NDEAM 2018 | Hands On/Hyatt

NOTE: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Hands On Hyatt trainees

In recognition of NDEAM this month and in partnership with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, OSERS is pleased to highlight another successful partnership that State VR agencies have established with educational providers and the business community supporting the employment of individuals with disabilities.


Hands On Educational Services, Inc. is vocational training program that prepares individuals with disabilities for careers in the hospitality industry though its partnership with Hyatt Hotels, state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies, and local educational agencies. While the partnership began with one Hyatt hotel in Tampa, Florida Hands On now works with over 30 Hyatt hotels in nine states and is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

With funding from state VR agencies and through Hyatt’s Hospitality Training Program, Hands On provides job-readiness training, job coaching, job placement services, and on-the-job training to individuals with disabilities in all aspects of the hotel industry, including culinary, engineering, housekeeping, and guest services. Since the program’s inception, Hyatt has extended job offers to several hundred program graduates.

While they sometimes operate behind the scenes, state VR agencies are often at the nexus of private-public partnerships – simultaneously supporting individuals with disabilities as they prepare for, secure, retain, advance in, or regain employment and the businesses that provide them with career opportunities.

As OSERS partners with states to administer the VR program, one of the core workforce development programs authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, OSERS is committed to strengthening partnerships and maintaining high expectations for the millions of individuals with disabilities the VR program serves.

For more information about the VR program in Florida, visit our partners at the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Division of Blind Services. To learn more about Hands On, visit them online or through Facebook.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Kathleen West Evans, Director of Business Relations, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
Posted by
Director of Business Relations, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
Chris Pope
Posted by
Rehabilitation Services Administration, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education

Meeting WIOA Requirements: Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance

WINTAC logo

For National Disability Employment Awareness Month, check out the many resources available in the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM), funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). Bookmark the NCRTM RSA Technical Assistance & Other Resources page for quick access to the RSA portal, RSA TA centers and funded projects, Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) federal partners, other resources and research databases.

In this final blog of a three-part blog series from NCRTM, we offer ways to stay current with employment trends related to the workforce and people with disabilities. View first blog and second blog from NCRTM.


Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC)

The WINTAC helps state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency staff, rehabilitation professionals and service providers develop the skills and processes needed to meet the requirements of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

The WINTAC provides technical assistance and training in five topic areas that include:

You can find links to all of these topic areas with resources and information at WINTAC.

 

The Career Index logo

The Career Index Plus

The Career Index Plus (TCI+) includes state and local salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job trends and projections, current job openings, license requirements and certifications, education and experience requirements, and 200,000 training programs.

TCI+, offered through WINTAC, is a career information system that collects labor market information from a host of resources and deposits the information onto a single, user-friendly site. Access to TCI+ is free and the data is the most recent available.

The people behind TCI+ have spent almost 20 years specializing in labor-related data and are constantly combing a large array of sources to give VR professionals actionable labor market information for better, more informed career choices.

The following resources are presented through a collaboration between WINTAC and TCI+ and are intended to provide a comprehensive approach to training on this valuable resource.

  • Short Training Videos
    • Short training videos, each under 10 minutes in length
    • Provide VR professionals with short, direct, and relevant training materials on using features from TCI+
  • TCI+ Recorded Webinars 
    • Recorded from live webinars
    • Provide in-depth, comprehensive information and training on using The Career Index Plus.
  • TCI+ Resources
    • Provide VR agencies with training and informational materials on adopting The Career Index Plus as a labor market information tool.
  • Labor Market Information Resources
    • Provide VR agencies with comprehensive information on labor market data.

Do you want to keep up-to-date with new VR resources as they are added to the NCRTM? Follow them on Twitter @RSA_NCRTM and subscribe to their monthly New from NCRTM newsletter.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Way2Work: Helping Marylanders with Disabilities Transition into the Workforce

This is the final blog in a series of three blogs in October from the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) to honor National Disability Employment Awareness Month.


Way2Work Maryland logo

Way2Work Maryland is a project designed to improve the academic and career success of students with disabilities in Maryland through work-based learning experiences.

The project is open to any student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan who will complete high school with a diploma or certificate in 2020.

The project focuses on helping students engage in paid or unpaid work experiences, aligned with their interests and skills, while supporting a student’s academic success to complete high school.

During the 2018-19 school year, seven Maryland counties engaged in the program for juniors and other students who are two years away from finishing high school.

The program is a partnership of the Maryland’s Department of Education, Maryland’s Division of Rehabilitation Services, the American Job Center Network, and the Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education at the University of Maryland.

The following stories highlight the work done by those Way2Work Maryland serves.

