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Rehabilitation Council of Texas 2015 Annual Report

Letters

Martha Garber

 

Martha Garber

Chair

Rehabilitation Council of Texas

On behalf of the Rehabilitation Council of Texas (RCT), I am proud to share the 2015 RCT Annual Report with the state of Texas. The report speaks to the activities and accomplishments the RCT and Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) have made possible by working in partnership. Our shared commitment to bringing collaboration, diverse perspectives, leadership and innovation to the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) process makes a positive difference in the lives of Texans with disabilities, including those with the most significant disabilities.

I am pleased to share some Texans' stories of success in this report. These stories are of people with disabilities who successfully trained for, obtained and retained competitive employment, achieving greater independence and social participation in their communities. The RCT and DARS continue to make even more successes possible for the future by expanding VR services to meet the needs of Texans with disabilities.

2015 has been an exciting year of opportunities and challenges. The new federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) regulations presented us with a welcomed opportunity to expand VR services to Texas students and youths. RCT members and DARS staff from the Division for Rehabilitation Services and Division for Blind Services VR programs worked tirelessly to adapt VR services to meet WIOA requirements. Thanks to our efforts, we have determined strategies for ensuring that Texas students and youths benefit from post-secondary opportunities and experience the success made possible by VR services. We believe these efforts will improve the lives of Texans with disabilities in the years to come.

Another area we continue to address together is the significant organizational change facing the DARS VR programs. The 84th Texas Legislature directed the VR programs to transition to the Texas Workforce Commission in September 2016. The RCT will be involved in developing the transition plan and will focus on ensuring minimal disruption to VR services for Texans receiving these services or who wish to apply for them. As changes occur, the RCT will continue to be guided by its mission to advocate for Texans with disabilities to help them achieve employment. We look forward to another successful year of partnership in 2016 and working together to navigate the challenges and seize the opportunities ahead.

Sincerely,
Martha Garber
Chair

 

Veronda L. Durden

 

Veronda L. Durden

Commissioner

Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services

In my two years as commissioner of the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), I have had the pleasure of working closely with the Rehabilitation Council of Texas (RCT). We have a long and successful history of partnering to make it possible for Texans with disabilities to live independent and productive lives, and 2015 was another successful year. This past July, as we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I often reflected on how the partnership between DARS and the RCT helps Texans with disabilities fully realize the equality, opportunity and access guaranteed by the ADA. I am proud of our efforts and that we continue to look for new and better ways to serve these individuals.

When I reflect on the RCT's partnership over the past year, I am reminded of the words of Matthew Stepanek, a young poet with muscular dystrophy: "Unity is strength. When there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved." The leadership and guidance provided by the RCT ensures that Texans receiving services through the DARS Division for Rehabilitation Services and Division for Blind Services Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs are empowered with the services and supports to succeed.

This year we highlight the stories of two Texans with disabilities who achieved their employment goals. One inspiring story features Tina Williams, a DARS consumer who uses a wheelchair for mobility due to bone and muscle weakness. With support from the DARS VR program, Tina successfully earned a professional certification in cosmetology from San Jacinto College and used this training to win the title of Miss Wheelchair 2012. Tina continues to challenge herself and others with disabilities to reach their full potential in life.

I also want to recognize the RCT for the support they provided to DARS, our consumers and our staff throughout the 84th Texas Legislative Session. The RCT continues to offer essential guidance on how we can transition our VR programs to the Texas Workforce Commission in September 2016 as directed by the 84th Texas Legislature. The RCT's continuing support for Texans with disabilities, and belief in the effectiveness of our VR programs, will help us transition smoothly with the knowledge that our consumers will continue to receive the services they need for a successful future.

DARS looks forward to many changes in 2016, and I know the future will be full of achievements for the Texans we serve. On behalf of DARS, I invite you to learn more about our successes in 2015 and read about how DARS and the RCT will continue to work in partnership in 2016.

Sincerely,
Veronda L. Durden
Commissioner

 

Cheryl Fuller

 

Cheryl Fuller

Assistant Commissioner

DARS • Division for Rehabilitation Services

As the assistant commissioner of the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Division for Rehabilitation Services (DRS), I wish to convey my appreciation to the Rehabilitation Council of Texas (RCT) for the support and assistance they have provided to DRS during the past year. In the spirit of partnership and collaboration, the RCT has provided counsel, testified at state legislative hearings, and participated in multiple conference calls and planning meetings to help us respond to many challenges and opportunities in 2015.

2015 has been a demanding year for the DRS Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program, as we have worked diligently to implement the provisions of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and respond to legislative mandates at the state level. I am proud that we have continued to focus on making a positive difference in the lives of thousands of Texans with disabilities while responding to these challenges.

During the coming year, the DRS VR program will transition from DARS—our home for the past 12 years—to a new designated state agency: the Texas Workforce Commission. We will also begin developing a plan for the consolidation of the VR general and blind programs so that consumers, regardless of their primary disability, will be served by one coordinated VR program as of 2017.

Along with those challenges, there will undoubtedly be new opportunities to increase public awareness of VR services and work more closely with other workforce programs to increase employment opportunities for Texans with disabilities. The RCT will be an invaluable resource for us as we chart our new course. We will travel the new road hand in hand, and with your help, I know we will succeed.

I appreciate your feedback, advice and counsel throughout the past year, and I know the RCT will continue to play an important role in supporting rehabilitation services and advancing the employment of Texans with disabilities for many years to come.

Sincerely,
Cheryl Fuller
Assistant Commissioner

 

Scott Bowman

 

Scott Bowman

Interim Assistant Commissioner

 

DARS • Division for Blind Services

Since assuming my role as interim assistant commissioner of the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Division for Blind Services (DBS) in September 2014, I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact the partnership between DARS and the Rehabilitation Council of Texas (RCT) has on the lives of Texans with disabilities receiving services from the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program. RCT members' knowledge and consumer- perspective have greatly contributed to DBS' ability to provide quality services and supports to individuals with visual impairments seeking employment.

DARS and the RCT have proven that, as partners, we can successfully manage change while continuing to provide excellent services to our consumers. In this spirit, the RCT and DARS made considerable progress toward evolving our VR services to meet the requirements of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, as well as addressing the 84th Texas Legislature's mandate to transfer all DARS VR programs to the Texas Workforce Commission in September 2016.

During 2015, DBS welcomed the RCT's recommendation to enhance its partnership and coordinate with the DARS Division for Rehabilitation Services (DRS) to better serve Texans with disabilities receiving VR services. One joint DBS-DRS initiative was to build new relationships with Texas businesses through business symposia, job fairs and more streamlined customer service.

DBS and DRS also partnered to enhance transition services for students and youth with disabilities and to increase pre-employment transition services for students with disabilities statewide. These collaborations supported local projects which focus on serving students and youth with disabilities, including Project HIRE (Helping Individuals Reach Employment), which helps Hidalgo County students with developmental disabilities complete their certificate-level degrees, and Project LEAP (Leadership, Employability and Advocacy Project), a summer job readiness and leadership activity in College Station.

I am proud to reflect back on our successful partnership with the RCT in 2015 and how DBS has been able to help Texans with visual impairments continue to create their own opportunities for competitive, integrated employment.

Sincerely,
Scott Bowman
Interim Assistant Commissioner