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The Advocare – October 2016


From the Executive Director

By Susan Given

Recently, I was contacted by the US News & World Report to discuss why West Virginia has the highest rate of unemployment for people with disabilities in the United States. As I prepared to discuss this with the reporter, I started making a list of factors that contribute to this dismal statistic. The factors include:

  • a high rate of people with disabilities per capita, perhaps the highest rate in the country
  • a high rate of unemployment overall
  • lack of public transportation systems
  • geography of the state
  • dangerous industries, such as mining and logging
  • dangerous recreational activities such as ATVs

While all of this contributes to the high unemployment rate for people with disabilities, another factor is the public education system’s role in preparing students with disabilities for the workforce. Of working-age people with disabilities in West Virginia, 42% have high school diploma or equivalent; 24% have some college education or an associates’ degree and only 7% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. It is well-established that education opens the door to opportunities, employment, and higher pay. However, it is often the case that schools, families, and communities fail to view students with disabilities as our future workforce. Therefore, students with disabilities aren’t provided with the resources they need to develop their unique skills and receive the needed training and/or education to enter the competitive West Virginia workforce.

As West Virginians, we must look beyond traditional forms of employment and provide assistance and resources to those who are seeking training and job placement. We must look to other states that are creating jobs and employing individuals with disabilities. Finally, and perhaps most important, is the need for West Virginians to change their outlook on individuals with disabilities and recognize that people with disabilities have abilities, need training and higher education, are employable, and can contribute to the workforce and the economy of West Virginia.

Education and Employment After a Traumatic Brain Injury

By Chris Redelman

In 2007, I was a freshman at Fairmont State University. I pledged for a fraternity that fall semester and became engulfed in the party lifestyle. Due to this lifestyle, my grades began to slip. After two years, my grades had slipped so far that I was kicked out of college. In 2010, after taking a year off of college to work, I entered an electrician’s class at an Adult Learning Facility in Fairmont.

On October 24, 2010, I was in a car accident on Interstate 79 due to texting and driving which resulted in a Traumatic Brain Injury, several broken bones including three ribs, my left lung was collapsed, both hips were broken and the bone at the base of my skull was broken. After the accident, I was life-flighted to the ICU at Ruby Memorial Hospital. In November 2010, I was transferred to HealthSouth for inpatient rehabilitation. I was there until December 2010, when I was sent home for outpatient rehabilitation with HealthSouth. This continued until June 2011.

In August 2011, I returned to college at Fairmont State University. In January 2012, I began working with the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (WVDRS) who provided me with sponsorship of my bachelor’s degree. WVDRS helped pay for my books, tuition and purchased a pen that would record the lectures and my handwritten notes as I took them in class. I also worked with Fairmont State’s Disability Services Department who typed a statement to my professors that I needed additional time to take tests and that I needed copies of notes for long lectures. In August 2015, I graduated from Fairmont State University with my Board of Regents Bachelor’s Degree.

After I graduated, I immediately began looking for job, but quickly found that the job market in Fairmont was slim if you were unable to drive or had a reliable form of transportation. After several frustrating months of searching for a job, I was able to find a job with PACE Enterprises as a Skills Developer. My job with PACE is helping their clients learn daily life skills. I am also a Job Coach. As a Job Coach I go with people to their jobs and provide assistance to them if needed as they work.

I am looking forward to getting married to my fiancé Rachel Dotson next year. I am currently working on getting my drivers license and purchasing a home of my own. My dream is to one day own a farm where I teach other people with disabilities about being self-sufficient.

Michael’s Path to Employment

By: Michael McDonough with assistance from Teresa McDonough

Michael McDonough working at Books A Million.