Rose’s Story

RoseRose has always loved animals. Dogs, cats, horses, sheep—she loves them all. So, when she met her job developer, Wayne from Humanin, a job development/ career placement agency, there was no question about what industry to place her in.

Wayne was quick to connect Rose with a volunteer job at Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding School in Maryland.

Even though Rose had never worked in a stable, she quickly became one of the center’s top volunteers.

“She comes in and gets right to work,” said Kathleen Schmitt, executive director and founder of CTR. “She always has a smile on her face.”

Rose has achieved proficiency in grooming and feeding the horses, mucking stalls, and performing general barn duties.

When Rose completes this work-based learning experience, she will be qualified to work as a trainee at a horse farm anywhere.

Lisa Miceli, Rose’s mom and biggest advocate, said, “I want her to keep coming here, even if she gets another job. It’s been such a great experience for her.”

Karli’s Story

KarliKarli dreamed of finding a job that would combine her three loves: photography, art and design. Her first work-based learning experience was heavy on the art, but light on photography and design.

Her new job at Silver Linings Lavender, which she got through Way2Work, has everything she was looking for, but it took a positive attitude to find it.

Karli’s first day on the job was the day of the Pride Parade in Westminster, Maryland, one of the busiest retail days of the year. Traffic in the small boutique on Main Street was non-stop all day.

“There was a line out the door. Products were flying off the shelf,” says Dawn Pritchard, Silver Linings Lavender’s owner.

Having Karli’s help that day was really important; she re-stocked the shelves as quickly as they became empty.

“I can’t sell product if it’s not on the shelf,” says Dawn. “That day, I didn’t lose any money.”

According to Dawn, “To be in retail, you really have to be an extrovert.”

Karli is a shy person, and interacting with customers wasn’t her favorite thing. After that first day, Karli thought, “I wouldn’t want to do this for a living.”

Not wanting to interact with customers in a store could be a problem for someone who is shy like Karli; however, there’s a silver lining.

Dawn opened Silver Linings Lavender in 2013 as an online store, but it wasn’t until September 2017 that she expanded into a brick and mortar store. The majority of her business is still online, and that’s where Karli shines.

Now, at Silver Linings Lavender, Karli is learning to do online marketing and using her love of photography, art and design in a retail setting.

Dawn gave her an office and a computer, with software such as Photoshop and InDesign.

It’s a win-win for employer and employee.

“I didn’t have anyone to teach me (about business),” said Dawn, “so I’m happy to share what I know and spread the word.”

Coardell’s Story

CoardellBy day, Coardell is pursuing a trade in welding at Worcester Technical High School. He doesn’t love welding, but it’s better than any of the jobs he’s had at MacDonald’s or Walmart, or washing dishes at a restaurant in Ocean City, Maryland

Outside of school, though, Coardell has other passions. He amazes audiences with his dance moves. He has performed in venues all over Maryland’s Eastern Shore as well as in New York, and he dreams of making a living as a dancer and rapper one day.

Someone with the soul of a dancer might feel restricted and confined in the tight quarters of a welding booth, and the protective gear that welders wear—including a heavy mask—might make it hard for a dancer to move his feet.

Way2Work helped Coardell get a job at Go Glass, a shop that specializes in residential, commercial and auto glass. At Go Glass, Coardell has room to bust a move now and then.

“I finally found something I enjoy doing,” he says.

In addition to having room to move when he has the urge, a crucial piece of Coardell’s success is his mentor, Jeffrey Sewell.

Having a supportive person to show Coardell the ropes and to nudge him when he gets distracted has meant the difference between floundering and feeling comfortable on the shop floor.

Jeff is teaching Coardell all about the glass business—how to cut and install auto glass, table tops, mirrors and doors. He’s also teaching Coardell how to make window and door screens for homes and businesses.

Coardell has learned how to use a tape measure, how to cut glass, and how to keep the blades sharp by storing them in auto coolant. Each time Jeff gives Coardell a little bit more responsibility, Coardell grows more confident.

“He’s a good worker,” said Jeff. “He comes in and gets right to work.”

Way2Work Coordinator, Tammy Hauck, said she knew the environment Go Glass would accommodate Coardell’s needs. “It suits him,” said Tammy. “It gives him more space to be himself.”

Tim’s Story

TimAfter just two months on the job at Avenue Tailor and Cleaners in Westminster, Maryland, Tim is already looking forward to a big promotion.

This summer, he will receive management training and take over as manager of the store’s Gettysburg, Pennsylvania location.

“Dry cleaning was never my first thought,” says Tim. “But it worked for me.”

