The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) is a Federal agency housed within the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). RSA administers a variety of programs that focus on empowering individuals with disabilities to maximize employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, and inclusion and integration into society. RSA’s mission is to provide leadership and resources to assist State and other agencies in providing vocational rehabilitation (VR) and other services to individuals with disabilities to maximize their employment, independence, and integration into the community and the competitive labor market.
RSA administers the programs under these three statutes:
RSA is appropriated approximately $3.3 billion each fiscal year to administer its various programs, including:
Of this appropriation, approximately $3.1 billion is devoted to the VR State grant program, under which funds are awarded to designated State VR agencies within each State to operate a comprehensive VR program.
On July 22, 2014, the President signed WIOA into law, which superseded the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and amended the Rehabilitation Act, which is contained in title IV of WIOA. The passage of WIOA – a bipartisan and bicameral effort – marked the most significant reform of the Federal adult education and workforce development system in more than a decade and presented tremendous opportunities to change the way our systems operate. Through WIOA, we look forward to:
We strongly believe that two of the core purposes of WIOA are to ensure that:
In implementing the amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, RSA is focusing on several key areas, including: work-based learning, employer engagement, career pathways for individuals with disabilities, transition services, including pre-employment transition services, technical assistance, and innovations.
In the two years since WIOA was signed into law, RSA has been working with its other Federal partners, with the State VR agencies, and with the business community. The focus has been on work-based learning, employer engagement, and career pathways for individuals with disabilities. Some examples include:
Transition services, including pre-employment transition services, to students and youth with disabilities now have greater emphasis because of the amendments to the Rehabilitation Act made by WIOA. As a result, RSA is working with stakeholders. Including business, to identify the key employment and transition-related outcomes. RSA is also reaching out to its colleagues at the Office of Special Education Programs to leverage their expertise and develop guidance to support improved transition of youth with disabilities from school into the workforce. RSA is also committed to stronger collaboration with the higher education community at both the 2- and 4-year levels.
Aligning with RSA’s mission to provide leadership and resources to grantees and stakeholders, RSA created a series of coordinated training and technical assistance centers (TACs) to assist state VR agencies and their partners in providing VR and other services to individuals with disabilities. Each TAC focuses its efforts on a specific set of topics designed to provide universal, targeted, and intensive technical assistance (TA) for the purpose of improving services to individuals with disabilities to maximize their employment, independence, and integration into the community and the competitive labor market in all sectors of employment. To date the TACs include:
Finally, RSA has awarded a $20 million grant to focus on an Automated Personalization Computing Project (APCP). The purpose of the APCP is to improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities by increasing access to information and communication technologies (ICT) through automatic personalization of needed assistive technology (AT). Under the APCP, an IT infrastructure would be created to allow users of ICT to store preferences in the cloud or other technology, which then would allow supported Internet–capable devices they are using to automatically run their preferred AT solutions. This IT infrastructure would ultimately provide better educational opportunities, ease transitions between school and the workplace, improve productivity in the workplace, and reduce costs for individuals, educators, and employers (such as businesses) with respect to the provision of accessing ICT.
All of these aspects of RSA’s work will benefit businesses of all sizes, from small businesses to large corporations. Some examples of benefits to businesses include opportunities for employers/businesses to:
Hiring, promoting, and retaining individuals with disabilities will increase the diversity of your workforce.
This is an exciting time for VR and the public workforce system. It is truly a time for innovation and opportunity. It is a time of increased awareness of individuals with barriers to employment, including individuals with disabilities, increased collaboration across all the partners in the workforce system, including businesses and employers of all sizes, and increased expectations for outcomes in competitive integrated employment. Join in the excitement.
To learn more about this important topic, join Janet LaBreck and additional thought leaders for Diversity Best Practices’ upcoming web seminar Disabilities in the Workplace: New Research, Best Practices and Moving Forward on October 27, from 12:00-1:30pm EST. This is a members only event. To learn more and to register click here.