DRS is one of eight state agencies represented on the Interagency Collaborative Team (ICT) of WorkForce West Virginia. As the ICT identifies ways to more effectively serve citizens seeking employment and employers who need trained and qualified workers, DRS involvement ensures that people with disabilities are given due consideration.
During fiscal year 2013, the ICT continued its focus on expanding business services teams so that all seven workforce regions can better serve employers by coordinating visits and sharing resources. All DRS employment specialists are members of those teams, and they offer their unique abilities and expertise in helping individuals with disabilities to become employed and self-sufficient.
DRS actively supports and assists WorkForce West Virginia in honoring the commitment of seamless access to employment services for all citizens. Formal agreements among DRS and its WorkForce partners specify how DRS will contribute needed expertise, share costs and otherwise support the WorkForce West Virginia infrastructure.
State Rehabilitation Council
The West Virginia State Rehabilitation Council(SRC)is a federally mandated partner with DRS and assists in the development of goals and priorities, programs and policies. The SRC also contributes toward the development of DRS' State Plan for Vocational Rehabilitation and Supported Employment.
The SRC annually conducts two consumer satisfaction surveys, one of which targets youth with disabilities who are transitioning from high school to post-secondary education or employment and one that targets the remaining DRS client population. The surveys ask consumers to rate the effectiveness of services received through DRS. This information is reviewed and analyzed by an independent consultant and reports are made available annually to DRS staff and the general public.
SRC members are dedicated to helping ensure that people with disabilities identify and achieve their vocational rehabilitation goals and are appointed by the governor, according to the provisions of the federal Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998.
Statewide Independent Living Council In partnership with DRS, the Statewide Independent Living Council is responsible for jointly planning and submitting the State Plan for Independent Living (SPIL) every three years. The council also monitors and evaluates the implementation and effectiveness of the plan.
The council's mission is to ensure that people with disabilities have access to community-based resources that promote personal choice and facilitate the fulfillment of their independent living goals.
The council, in cooperation with DRS and the centers for independent living, coordinates an annual survey of consumer satisfaction of all individuals who receive independent living services. Through collaboration and systems advocacy, the council works to ensure the development of appropriate services and public policies affecting people with disabilities.
DRS contracts with the council to administer the Ron Yost Personal Assistance Services Program, which reimburses West Virginians with various disabilities an hourly rate to hire a personal assistant to help them live independently.
The council also conducts the Disability History Essay Contest, which is open to all West Virginia high school seniors. This is a collaborative initiative of DRS, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the State Rehabilitation Council.
The governor appoints council members in accordance with provisions of the federal Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 and the West Virginia Independent Living Act of 2001.
Consumer Affairs Committees
DRS has nine Consumer Affairs Committees that support its mission by working to empower people with disabilities in making informed choices and achieving equality of opportunity, meaningful employment, independent living, and economic and social self-sufficiency.
With local leadership, the Consumer Affairs Committees work independently as concerned citizens to plan and carry out a wide variety of activities in cooperation with community leaders in business, government, healthcare, education and others. Committee activities address a broad range of shared goals, including public awareness and support for the rights, individual dignity, personal responsibility, full inclusion, equal access, self-determination and community involvement for all people with disabilities.
DRS provides guidance, information and other resources to committees statewide through its consumer affairs office and district offices. Membership is open to all persons wishing to participate, whether or not they are people with disabilities and are volunteers. All meetings are open to the public.
Community Living Services Program The Community Living Services Program (CLSP) assists eligible individuals with disabilities to return to or remain in their homes and communities by enabling them to function more independently.
As provided in the West Virginia State Plan for Independent Living, state and federal funds for this program provide services such as home modifications, assistive devices and equipment, communication services, vehicle modifications and durable medical equipment.
Under administrative oversight by DRS, in partnership with the West Virginia Statewide Independent Living Council, CLSP services are provided statewide through the four state-recognized centers for independent living (CIL) in West Virginia: Appalachian CIL, Mountain State CIL-Beckley, Mountain State CIL-Huntington and Northern West Virginia CIL.
When requests are received for services, CIL employees make every effort to locate needed resources, including donations by third parties. If the necessary funds are not available, applicants are prioritized in order of request and are served as funds are received. A total of 373 consumers remained on waiting lists for CLSP services as of June 30, 2013, with a projected average waiting time of at least two years.
In state fiscal year 2013, a total of 321 consumers were successfully enabled to remain in their own homes at an average cost of $6,775 per consumer. At least 85 of the successful consumers were at risk of institutionalization. Services to those at-risk consumers represent an estimated savings of $1.7 million in long-term care costs for the year.
Ability Works Success Stories
DRS honored six individuals at its annual Ability Works Recognition Ceremony in October 2013. U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II provided keynote remarks.
These former clients achieved their vocational goals by means of their own perseverance and with assistance from DRS.
The 2013 Ability Works Recognition recipients were:
Jean Shepard, State Winner, Wheeling District
Jean Shepard is legally blind due to a condition called diabetic retinopathy and she has diabetic neuropathy, which makes standing on her feet for long periods of time difficult.
