Improving Minnesota’s vocational and independent living services for individuals with disabilities is the topic of a forum set for Wednesday, September 24 in St. Cloud. The Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC), the Minnesota State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) are hosting the forum.
“Hearing from the public about unmet needs and ideas for improving services for Minnesotans with disabilities is absolutely essential for the councils and the state to carry out their work,” said Kim Peck, director of DEED’s Rehabilitation Services (RS) and a member of the SILC and SRC councils.
The forum is 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the public is welcome at any time during the day. From 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. a panel will discuss four recent projects where DEED and RS have teamed up with Minne-sota’s Centers for Independent Living to improve and expand services for the disability community.
Anyone may testify in the afternoon. The schedule includes an opportunity to respond to the morning discussion from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. and an open forum from 1:15 to 4:30 p.m. The public is encouraged to speak out about their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with Minnesota’s independent living and employment services for our community.
Registration is not required to attend. The forum will be held at the Radisson Suite Hotel, 404 West St. Germain St., St Cloud, MN 56301. Please contact Gail Lundeen from DEED Rehabilitative Services at 1-800-328-9095, 651-259-7364, or TTY at 1-800-657-3973 if you have questions or requests for accommodations. Real-time captioning and sign language interpreters will be available.
A forum this summer dealt with important vocational rehabilitation issues. A large crowd attended a state forum about employment services for people with disabilities at Golden Valley City Hall on June 25. The forum was hosted by the Minnesota State Rehabilitation Council (MSRC), DEED and the Golden Valley Human Rights Commission. The topics covered were employment disability discrimination, unmet needs for disability related employment services, and public satisfaction with the state services.
“At least 175,000 Minnesotans of working age experience significant difficulty finding or keeping employment due to long-lasting disabilities,” said Peck. Rehabilitation Services (RS) helps Minnesotans with disabilities to prepare for, find, or keep work. The MSRC advises the state on the performance of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs.
Many people testified, including vocational clients, experts and service providers. The issues they raised are wide-ranging and complex yet may only represent a fraction of the challenges the state faces in trying to provide services.
Carl Sauers, who is deaf, talked about his vocational experiences. Sauers has worked as a tool maker for 27 years. He praised his former employer DataCard Corp for accommodating his disability by hiring interpreters for meetings. Unfortunately, Sauers was recently laid off due to the slow economy. He described his current job search as very difficult due to what he perceives as disability discrimination.
Robyn McCree, who is also deaf, encouraged Vocational Rehab Services and the public libraries to install a VRI-VP system “so deaf people can have access to communicating with employers while looking for work.” The VRI-VP is a phone system that uses video enhanced communication with a sign language interpreter to facilitate communication between a deaf person and the hearing community. McCree explained that having the special phone system at home would cost about $200 per month, which is too expensive for a job seeker on a limited income.
Paul Deeming works as a case manager for Deaf Blind Services MN. He testified regarding the need for in-depth training on job-seeking skills. In his experience clients are often lacking knowledge about how to find work. He believes that this is a deficit in the system.
Don Lavin testified on behalf of the Minnesota Employment First Coalition, a change advocacy organization seeking to make integrative employment at competitive wages and benefits the first option for Minnesotans with disabilities. Lavin pointed out that there are too many people with disabilities in Minnesota who are not working, underemployed or working for sub-minimum wages. Also, too many employers don’t know how to hire or support workers with disabilities.
Lavin declared that while he is often critical of state agencies, “I want to publicly acknowledge and applaud the measurable progress made by Minnesota Rehabilitation Services.” Lavin pointed to a giant step forward. “We are pleased Minnesota RS has recently created a task force to examine better ways to deliver employment services to Minnesotans who are deaf or hard of hearing,” he said.
Lavin also proposed a statewide marketing campaign to bring business leaders into a partnership with VR Services. He pointed out that Minnesota has untapped labor resources in the disability community. In addition, Lavin stressed emphasizing people’s strengths and abilities, not their disabilities.
Kimberly Peck summed up the purpose of holding these forums with these thoughts: One of the challenges with VR, or any program, is that making a shift to do things differently requires the willingness to take a step back and say—how well do our current practices serve us and serve our customers?