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COLUMBIA – Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation held a public hearing in Columbia Wednesday to hear feedback on ways to improve services for people with disabilities and answer questions about the new Workforce Innovations and Opportunity Act.
Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation provides 148 counselors across the state for Missouri’s 25,000 students with diagnosed disabilities.
Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation Consumer Affairs Coordinator Tim Gaines said 59.3 percent of all youth with disabilities who received MVR program help did reach successful employment in 2016.
Gaines said providing competitive, integrated employment is one of the main goals of the MVR.
“Competitive, integrated employment is basically working in the community at at least minimum wage or better, and working alongside people with disabilities and alongside people without disabilities,” Gaines said.
The Workforce Innovations and Opportunity Act is a new law that focuses on adding those with disabilities into the community, no matter the age.
“Kids are our future. Getting them into work at an early age and exposing them to competitive, integrated employment, letting them have responsibilities, developing a good ethic is so important,” Gaines said. “This law really focuses on providing services at an early age.”
Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation provides a number of the beneficial services from summer work programs with students who may have never worked before, to providing pre-employment transition services, independent living centers and working with community rehabilitation programs.
Still, having the capacity and funds to serve all the students with disabilities is a challenge for Gaines.
“We want to work with as many as we can, but we can’t do everything by ourselves,” Gaines said. “We’re all in this together. It’s so important to work together to provide these services, not only for youth with disabilities, but to all people of all work ages.”
Gaines said MVR is partnering with other agencies to better their program, but also relying heavily on community input for what is and isn’t working.
“We don’t have all the answers, so we take the recommendations and comments very seriously,” Gaines said. “These comments and recommendations that we get are so important, we take them and use them to develop our strategies, state plan, and to develop our policies and procedures.”