At the age of 16, I began receiving services from the WV Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). I decided I wanted to see if I would be able to drive like every other teenager. I went through a series of evaluations for driving skills and work skills. It was determined that I needed to work on my reaction times for the driving so I decided driving wasn’t for me. I began working with the Human Resource Development Foundation (HDRF) during the summer before my junior year of high school. HRDF also did some work assessments. Together we decided that I would work at Home Goods out on Corridor G. This was a job to obtain work experience. I was not paid. I worked in the stock area unpacking shipments of furniture and sometimes putting pieces together before they were put on the sales floor. My junior year of high school me and my Individual Education Plan (IEP) team decided that through the Kanawha County Schools (KCS) Work Exploration program I would work at the Cultural Center. (More work experience) My first job there was to do data entry for the deaf and blind. I worked on taking public transportation to the Cultural Center by riding the bus to the Cultural Center and back to school with my classroom aide from school. My aide stayed with me at my work sites. I was also working in the attendance office of my high school at Capital High. I learned to do filing and keeping track of student attendance records. The summer after my junior year I had paid employment at WV Advocates shredding 5 file cabinets worth of old documents. I also did some filing of current documents. Then came my senior year. Through the KCS Work Exploration I tried several different things. I had some work experience at the Clay center. I didn’t care for it much so I began working at Taylor Books on Capitol Street. This was my favorite job. I did some data entry when new books arrived, I priced them and put them out. I only was able to work at Taylor Books one day a week. The other days I went on work observations with my aide from school. We went to many different types of jobs such as Subway restaurant, Big Lots and Kmart. I took data on things I liked and didn’t like about each job environment. During this time I still worked at the attendance office at school and I worked at the TV studio at school typing the scripts that appeared on the KCS TV program. I always attended a half day at school and attended mostly regular education classes. I graduated from Capital High School with a modified diploma. Right after high school I was more involved with DRS. I had an experience placement at a used book shop with a job coach. I stocked and dusted books and cleaned the restroom. I liked it ok but the books were smelly. Working with DRS, I finally obtained paid employment at Books A Million out at Corridor G. I work 2 days a week for 3 hours a day. I have now been there for 3 1/2 years. I like having my own money to spend however I want. I still have my job coach through the Title XIX Intellectual/Development Disability (IDD) Waiver Program. I also volunteer two days a week, one day at the public library downtown and one day at the Mountain Mission. This keeps me busy four days a week. I like getting out and doing something important like everybody else. I have been lucky to have had so many experiences working but none of it would have happened without the support and advocacy of my mom.

The West Virginia Work Incentives and Planning Assistance (WIPA) Program

By Jennifer Tenney, Program Manager

The West Virginia Work Incentives and Planning Assistance (WIPA) program is often an untapped resource for people with disabilities who receive Social Security Disability benefits (either Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)). The Community Work Incentives Coordinators, employed by West Virginia University’s Center for Excellence in Disabilities, are available to speak with any Social Security Disability beneficiary regarding how work or self-employment will impact both the beneficiary’s federal cash and medical benefits.

Often thinking about returning to work or going to work the first time after receiving benefits can be very scary. However, there are plenty of work incentives that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has in place to help beneficiaries work without losing all of their benefits. These are SSA rules that allow a beneficiary to try and work and be successful in their job. The work incentives are specific to each program, and are very different. The key to using these work incentives is to involve a Community Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC) right away. These coordinators are available for anyone receiving benefits who has questions about returning to work.

One main area that CWICs focus on are beneficiaries’ federal benefits. The state and federal benefits that are not associated with SSA are also considered when creating a benefits analysis. These include SNAP, HUD, and unemployment benefits. When creating a benefits analysis, the CWICs look at the beneficiary’s individual benefits story. Every benefits analysis is unique to the person it is written about. Benefits are like fingerprintsΓǪno two benefits stories are going to be alike.

Because benefits stories are individualized, the application of the work incentives are also individualized. While it is true that each beneficiary on SSDI receives a nine month Trial Work Period, some people may have used some of their Trial Work months due to past work history. This example shows why it is so important for beneficiaries who are working or considering work to talk to a CWIC. CWICs do most of the work with the beneficiary over the phone, but in person visits also happen when someone is having a serious benefits issue or is preparing to use a complex work incentive.

The WIPA Program has been serving West Virginians with disabilities for over 14 years. The program strives to be the experts on work incentives throughout the state. If you or someone you know is receiving benefits and thinking about going to work, get connected with the WIPA Project by calling 1–866–968–7842.

DRS initiative helps high school students with career exploration opportunities

By Tracy Carr, Senior Manager,
Governmental and Public Relations,
West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services

The West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) held Career Exploration Opportunity Summits at seven locations across the state during a two-week period in June, 2016. This DRS initiative is part of the required Pre-Employment Training Services (PTS) activities under the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA).

WIOA requires vocational rehabilitation agencies to set aside 15 percent of their federal funds to provide Pre-Employment Training Services to students with disabilities who are eligible or potentially eligible for vocational rehabilitation services.

PTS services required by WIOA include job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling on opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or postsecondary educational programs, workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living, and instruction in self-advocacy.

The DRS-sponsored weeklong Career Exploration Opportunity Summits provided tools and information to support students in obtaining long-term career success. The curriculum included career planning and preparation, self-assessments, completing job applications, interviewing skills, how to dress for employment, work ethic, cell phone and internet safety and self-advocacy.

Students that participated in the summit DRS held in Charleston

The seven summits were conducted in Charleston, Huntington, Beckley, Martinsburg, Wheeling, Clarksburg, and Welch by DRS’ Employment Specialists, with 154 high school students attending.

The Clay Center’s “Power Your Future” mobile exhibit visited each summit location during these two weeks. This unique exhibition on wheels uses interactive games and activities to take visitors on a journey through the exploration and extraction of natural gas, the engineering and technology of processing it, and the many uses of this important natural resource.

Students participating in the summits earned $8.75 per hour while attending the workshops and received valuable information to prepare them for their future.

