by Doug Powell
(Editor's Note: Doug Powell is the chairman of the rehabilitation issues task force.)
In the October ACB E-Forum, we looked at ways to have input into the rehabilitation system. This article will look at the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) to see the vital role it plays in influencing policy, programs, and practice of the rehab system. We hope to persuade you that among all the advocacy opportunities that you confront as an active ACB member, your representation on your state's SRC is important to the services your members and potential members receive. We also hope to guide you in how to get appointed to the body in your state that is directly shaping policy and program decisions.
Consumer Advocacy into Vocational Rehabilitation
"The intent of the Rehabilitation Act is to create a public rehabilitation system that is both consumer-oriented and consumer-driven. For practical purposes, the state must manage the day-to-day operation of the VR program. But it is vital that consumers and advocates have an effective voice in this system at the highest levels. The SRCs ARE that voice. They embody the essential partnership needed to make sure state VR services are truly consumer-focused." (Reprinted from "The Role of the State Rehabilitation Council Training Module," www.erehab.org.) States have chosen different configurations to meet the Rehab Act requirements. Some have boards rather than councils. Twenty-four states have a separate agency serving blind and visually impaired citizens, and many of those agencies have separate SRCs. Regardless of their configuration, according to the Rehab Act amendments of 1998, SRCs are more than advisory councils; they are partners with the state agency in reviewing, analyzing, and advising the agency on policies and programs.
The Mandated Seats on the SRC
The federal Rehab Act mandates at least 15 seats on the council. States may add to this number, but the basic requirements are in the law. These seats are designated to different stakeholder groups so that policy and program decisions will have positive outcomes in employment. The designated seats differ slightly between combined agencies and "blindness" agencies, but examples of groups to be represented on the council are: business and industry, current or previous recipients of services, and disability advocacy organizations. Complete lists can be found in the resources at the end of this article.
Responsibilities of the SRCs
The law goes further in defining specific responsibilities that are supposed to be accomplished by the partnership of the agency staff and the SRC. These functions include:
- Annual Report – The SRC takes primary responsibility for the production of this yearly progress report going to, at minimum, the state governor and RSA.
- Consumer Satisfaction Surveys – The SRC has primary responsibility for soliciting, compiling, and reviewing these surveys and suggesting program and policy improvements based on the feedback.
- Public Meetings – The SRC has primary responsibility for determining how, when, and where these meetings take place, and compiling the feedback for suggested improvements.
- Comprehensive Statewide Needs Assessment – The SRC helps implement and review results of this triennial look at whether eligible citizens are receiving adequate services.
- The State Plan – The SRC reviews this plan of how programs and services will be implemented and suggests improvements based on the functions above.
- Quarterly Meetings – The SRC meets at least quarterly with VR staff to exchange progress reports and review, analyze, and advise staff on policies and programs.
Although this is not a complete list, you can see that our representation and voice on SRCs can have a very real impact on VR services. The scale of relative partnership responsibility in all of these functions outlined above differ from state to state, but if you sit on a body that is not doing a lot of what is mentioned above, you are not directly impacting VR on an SRC.
How to Get Appointed to an SRC
The law says that the governor or his/her designee makes SRC appointments, so the particulars are left to the state. There will be some kind of application/vetting process that many times takes more time than we would like. Contact your VR director or commissioner for information on how it works in your state. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it may be harder to get on an SRC of a combined agency (where all disabilities are served by one agency) than it is for a separate "blindness" agency, but we feel that representation on a combined agency is critical for a low-incidence, profound sensory disability group so that our needs don't get lost in the push for quick, cheap, successful case closures.
The Rehabilitation Act – part of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) that applies directly to the rehabilitation of people with disabilities: Rehabilitation Act Training Modules for SRCs (or anyone interested in rehab and the work of SRCs): http://www.erehab.org
The SRC/VR Partnership: Working Together Works, IRI Document #36 – an excellent resource on what the SRC does and how various SRCs organize to accomplish their responsibilities: http://www.iriforum.org/books.aspx#36ua
The ACB Rehabilitation Issues Task Force
Doug Powell (VA), chairman; home (703) 573-5107, cell (571) 438-7750; e-mail email@example.com
Sue Ammeter (WA); phone (360) 437-7916; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucy Birbiglia (NM); home (505) 323-2190, cell (505) 307-3718; e-mail email@example.com
Paul Edwards (FL); (305) 692-9206; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Presley (DC); (202) 246-6506; e-mail email@example.com
Lori Scharff (NY); (516) 695-6370; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Pam Shaw (PA); (267) 319-3737; e-mail email@example.com
Join ACB's rehab stakeholders list to keep abreast of happenings in the rehab world and exchange ideas with others trying to improve the rehab system. Go to www.acb.org/mailman/listinfo and follow the instructions to subscribe to firstname.lastname@example.org.