CBVH then continues to work with VESID to assess performance on an ongoing basis, participate in on-site reviews, and provide technical assistance or recommend adjustments to contracts as needed.
In the near century that these agencies have been in place, they have worked together in their efforts to assist those with disabilities to find employment. The current supported employment delivery system has allowed all eligible individuals with the most significant disabilities who are interested in supported employment to obtain services. A joint policy statement between the CBVH, the State Education Department, and VESID was initiated in 1985. At this time, the two State agencies agreed that only by working together could they address the needs of individuals who are deaf and blind. Through the memorandum of the agreement in 1999, CBVH and VESID reaffirmed their commitment to joint efforts to better serve this unique group of individuals. While there are proportionately few individuals who are both deaf and blind, their needs are complex and are exacerbated, not resolved, by fragmented service delivery. Mutual experience shows that where the expertise of both CBVH and VESID programs are delivered collaboratively, individuals who are deaf/blind experience significantly improved access to services and have much greater opportunities for success. The major purpose in this agreement is to assure that the quality of services is high, and that appropriate resources and expertise are available throughout the State.
Of course the overall goal is for the employment program to enable individuals with the most significant disabilities to achieve and maintain competitive employment in their communities. According to the American Foundation for the Blind's "Statistics and Sources for Professionals," under the current contract, a total of 52 providers have the capacity to serve a total of 144 individuals who are legally blind, with a goal to place, train and stabilize 105 individuals who are legally blind. In 2009, 132 individuals received supported employment services. Twenty-four of these individuals obtained and have maintained integrated employment in the community.
Statistically, VESID and CBVH have made great strides in their efforts. The New York State Disability and Employment Status Report issued by the Employment and Disability Institute, Industrial Labor Relation School of Cornell University, provides statistics regarding persons in New York State with disabilities. Based on the most recent study, the findings provide an overall context for the vocational rehabilitation program to consider the potential needs of individuals with disabilities in New York State. The employment and earnings gap between New Yorkers with disabilities and those without, like the rest of the U.S., continues to grow exponentially. According to the 2007 Status Report, there are over 1.4 million working-age adults with disabilities in New York State. The employment rate of working-age people with disabilities (ages 21-64) is 33% as compared to 72% for people without disabilities, a gap of 39% (Cornell University, 2009).
In addition, one in five working-age adults with disabilities in New York are recipients of SSI (279,000 individuals). These findings draw a clear link between the experiences of poverty and disability. New findings from the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) show that the share of people experiencing income poverty who have physical or mental health impairments and/or learning disabilities is far larger than conventionally understood.
Based on estimates from the 2008 American Community Survey (ACS), 49,300 individuals with disabilities between the ages of 21 and 64 are not working but are actively looking for work. The ACS disability definitions are not the equivalent of the eligibility criteria for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services, so it is not valid to infer that all of these individuals would necessarily be VR eligible. VESID's open caseload (Status 02-24) at the end of FFY 2009 was 68,000 individuals, which exceeds the measure of job seekers with disabilities, based on the ACS definition.
The education system continues to struggle to adquately prepare students with disabilities for employment and financial independence. Even with recent growth in the performance outcomes for students with disabilities, the gaps in performance remain significant with only approximately 43% of New York's students with disabilities graduating with a regular high school diploma.
Many institutions of higher education have not put in place the level of supports needed by individuals with disabilities to succeed. Only 16% of working-age individuals with disabilities in New York hold a Bachelor's degree as compared to 36% of non-disabled individuals (Cornell, 2009).
Both VESID and CBVH are dedicated to the education system. According to the CBVH 2011 State Plan, a standardized process has been implemented for school district referrals. VESID and CBVH collaborate with school districts and other State agencies to facilitate a coordinated approach to the provision of transition services and to eliminate the duplication of assessment, services and reporting. The agreement specifically states that every student with a disability will receive comprehensive, coordinated educational services to prepare for employment, post-secondary education or community living when they leave school (p. 2).
The Department of Education provides more than $2.5 billion annually to the states for a federal-state vocational rehabilitation (VR) program to help individuals with disabilities become employed, consistent with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Better measures, p. 6). In fiscal year 2003, these state programs provided services to more than 1 million individuals with disabilities. Although Education provides more than three-quarters of the program's funding, states have significant latitude in how they administer their VR programs.
While hoping to keep disabled persons in school, CBVH is a partner in a demonstration called Project WORKS. Funded by the Social Security Administration, this youth initiative is designed to support the successful transition of youth with disabilities from school to post-secondary education and employment and maximize their economic self-sufficiency (State Plan, 3). The project focuses on developing services and service-delivery systems that will improve educational and employment outcomes for youth with disabilities. It is designed to increase coordination among public agencies and private organizations that have resources, funding and a mandate to provide transition services. New York State is one of six states participating in this project.
CBVH is also involved in the "Partnerships for Youth" projects funded through the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (DDPC). The five projects bring together school-based programs with the One Stop service centers, employers, vocational rehabilitation and community-based service providers to create a seamless transition process. Both rehabilitation agencies (CBVH and VESID) have traditionally played a major role in facilitating work experience, mentoring, work-study and competitive employment. The work readiness and "soft skills" training provided by systems partners have been essential to facilitating successful work transition. The projects have demonstrated the necessity and importance of coordinated intervention services before the student leaves the educational system (p. 4).
The involvement in education is in place with hopes that it will assist disabled youth to go from school to adult opportunities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that transition planning begin when the student is 14 and that services be coordinated between the school and the vocational rehabilitation agency. Transition planning encompasses how each student will be living, learning, and working in his community.
The main functions of the two agencies differ in that VESID continues to have primary responsibility for supported employment programs and other integrated employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities in New York State (p. 24). CBVH is not responsible for hiring staff who work in school systems -- that is the responsibility of VESID, the New York state agency that administers both the vocational rehabilitation program for individuals with disabilities other than legal blindness, as well as special education programs for school-age children. CBVH maintains case management, program monitoring and oversight responsibilities for the supported employment services provided to CBVH consumers. Service providers regularly provide CBVH with individual consumer reports, and CBVH staff meets regularly with providers and consumers. Information on services to CBVH consumers is also available through data provided by contractors to the New York Integrated Supported Employment
Reporting System (NYISERS). CBVH continues to work with VESID to assess performance on an ongoing basis, participate in on-site reviews, and provide technical assistance or recommend adjustments to contracts as needed (p. 14).
Quality assurance is a matter of ongoing concern. Providers receive Guidelines for Supported Employment that is updated as needed and convey the expectations for quality services. VESID quality assurance staff, with input from CBVH and other partners, established new case review form protocols to gather information that can be used to monitor and improve services. CBVH district office staffs are invited to participate in reviews of agencies in their catchment area; however, they typically participate only in reviews of agencies that are serving consumers who are blind (p. 25).
Improvements in these agencies are an ongoing process. Currently, Goodwill of New York and New Jersey currently operates the only blindness specific supported employment program in New York City. The program is currently only serving 27 consumers, seven over its contracted…
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