DRS received positive feedback from the participating students and their parents. The most rewarding success of the summits was that the students participating remained engaged and were genuinely invested in the learning experience.

DRS plans to expand this initiative to 10 locations during the summer of 2017.

What to expect when you enter a WorkForce WV office

By William D. Sochko Jr., Manager,
WorkForce West Virginia-Morgantown

When a customer enters a WorkForce West Virginia office, they should expect to find courteous, knowledgeable staff that are ready to assist all job-seekers in a multitude of ways. As the state agency responsible for Employment Services, WorkForce West Virginia maintains the largest database of employers in the state, and specializes in matching job-seekers with employers. All services provided by WorkForce West Virginia are free, and once an individual registers with our Job Service, staff will begin matching the job-seeker with potential employers, based on the type of work being sought. Customers are also welcome to browse our job listings on their own, using our website. In addition to job-matching services, WorkForce West Virginia offers a wide variety of assistance to customers in their journey into the working world, including resume assistance, tips on job searching and interviewing, and workshops designed to provide valuable labor market information and strategies for securing employment. Free public computers are also available for all customers at every WorkForce West Virginia office, and for those with special needs, WorkForce West Virginia offices have ADA compliant accommodations available, such as document magnifiers and vision and hearing impaired computer stations.

In addition to job-seeking services, all WorkForce West Virginia offices serve as a resource in referring customers to our partner agencies and organizations, making sure that individuals get matched with the appropriate service provider.

WorkForce West Virginia also can provide customers with information on training and schooling, including grants and government programs that may assist with costs and fees.

VR TIP: The Goal of the VR Program Under WIOA

By Amy Scherer, NDRN Staff Attorney

On July 22, 2014, Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This piece of legislation made some significant and important changes to the VR program. Much of the focus has been on the alterations made to transition services and the addition of pre-employment transition services.

However, there was also a change in the stated purpose of the VR program which has key ramifications that should not be overlooked.

Prior to WIOA, the overall goal of the VR program was to help individuals with disabilities “prepare for, secure, retain or regain employment.” This goal met the needs of many VR clients. But, it left one particular segment of that group in limbo. What if an individual was successfully and happily employed, but required the services of VR in order to be considered for a promotion at their job? Could VR step in and assist this individual? Based upon the specific statutory language of the Rehab Act, the answer was unclear and somewhat open to debate.

Some clarification was provided by the definition of post-employment services provided in the Code of Federal Regulations. Although certainly not a necessity for every client, post-employment services can be an essential step in an individual’s journey to reach his/her ultimate employment goal. Implemented after the successful achievement of the client’s initially identified employment outcome, post-employment services are defined as “one or more services necessary to assist an individual to retain, regain or ADVANCE (emphasis added) in employment” [34 CFR § 361.5(b)(42)].

So, the definition of post-employment services opened up the possibility of VR support for advancement in employment which was a positive step. But, the caveat provided by this regulation remained narrow because the concept of advancement was being applied specifically within the context of post-employment services. More information about the topic of upward mobility or advancement in employment was provided by a Policy Directive (PD) released by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) in August of 1997. This PD stated:

“The provision of VR services to an eligible individual who is currently employed, but whose job is not consistent with the individual’s strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, and capabilities, must assist that individual to obtain employment consistent with the individual’s primary employment factors and informed choice. Under such circumstances, VR services would be provided for ”career advancement“ or ”upward mobility“ purposes.” (RSA PD–97–04)

This Policy Directive widened the door further for the possibility of VR’s support of an individual’s career advancement. But, as the directive makes clear, this route was determined to be appropriate only if the person’s current job was inconsistent with his/her current strengths and capabilities. Additionally, although VR seemingly embraced the concept of career advancement in this directive, its impact was somewhat lessened since the crucial language was not found in the statute or the federal regulations.

WIOA finally rectified the situation by changing the language in the statute itself. Under § 722(a)(1)(B), may require VR services to advance in (emphasis added) employment, not just obtain, maintain or regain employment.

The small, but critical, change made in the statutory language of WIOA should make it easier for VR clients to access needed services in order to achieve advancement or upward mobility within their profession.

Each VR Tip is intended to provide brief information about a particular VR-related topic. It is here to answer common questions posed by CAP advocates on a variety of issues.

West Virginia Advocates’ New Name

Disability Rights WV

Coming in 2017, West Virginia Advocates will be doing business as Disability Rights of West Virginia.


The Advocare is published by the West Virginia Advocates. Publication of news items and articles does not imply endorsement by the Editor, the West Virginia Advocates, the Board of Directors or its individual members, or funding sources. Funding for this publication is provided by the: U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Developmental Disabilities; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration; Social Security Administration. Letters to the Editor and news items should be sent to: WVA, 1207 Quarrier St Ste 400, Charleston, WV 25301