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Vocational Rehab Featured For Disability Awareness Month

By Robin Arnette
November 2008

Pickett-Williams described the network of vocational rehabilitation services designed to help more workers enjoy gainful employment. (Photo courtesy of Steven McCaw)

Gerard Roman
Among the audience was Gerard Roman, an NIH Office of Equal Employment Opportunity specialist at NIEHS. (Photo courtesy of Steven McCaw)

Lecture host Jeannie 'JJ' Bell-Nichols listened to an attendee during the quation-and-answer portion of the event
Lecture host Jeannie "JJ" Bell-Nichols listened to an attendee during the question-and-answer portion of the event. (Photo courtesy of Steven McCaw)

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and the NIEHS Disability Advocacy Committee (DAC) celebrated the contributions of "differently-abled" individuals by offering several events. On October 14, Jessie Pickett-Williams, M.S., CRC, LPC, unit manager for the Durham office of the North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, presented a seminar titled "Images of Success" in Rodbell Auditorium. Pickett-Williams heads a staff whose sole purpose is to help individuals with disabilities access employment opportunities in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services ( Exit NIEHS, known by its shortened name of "VR," has been in existence since 1920 and started offering services to its clients in 1921. VR is part of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and has 32 unit offices, 17 independent living offices and 11 assistive technology offices throughout the state. Persons who have a documented disability - physical, mental, emotional, learning or substance abuse disorder - and who are able to participate in competitive work activities are eligible to apply to the program.

Pickett-Williams said that VR provides a variety of core services:

  • Treatment of impairments, including medical and surgical services, but not for acute conditions
  • Counseling and guidance
  • Training, such as college and university, community college, vocational and trade school programs
  • Job-related services, including job search assistance,job placement and on-the-job support or coaching
  • Rehabilitation technology

VR's support services include such things as transportation, equipment and licenses, interpreter services and the purchasing of required tools, to name a few. Pickett-Williams described what she and her staff do once they are contacted.

"We usually get referrals from doctors, social workers, mental health professionals or schools, but we can receive referrals from anyone," she said. "The cases are assigned to counselors who specialize in a particular area, whether it is [to assist] someone with a learning disability or someone who is hearing impaired. The counselors then obtain medical records and determine eligibility for services. Specialists, including vocational evaluators, assess the person's strengths and interests through testing and make recommendations. All of this information allows the counselor to manage the case from beginning to end."

When individuals from VR find and keep a job, they aren't the only ones who benefit. Employers who hire them can receive tax credits. Four are available:

  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit
  • Disabled Access Tax Credit
  • Welfare to Work Tax Credit
  • Architectural/Transportation Barrier Removal Deduction

Pickett-Williams ended her talk with examples of VR participants who were happy and productive employees. DAC Vice-Chair Jeannie "JJ" Bell-Nichols hosted the seminar and said she was pleased to hear about the many success stories of disabled North Carolinians finding fulfillment in their work. DAC Chair Alicia Moore thanked Pickett-Williams for her dedication to working with individuals with disabilities. Both women, as well as the rest of the seminar audience, left Rodbell Auditorium knowing that VR is doing its part to strengthen and diversify North Carolina's workforce.

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