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Rehabilitation Council of Texas 2015 Annual Report

Spotlight On:

Business Relations Initiative

The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Division for Rehabilitation Services (DRS) and Division for Blind Services (DBS) are committed to working together to serve the needs of Texas businesses and increase the number of Texans with disabilities who successfully train for, obtain and retain competitive employment. In 2015, DRS and DBS contributed to this goal by establishing a joint Business Relations Team.

The Business Relations Team was created to consolidate DRS and DBS efforts to serve local businesses and help them achieve a diversified workforce by hiring qualified people with disabilities. Throughout 2015, team members successfully partnered to provide a coordinated array of outreach, consultation and technical assistance services to Texas businesses.

To facilitate this initiative, the Business Relations Team and the work group assigned to guide the consolidation developed a coordinated portfolio of services available to businesses. Today, DRS and DBS jointly provide a range of services to business partners, and staff have developed specialized training to address the three main service categories determined: outreach and disability awareness; consultation, support and training; and job placement and retention assistance.

Man in wheelchair working on laptop

The Business Relations Team also developed a tool to facilitate the consolidation of business services. The resulting tool, called the business tracking tool, helps DRS and DBS further develop existing partnerships, expand partnerships to new businesses, coordinate services and assess the effectiveness of all services delivered to business partners. In addition, the Business Relations Team provided Texas businesses with additional resources to Texas businesses, including a new Business Services Web page, available at This Web page provides information about the benefits of partnering with DARS, including available services and business testimonials, as well as resources such as the Guide for Hiring People with Disabilities and helpful websites.

The Business Relations Team is also increasing coordination with other state and federal entities that administer employment training programs. The result of this coordination is a growth in the number of jointly-held business symposia and job fairs in communities across Texas. The team's efforts to partner with the Texas Workforce Commission, local workforce development boards, and the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs will help ensure that local businesses and Texans with disabilities seeking competitive employment have the greatest level of support, resources and services available to help them succeed.

As part of the enhanced coordination in business outreach and service delivery, in 2015 DRS and DBS honored a total of 60 Texas business partners with awards for their commitment to, and success in establishing, a diverse and productive workforce. The number of awards given in 2015 increased by 43 percent compared to 2014.





Mentally disabled boy working with a headset

DRS and DBS continually seek ways to work together to help support local or state-wide projects that help Texas youth with disabilities transition to post-secondary training and education opportunities and help them prepare for employment. In 2015 DRS and DBS continued to partner to support three initiatives that serve youth with disabilities in Texas — Project SEARCH, Project HIRE and Project LEAP.

Project SEARCH

Project SEARCH helps youths ages 18 to 22 with intellectual and developmental disabilities prepare for employment throughout their last year of high school. Project SEARCH has expanded from one original program site at Cincinnati Children's Hospital in Ohio to more than 340 sites internationally. As of fall 2015, DRS and DBS partnered with local businesses, school districts and community rehabilitation programs to support 17 Project SEARCH sites across Texas. The expansion of this program in Texas is due in part to a grant provided by the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities to Texas Tech University's Burkhart Center.

Through Project SEARCH's High School Transition Program, participants develop an employment goal and learn skills for employment through immersion in three internships within healthcare, government, hospitality, manufacturing, distribution, administration and university settings. Upon completing this one- year program, participants go on to achieve employment in a range of rewarding and competitive jobs. DRS and DBS refer more than 150 Texas youths for participation in Project SEARCH each year and provide participants with VR services and employment assistance to support their training and help them achieve a successful employment outcome.


Man helping another in sign language

Project HIRE

Project HIRE (Helping Individuals Reach Employment) is a unique, supported educational program established in 2012 by a grant awarded to DARS and funded by the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities. Project HIRE is operated in Hidalgo County, an economically disadvantaged area, to help address barriers to employment faced by people ages 18 to 25 with developmental disabilities. Although initially established as a DRS initiative, today DBS also participates in this program.

Project HIRE helps participants prepare for employment by completing a certificate-level degree in areas such as culinary arts, mechanics, computer maintenance, construction supervision and web design through a partnership with South Texas College (STC). Participants complete a six-week college readiness program to prepare for STC, and they receive services such as educational coaching and private tutoring while attending STC. In addition, participants engage in support groups, monthly support meetings and bi- monthly meetings to determine employment and education goals. They also receive assistive technology and participate in business/employer mentoring opportunities. As of 2015, 28 participants are seeking degrees, eight participants completed their degrees and four are employed.


Project LEAP

Project LEAP (Leadership, Employability and Advocacy Project) provides training and experience in job skills, advocacy and leadership to Texas youths with disabilities in their junior and senior years of high school. DRS and DBS partnered with Project LEAP to help provide funding, and nine DRS and DBS consumers participated in the program in 2015.

Woman in wheelchair studying with a friend

Project LEAP participants are selected from communities across Texas and travel to Texas A&M University in College Station for this 10-day program. Participants learn the history of the disability rights movement, engage in career activities, explore assistive technologies, and participate in mock testimonies and a mock legislative session to gain exposure to legislative activities at the Texas Capitol.