For 57-year-old Shepard, the onset of her blindness was devastating. She had to give up her driver's license; she was afraid of losing her mobility and independence.
To help her compensate for her vision loss, Shepard received orientation and mobility services from DRS.
"I thought my life was over, and they let me know my life was not over," explained Shepard. "It was only just beginning.
"I learned to be able to go downtown, to cross the streets safely, to board a bus, know when to
get off the bus, know how to find my way back to the office when left a few blocks away," she said.
Working with her counselor, Shepard enrolled in DRS' Randolph-Sheppard Program, which
provides training in food service management to eligible DRS clients who are legally blind.
Successful participants become self-employed, ultimately operating and managing vending and/or snack bar locations in government buildings.
Shepard worked one-on-one with Randolph-Sheppard Program business counselors and mentored with other licensed vendors at their business locations to learn the specific job requirements. She participated in financial training with a certified accountant/auditor for the program and had to complete and pass a food handling and safety course.
Shepard is now the owner/operator of Lady Bug Café and Lady Bug Vending. Her café is in the Ohio County Courthouse in Wheeling and she provides vending services at several locations in the Wheeling area.
DRS provided Shepard with some adaptive equipment, including a talking cash register and a money identifier, so she could run her business successfully. In addition to her disability-related issues, Shepard is a domestic abuse survivor.
Shepard admits that she used to have self-esteem problems, but that’s no longer true. She is proud that she overcame being an abused woman, knowing who she is and leaving behind any bitterness.
Shepard is proud to be a contributing, productive member of society.
"I never dreamed that I would have a business, basically of my own creation," explained Shepard.
"I have chosen the name. My heart's in it. I have found contentment I thought I would never have."
Kyle Gray, Charleston District
Kyle Gray grew up in Ranson, attending Jefferson County High School. Like most students approaching graduation, Gray was not sure what he wanted to do with his life.
In school, Gray experienced difficulty in reading, spelling and math. To help her son prepare for the world after high school, Gray’s mother referred him to DRS.
Gray had no real work experience and found the job application process to be extremely difficult. HRDF, a community rehabilitation program that DRS uses to provide direct services to clients, arranged for Gray to participate in work adjustment training at a local FoodFair grocery store.
Gray's work adjustment training helped him improve his work skills and learn specific job tasks including straightening merchandise on the shelves, returning items misplaced by customers, stocking new items, rotating items by date and cleaning shelves.
According to Babbitt, Gray's primary obstacles to getting a job were things like completing résumés and interviews. Job placement assistance helped Gray land his job at Walmart.
According to Jerry George, Walmart assistant manager, "Kyle takes care of our shopping carts for our customers. And anything that we need him to do, he jumps right on it."
"Kyle is a good worker," said Babbitt. "He tries his best at everything he does. And I am proud of him."
Eliot Watson, Clarksburg District
Eliot Watson, 28, grew up in Terra Alta, graduating from Preston County High School. He went on to attend West Virginia University, earning a degree in mechanical engineering.
That same year, Watson sought out DRS.
According to Debbie Riggie, a DRS senior rehabilitation counselor, "Eliot has disorganized type schizophrenia." The new diagnosis caused him to have difficulty with social interaction, getting along with peers and maintaining organizational and planning skills.
Watson was looking for assistance that would help him get back on his feet so he could find his purpose in life.
Watson's ultimate goal was engineering, explained Riggie. "When he became ill, he wasn't able to do that. He just wanted to get back into the world of work."
Community based assessment and work adjustment training services through Horizon Goodwill Industries in Md. helped Watson to develop and enhance his soft skills and become more employment ready. An application to Walgreens resulted in a job there as photo specialist in 2012.
"He picked his goal and wanted to go for it," said Riggie. "He has difficulty with social interaction at times, so it was hard for him at first, but he is determined and motivated. He's got such a good personality. He's a good asset for any company."
Since Watson had received the services he needed to overcome the barriers that were keeping him from getting a job, DRS closed his case.
But, Watson wanted to work in the engineering field and he didn't give up on that goal.
At a career fair hosted by West Virginia University, Watson met the owner of Specialized Engineering. The contact paid off and he's now employed by the company.
"It feels like when I'm working, I have a purpose, something that I can really show that I'm active and that I was put here to do something," said Watson.
Fritz Zacher, Beckley District
Fritz Zacher, 26, is described by medical professionals as having Asperger's syndrome. But, this extremely bright and artistically talented young man describes himself as the gatekeeper of his own destiny.
According to Nancy Harris, DRS rehabilitation counselor, Zacher has a slightly different perspective than most people, which made things difficult for him socially and vocationally.
From the time he was very young, Zacher demonstrated strong artistic abilities. His parents encouraged his artistic talents, but wanted him to find a job that would support him.
"It was our goal to provide opportunities for Fritz to grow. So, we provided opportunities for him to develop his skills and abilities and build confidence and a sense of competence," said Harris.
An on-the-job training experience translated into a real job with Monroe County Schools, but it was only part-time, sporadic work. A search began to help Zacher find a second part-time job or a full-time job that fit his abilities.
