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Expanding Employment Opportunities: Independent Living Center Employment Services and Collaboration with Vocational Rehabilitation

Stoddard, S. & Premo, B. (2004). Expanding employment opportunities: Independent living center employment services and collaboration with Vocational Rehabilitation. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 20(1), 45-52.

Article Summary

Public Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies and Independent Living Centers (ILCs) both operate to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. ILCs began in the 1970s as a means to provide skills that would improve the chance for life outside of institutions for individuals whose disabilities were so severe as to prohibit employment. Although employment is not a core service for Independent Living Centers, it is one, which has increasingly become part of their range of services.

The authors goal was to obtain current information regarding effective partnerships between Vocational Rehabilitation and Independent Living Centers. They used e-mail to distribute surveys to VR agencies and those ILCs that had earlier identified employment services as part of their programs. E-mail provided responses that were not only prompt, but also provided rates of return of 72% for VRs and 80% for ILCs.

The study produced several suggestions to improve delivery of employment services by Independent Living Centers and Vocational Rehabilitation agencies. These included making employment a core service for ILCs, since it is such an important component of independent living. ILCs can assist individuals with disabilities through advocacy, barrier removal, and empowerment and prepare consumers for employment services.

The authors suggest placing ILC staff in VR offices to disseminate their philosophy and provide peer support to a greater network of customers. They also suggested increased cross hiring of staff between the two agencies in order to develop new ideas based on a better knowledge of each others philosophy. Improved data collection could identify the numbers of customers who receive services from both. This would further stress the need to complement, not duplicate service delivery.

A very positive outcome of this study was the identification of effective collaboration already taking place, including that between the Wisconsin State Independent Living Council and the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. These two agencies used needs analyses from numerous community partners to develop Wisconsins state plan for independent living. The authors report that replication of this and other model programs could lead to enhanced employment services for individuals with disabilities.