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Rehabilitation Council of Texas 2015 Annual Report

Year in Review

RCT members speaking at a committee meeting

In 2015, the Rehabilitation Council of Texas (RCT) partnered with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) to provide feedback and guidance on diverse aspects of the Division for Rehabilitation Services (DRS) and Division for Blind Services (DBS) Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs.

One of many areas of focus this year was the 84th Texas Legislature and several Sunset bills affecting DARS and the VR programs. To acknowledge the RCT's partnership with DARS for the effective provision of VR services in Texas, RCT Chair Martha Garber testified before Texas legislators about the value of the DARS VR programs and discussed how Texans with disabilities are empowered to achieve competitive employment and independence through these programs. The RCT will continue to work with DARS to address the requirements of the finalized Sunset bills in the year ahead.

The RCT also worked with the DARS VR programs to conduct and evaluate the results of the comprehensive statewide needs assessment. Based on the assessment, the RCT will develop recommendations on VR policies, program improvements and service strategies.

In addition, the RCT provided the DARS VR programs with input and guidance throughout the year. RCT council members helped strategize how the DARS VR programs can adapt to meet the requirements of the new federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This act focuses on VR services for students and youths with disabilities. The act requires a certain percentage of DARS federal grant money to be spent on five core service areas for youths: job exploration and counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling on opportunities for higher education, workplace readiness training and self-advocacy. The RCT will continue to work with DARS to address these changes to VR services.

In addition, the RCT closely reviewed consumer satisfaction surveys and provided feedback to the VR programs to help more VR consumers achieve successful outcomes. The RCT also took advantage of a newly instituted 10-day review period to provide input on the initial draft of DRS and DBS policies in addition to the 5-day review period that occurs later in the policy development process. The RCT's ability to review policy in the draft stage has significantly improved our ability to provide detailed feedback early in the process of policy development. RCT members look forward to seeing the guidance and feedback provided through review implemented in the policies to be published in fiscal year 2016.

The RCT offered staff from DRS and DBS a recommendation to work together more closely to improve the VR programs. DRS and DBS staff members' increased collaboration and coordination has already made a positive difference in the lives of Texans with disabilities receiving VR services. Other RCT activities to highlight in 2015 include the publication of the RCT 2014 Annual Report, the development of updated RCT bylaws to help us operate more effectively, and representation at the National Coalition of State Rehabilitation Councils (NCSRC) conference and the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR) conference. RCT Chair Martha Garber attended the NCSRC and CSAVR conferences to discuss best practices with VR leaders from across the nation and to share the successes we achieve here in Texas.

Finally, the RCT held a total of four quarterly meetings throughout 2015. For each meeting, we invited guest speakers who educated RCT members about programs and topics of interest. Guest speakers included:

Bob Kafka, representative of the disability rights organization ADAPT, discussed the positive impact the Americans with Disabilities Act has made in the lives of people with disabilities over the past 25 years.

Carline Geiger, director of the DARS DRS Consumer Services Support, discussed the accomplishments of the Employment First Task Force, which was created by the 83rd Texas Legislature to prioritize the integrated, competitive employment of working-age Texans.

Cecilia Berrios, director of the DARS DBS Consumer Services Support, provided a high-level overview regarding how the VR programs implement WIOA requirements.

Laura Marra, research coordinator at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, discussed the consumer satisfaction surveys provided annually to VR consumers.

Reagan Miller, director of the Texas Workforce Commission workforce development division, presented on activities related to effectively transferring DARS VR programs to TWC on Sept. 1, 2016 as directed by the 84th Texas Legislature.

Sonja Gaines, associate commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission Office for Mental Health Coordination, presented on how mental health conditions impact Texans with disabilities and DARS mental health initiatives.

Dozens of people participating in the Walk Unafraid event for blind cane users