Mercer County Opportunity Industries (MCOI) in Princeton was looking for someone to work as an assistant in its print shop. They needed a detail-oriented person with an artistic eye, who was capable of doing exacting, tedious and repetitious work.
Keith Frey, MCOI print and sign shop manager, describes Zacher as very coordinated and very task oriented. "Those skills really make him a great fit in the print shop," said Frey.
Presently, Zacher works two part-time jobs.
"Fritz is really very amazing, being able to balance two jobs," said Harris. "And MCOI has been especially helpful because they've allowed him to, at any time, work his custodial job whenever he is called and make up his time at MCOI on other days."
According to Zacher, "I still have goals for my future that I want to set, ladders to climb, figuratively speaking."
Steven Blanton, Huntington District
A dramatic change in Steven Blanton's life forced him to try and find a way to start all over again.
In 2001, Blanton was living in Florida and working in the masonry field. A devastating assault left Steven with a traumatic brain injury, which resulted in permanent loss of his ability to speak, as well as limited use of his right hand.
Due to the severity of his injuries, Blanton spent time recuperating in a rehabilitation center in Florida. Blanton's family ultimately brought him home to Ceredo, West Virginia, where he currently resides.
According to Mary Klein, senior rehabilitation counselor, communication was Blanton's most significant barrier to becoming employed. As vocational goals and service needs were discussed, Blanton's mother assisted and spoke on her son's behalf.
But, to get a job, a more permanent solution to Blanton's inability to verbally communicate would have to be found. "He had to be able to communicate with his supervisor, with his coworkers," Klein explained.
Ultimately, a DynaVox communication device was recommended and purchased for him. The device is like a computer and can be programmed with different phrases to help Blanton communicate his needs.
To enhance and develop his job skills, Blanton participated in work adjustment training through Goodwill Industries in Huntington.
Job placement assistance through Mountain State Center for Independent Living led to a job with Sodexo Food Service in Marshall University's Harless Dining Hall.
One-on-one job coaching services helped Blanton become familiar with his required job duties, supervisor and co-workers.
Blanton, 47, is happy to be working and self-sufficient again.
Danielle Richardson, Martinsburg District
Danielle Richardson, 29, is a person with profound bilateral hearing loss. She's also self-motivated and goal-oriented and she wanted to get her education.
After graduating from West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, Richardson sought out DRS for assistance. Barry Hill, rehabilitation counselor, explained that Richardson had been accepted into Potomac State College.
With college financial assistance from DRS, Richardson graduated from Potomac State in December 2006, with an associate's degree in early childhood education. And in May 2011, Richardson achieved her bachelor's degree in child development from American Public University.
She got a job as education specialist at West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind in January 2012.
According to Christine Frye, director of student living at West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, "Dani's job responsibilities are to facilitate and bring education into the dorm for the studentsShe works on critical skill development for those students who are struggling."
Some of Richardson's strongest qualifications, explained Frye, are her degree, training in American Sign Language and her own life experiences of having lived as a person who is deaf.
Richardson admits that trying to find a job was frustrating.
"I applied for some positions where they would ask me, 'How are you going to communicate with us?' " She believes increased awareness of the technology available to accommodate and compensate for communication barriers, as well as increased exposure to deafness, will help discourage these stereotypical attitudes.
Richardson is working on her next big goal, taking graduate classes and working toward her master's degree.
Richardson never dreamed she'd be working at the school she attended for so many years. She loves being there, and being a role model for the students. She wants the kids to say, "Dani can do this, therefore I can do that myself."
Employer Recognition Program
DRS annually shows its appreciation to local businesses and employers who support DRS by providing work-related opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Utilizing a nomination process, employers are selected to receive Employer of the Year and Distinguished Employer awards.
These business partnerships are jointly developed and nurtured and serve as the foundation for DRS' ultimate success. The employers recognized are progressive in their attitudes and they empower people with disabilities by providing them with job opportunities.
One business from each DRS district receives an Employer of the Year award. Each district also presents Distinguished Employer awards through local recognition events.
Charleston District Employer of the Year
Kmart consistently demonstrates its willingness to provide employment opportunities to DRS clients. Kmart has opened its doors as a community based assessment site, which provides a short-term job "tryout" with the goal of discovering vocational strengths and weaknesses, for DRS clients.
Distinguished Employer award recipients:
Charleston Area Medical Center, Charleston
Mountain State Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons, Huntington
Smith's Foodfair, Elkview
Clarksburg District Employer of the Year
Walmart is an essential employment partner of DRS. The Clarksburg supercenter has hired several DRS clients, reinforcing Walmart's commitment to supporting inclusion and local communities.
They maintain an open and willing attitude toward providing accommodations for employees with varying disabilities, frequently going above and beyond what is required.
Distinguished Employer award recipients:
Morgantown Orthotic & Prosthetic Center, Inc., Morgantown
Hall Neighbors' House, Buckhannon
Benchmark Hospitality of Stonewall Resort, Roanoke