Oklahoma City ─ Tuesday, June 2, will mark the 100th anniversary of the Vocational Rehabilitation, the employment program for Americans and Oklahomans with disabilities.
The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services leads this federal-state partnership, which earns $4 federal dollars for every state $1 invested.
Approximately, 16.6 percent or more than 643,400 Oklahomans have disabilities, according to the U.S. Census’ 2017 American Community Survey.
In 2019, professional staff at DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired offered career guidance, counseling, job placement and a range of related services for 15,225 jobseekers with physical or mental barriers to employment.
Oklahomans receive vocational rehabilitation services from 327 VR and SBVI counselors, rehabilitation technicians and other professional staff located in field offices across the state.
“In spite of temporary waiting lists due to budget shortfalls, DRS empowered 1,115 job seekers with disabilities to start their first jobs or return to the workforce as taxpayers who no longer rely on government assistance,” DRS Executive Director Melinda Fruendt said.
“As a result, successful clients earned average annual wages of $23,409 and paid $3,511 in average taxes,” Fruendt said.
DRS also works closely with employers through the agency’s Business Services Program to recruit qualified employees with disabilities and advises on request about workplace accessibility, adaptive equipment and business tax credits.
Prior to the Vocational Rehabilitation program, Congress created the Soldier’s Rehabilitation Act to help veterans who sustained disabilities in World War I.
President Woodrow Wilson signed the federal Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act on June 2, 1920, which is celebrated as the VR #100th anniversary date. The Act extended similar services to non-military citizens, including those affected by farm injuries and workplace accidents in the growing manufacturing economy.
The Oklahoma Legislature approved companion legislation at the state level on March 28, 1925. The program was funded with state appropriations in 1927.
“Our Vocational Rehabilitation and Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired staff empower thousands of Oklahomans with disabilities every year to become independent through employment,” Commission Chair Jace Wolfe said. “They guide and counsel clients, network with employers and remain fully committed to overcoming barriers that prevent capable, qualified people from working.
“Now the Covid-19 pandemic has presented additional barriers for jobseekers with and without disabilities, but I know DRS staff is determined to help our clients succeed, he said.”
"There are many challenges that individuals with disabilities can experience in the employment process, ranging from physical, social, and financial. And they're all intertwined,” Commissioner Emily Cheng said. “As both a previous client and someone who has been on both sides of the desk, I know firsthand that DRS has a team of incredibly skilled professionals who understand not only the hurdles faced by individuals with disabilities, but the unique skills and opportunities that can be harnessed from their experiences.
“And that's really what they are--hurdles, which means they can be overcome with the right balance of support, empowerment, and determination,” Commissioner Cheng added. “That's where DRS shines; they know exactly how to empower their clients."
The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services annually assists nearly 82,8000 Oklahomans with disabilities through job preparation, employment, education and independent living services, as well as the determination of medical eligibility for disability benefits. For more information, visit www.okdrs.gov or phone 800-845-8476.