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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: October 6, 2020
Contact: Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936, (406) 461-3757
                jebelt@mt.gov
                Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391, (406) 461-8367
                hcouncil@mt.gov

Governor Bullock, DPHHS Celebrate 100th Anniversary of Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services

HELENA - Governor Steve Bullock, Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) officials, and numerous advocates celebrated today at the Capitol Rotunda the 100th Anniversary of the establishment of the vocational rehabilitation program.

“Thank you to both past and present Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services staff and community providers for all you’ve done to provide an equal opportunity for Montanans with disabilities to thrive in the community,” Governor Steve Bullock said. “Significant progress has been made in the last century to move vocational rehabilitation forward, and this program continues to make such a positive difference for thousands of Montanans each and every day.”

In Montana, the Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services (VRBS) program is part of the DPHHS Disability Employment and Transitions Division (DETD). This division provides more than 21,000 Montanans with disabilities access to services to strengthen their economic and social well-being across the lifespan. Specifically, VRBS connects 4,000 individuals with career counseling, information and referrals, training services, and job placement services.

DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan said Montanans living with disabilities want to be dynamic and integrated contributors to society, actively benefiting from and participating in mainstream life. She said citizens with disabilities encounter many barriers to employment and independence that prevent their full and equitable inclusion in society.

“This program breaks down barriers that stand in the way of individuals with disabilities reaching their full potential,” Hogan said. “I have watched firsthand how our clients have thrived through the opportunities VRBS provides in communities all across the state in helping them realize their dreams.” 

The mission of VRBS is to promote opportunities for Montanans with disabilities to have rewarding careers and achieve maximum personal potential. VRBS offers individualized vocational rehabilitation and supportive services to assist eligible individuals with disabilities to obtain, maintain, and advance in jobs compatible with their skills and abilities. The services allow older visually impaired or blind individuals with the ability to live more independently in their homes and communities.

And, these efforts begin with youth. One new component of VRBS that reaches youth is the Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) program offered to all school-enrolled students with disabilities aged 14-21 in Montana. These services give students an early start to job exploration and instruction in self-advocacy by partnering with local education agencies, community rehabilitation providers, and independent living centers. The program serves over 1,500 high school students with disabilities each year.

Candy Cohen of Missoula can attest to the impact Pre-ETS has made in her life. “Pre-ETS helped me with becoming an adult,” Cohen said. “The program gave me more knowledge about possible careers and how I should act and dress for an interview. Some things I have accomplished are getting selected to represent Montana for the Youth Leadership Forum. I also learned more about myself through the program. And, they are currently helping me explore options for college.”

VRBS also works with businesses to connect them with qualified employees with disabilities and provide consultation and technical assistance with workplace accessibility, adaptive equipment and business tax credits.

On June 2, 1920, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Civilian Rehabilitation Act into law. In the 100 years since that day, vocational rehabilitation program across the country have provided the tools for individuals with disabilities to reach their employment goals. VRBS first launched in Montana in 1921 when the state legislature created a vocational rehabilitation program to accept the provisions and benefits of the Act of Congress to promote vocational rehabilitation. 

For more information on VRBS go to https://dphhs.mt.gov/detd/vocrehab