Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services
Our mission is real jobs with real wages. We maximize the potential for Montanans with disabilities to prepare for, obtain, retain, and advance in the same high-quality jobs and high demand careers as persons without disabilities. We deliver employment services consistent with an individual's strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice.
Youth and adults with disabilities face many disadvantages in employment, including when working for others or in self-employment. VRBS reverses those disadvantages with high quality and timely employment services. VRBS believes that disability is natural, that society should maintain high expectations for people with disabilities, and that our services change lives and systems. VRBS emphasizes services to youth while also serving adults. Our services build upon the civil rights of citizens with disabilities. Informed choice and the priority to serve those with the most significant disabilities drive everything we do. Our staff members are guiders, and the people we serve are deciders. The bulk of our service centers on getting people with disabilities to believe in themselves and to set vocational goals and plans consistent with their career dreams. We refrain from paternalistic practices and medical modeled services in which professionals dictate services. Our services insist on the rights and responsibilities of each participant. The people we serve have skin in the game, doing for themselves the things they can do for themselves. Moreover, VRBS champions competitive integrated employment, that is, quality jobs in the community for wages comparable to others performing the same work. Very deliberately, VRBS presumes all people with disabilities, including those with the most significant disabilities, can work in competitive integrated settings. For far too long, society pipelined workers with disabilities into sheltered, crew, and sub-minimum wage jobs. While workers may choose to work in segregated, sub-minimum wage jobs, VRBS dedicates our program to providing meaningful alternatives grounded in real jobs with real pay so that choice is a reality and no one has to languish in marginalized employment. In addition, VRBS cultivates many partnerships including those with Community Rehabilitation Programs, Centers for Independent Living, tribal vocational rehabilitation programs, high schools, colleges, and workforce development programs. Our primary partner is the State Rehabilitation Council, which reviews, analyzes, and advises VRBS. And last but not least, VRBS serves employers and Montana’s business community. Workers with disabilities contribute a great deal to Montana’s workforce. We seek and apply employer input and the latest labor and management information to inform people with disabilities so that they can make choices based on job-driven information. VRBS enthusiastically encourages employers and the rest of society to regard employees with disabilities as work-ready assets in business.
Individuals with disabilities seeking employment and their employers comprise our two primary customers. However, all of society benefits when its citizens with disabilities are employed in their communities and earning livable wages.
Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services combines the general and the blind vocational rehabilitation programs in a single unit. Montana state law allows the combined approach, and it also requires separate services for blind and visually impaired clients. Follow the link to Blind and Low Vision Services on this page to find out more about that part of our program. Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services is part of the Disability Employment and Transitions Division of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. The Administrator of Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services as well as Disability Employment and Transitions is Jim Marks. Jim may be reached via the contact links below.
Our Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors and Instructors must hold a master’s degree and the ability to sit for certification in order to be qualified for their jobs. These professionals are supported by other professionals including administrative support, specialists, program managers, supervisors, and trainees. All engage continuous improvement and personal development to hone their skills to a keen leading edge.
Our Central Office administrative staff is located in Helena.
111 North Last Chance Gulch, Suite 4C
PO Box 4210
Helena, MT 59604-4210
1 (877) 296-1197 (toll-free consumer line)
(406) 444-2590 (voice/TTY)
(406) 444-3632 (fax)
If you wish to contact us, please e-mail us or contact your local office.
Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services presents the following video to introduce our services. The four links below play different versions of the same video. Choose the standard link to play the video without reasonable accommodations. If you require open captioning, sign language interpreting, or audio description, click on the corresponding link to play the video with reasonable accommodations.
Signer for the Deaf
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA)
The WIOA sets a whole new course for vocational rehabilitation, independent living, and other disability services. The changes are so significant that Montana and the rest of the nation will split its views of these public programs in two parts: Before WIOA and after WIOA. In other words, our WIOA services are not those your parents or grandparents knew. According to Janet LaBreck, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration of the US Department of Education, WIOA changes 100 items in WIOA’s Title IV, the part of the WIOA formerly known as the Rehabilitation Act. That’s a lot by any measure. To put a finer point on it, many of those changes require sweeping departures from past practices. So, in the spirit of the WIOA, welcome to the new Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services. We will serve Montana differently than we have in the past. WIOA reinvigorates what we do well and raises the bar for service. Montanans with disabilities, supported by the innovations and opportunities of the services we provide, live the lives they choose, just like any Montanan expects and demands. Here is to a new day in services for people with disabilities in our nation and state!
To meet WIOA, Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services will accomplish the following three changes:
•Emphasize services to youth with disabilities.
•Champion competitive integrated employment.
•Align VRBS with workforce development programs.
For more information about how the WIOA affects the public vocational rehabilitation program, check out the Rehabilitation Services Administration page on WIOA.
For more information about how the WIOA affects the public independent living, assistive technology, and disability research programs; check out the Administration on Community Living’s page.
For more information about how the WIOA affects workforce development programs, check out The US Department of Labor’s page on employment and training.
Order of Selection
VRBS is currently operating under an Order of Selection with Disability Level Order Category 3 closed. We, for the first time in the history of VRBS, amended our state plan to include the Order on March 17, 2014. That same day, we closed Category 3 to create a waiting list for vocational rehabilitation services. Category 3 reopened September 30, 2014. All on the waiting list have either been served or declined services. From October 1, 2014 through October 19, 2015, all Categories remained open. Then, On October 19, 2015, VRBS again closed Category 3 to create our current waiting list for vocational rehabilitation services.
The Order is the legally mandated method of rationing services when our resources cannot keep up with the demand. Resources include funding for VRBS as well as staff time. The Order does not affect Services to Groups such as our VRBS-high school collaborations for Pre-Employment Transition Services. In other words, the Order affects only our traditional individualized vocational rehabilitation services. Our current closure of Category 3 is caused by not having enough funding to serve everyone. The WIOA requires the Order to assure the priority to serve those with the most significant disabilities first. When VRBS has enough resources to meet demand, we will reopen Category 3 and serve those on the wait list. We refer those on the wait list to other workforce development programs and programs such as Financial Aid for college. Please note that the Order is fluid and subject to changes as resources and demands allow. We highly encourage all to apply to VRBS regardless of any category closures because those on the wait list will be served based on when they applied for services as resources allow. Also, additional Category closures are a possibility as well.
When VRBS determines that a participant is eligible for vocational rehabilitation services, the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor determines which Disability Level Order Category best fits the individual. We base the decision on evidence of disability and its impact as well as professional judgment regarding the number of functional limitations experienced by the individual. Functional limitations include communication, mobility, ability to care for oneself, etc. Here are the three VRBS Disability Level Order Categories:
- Category 1: Most Significant Disability (Three or More Functional Limitations.)
- Category 2: Significant Disability (One or More Functional Limitations.)
- Category 3: Disability (0-1 Functional Limitations.)
For more information on the Order, please consult with your Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. Decisions regarding the Order may be appealed through processes described by Counselors.