birmingham dedicated to serving individuals with TBI. These two counselors also serve as a resource to other counselors in the stat who may receive a TBI referral.
Regarding outreach to individuals with disabilities receiving social security, ADRS makes benefits counseling services available to all eligible individuals. Individuals receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Insurance Income (SSI) have the lowest employment rate. A primary factor contributing to this trend is the lack of accurate and timely benefits counseling services. Fear of a loss of benefits and misinformation has prevented or deterred individuals from entering employment or increasing wages. ADRS hires, trains and employs SSA trained and certified benefits specialists. Benefits counseling services are provided to all eligible individuals regardless of their status as an ADRS consumer. Services are provided based on the Social Security Administrations (SSA) prioritization protocol. Highest priority is given to those individuals currently working or have job offers pending. Individuals actively seeking employment with specific vocational goals are served followed by those in the early information gathering contemplative phase of employment goal development. Additionally, ADRS places individuals served through either SEARCH or DISCOVERY in the top priority. Individual of the highest priority are provided full intensive work incentive planning services, while others receive Information and Referral Services. In the current period, the agency has received 4,827 referrals for benefits counseling services statewide. This number includes individuals served by the agency as well as other SSA beneficiaries who are not current agency consumers. Additionally, as a result of the expansion of the WIPA benefits counseling program, a cooperative program was developed with the Alabama Department of Mental Health to support additional SSA trained and certified benefits specialists specifically charged with serving individuals on the Intellectual Disabilities (ID) or the Living at Home (LAH) waivers. ADRS DMH benefits specialists adhere to the same documentation, service delivery and quality standards and serve a minimum of 100 individuals per year. The Social Security Administration approached ADRS in 2017 with an invitation to participate in a national demonstration project that tests proposed new rules and work incentives for Title XVI (SSDI). The Promoting Opportunity Demonstration (POD) demonstration project includes 11 states nationwide and tests simplified work incentives and a benefit offset in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program to determine its effects on outcomes such as earnings, employment, and benefit payments. The agency entered into a 5-year agreement with Social Security and their subcontractor to employ benefits specialists trained in both the current rules and regulations as well as the rules proposed under the demonstration project. The agency is currently in year 3 of the POD demonstration project and has provided services to 848 individuals statewide. The results of the study will be evaluated and distributed nationally and may have an impact on the final rule changes that will impact Title XVI beneficiaries.