Tim has always wanted to work at or own a shoe store, so his job developer, Megan O’Neill of Schapiro Training & Employment Program (STEP), a Carroll County, MD supported employment agency, thought the small business on Main Street might be a good fit. She was right.

The experience he has gained at Avenue is pointing him toward college and a degree in business.

Working two-three hours a day, five days a week, Tim drives the company vehicle and picks up and delivers dry cleaning in four locations around Carroll County, Maryland. In his new job, he will learn how to work the front counter, interact with customers and gain an insider’s view of the operation.

According to Tim’s dad, Brian Wall, the job at Avenue Tailor, for which Tim is paid, has made a tremendous change in Tim.

Brian sees his son being more engaged in school and having a more positive attitude in general. Tim even signed up for the SATs on his own to the surprise and delight of his parents.

“I wish Way2Work would have been available when I was in high school,” said Brian. “You can’t put a price tag on experience.”


The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT), funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), assists state and local education agencies, state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and VR service providers in implementing evidence-based and promising practices to help ensure students with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Successful Work Experiences

Alaska and Nevada VR Websites

NOTE: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.


The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) assists state and local education agencies and VR agencies and service providers, and it keeps close contact with these agencies and providers in order to share real stories of real youth being supported in transition programs. Alaska and Nevada are just two of the states that are creating programs to help youth with disabilities transition into a work environment.

Alaska Division of Vocation Rehabilitation

Alaska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provided pre-employment transition service—a requirement of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) activities to 802 Alaskan students this year through a number of statewide initiatives including Transition Camps and its Summer Work programs.

Transition Camps

Transition Camps help students develop a vision for what their future can be by exposing them to career exploration and the resources they may need to successfully transition from school to work. These camps, located in predominantly rural areas of the state and juvenile justice facilities, served 236 students. Transition camps are a partnership between DVR, Disability Employment Initiative (DEI), and the Department of Education.

Summer Work Programs

Summer Work, a partnership program between DVR and DEI, focused on providing students with disabilities with a chance to have a paid 160-hour work experience to become work ready. Summer Work served 182 students in 2018, and 99 Alaskan businesses provided work sites for students engaged in the program. Summer Work programs are implemented by school districts and community agencies in rural and urban areas. This year’s big success was the Cordova School District summer program. Eight of the 14 students who participated transitioned to competitive integrated employment at the end of their work experience!

Nevada Department of Education

The Nevada Department of Education hosts and organizes the annual Nevada Student Leadership Transition Summit (NSLTS). The summit provides a forum for high school students with disabilities to participate in sessions focused on disability awareness, self-advocacy, resources for career and college planning, and networking events with providers and other teens across the state.

NSLTS can have a lasting impact on people’s lives.

Kascia Tognoli attended the NSLTS in 2008 and 2009 as a student from Lyon County School District’s Yerington High School.

NSLTS helped Kascia realize what she wanted to do for a career. When she reflected on her time at NSLTS to the summit’s organizer Jennifer Kane, Kascia said:

I knew from then on what I really wanted to do which is what I am doing now, helping adults and students with disabilities. I remember going to my mom and telling her what they were talking about at the conference, and that I was going to do that one day. You [NSLTS] are the main reason why I started doing what I do… At the conference I came to terms that I needed to love my disability because it makes me who I am!… I just want to tell you thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting on that conference, it changed my life!

Kascia is employed currently with K.E.T. Consulting, LLC—a provider of Pre-Employment Transition Services in the state.


The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT), funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), assists state and local education agencies, state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and VR service providers in implementing evidence-based and promising practices to help ensure students with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Transition Resources Help Agencies and Service Providers Support Youth with Disabilities

Logo - National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT)

This is the first blog in a series of three blogs in October from the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) to honor National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In this series, NTACT will share resources and success stories of NTACT-supported agencies and providers and individuals whom the agencies and providers assist.


The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) assists state and local education agencies, state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and VR service providers in implementing evidence-based and promising practices to help ensure students with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment.

NTACT, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), identifies effective practices to improve employment preparation and employment outcomes for students with disabilities.

In celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, NTACT wants to remind the field of some resources available on its website that focus on preparing students for successful careers after high school and college.

  • Guide to Developing School-Community-Business Partnerships
    Guidance for various audiences including families, community organizations, employers, schools, and agencies to develop and sustain partnerships focused on employment preparation and success for young people with disabilities.
  • Competitive Integrated Employment Toolkit A compilation of resources, focused on achieving competitive integrated employment and meaningful careers.
  • Predictors of Post-School Success
    Links to descriptions of researched factors and attributes and skills correlated with post-school success in employment and other post-school outcomes.
  • School to Work Timeline
    Timeline to consider for planning career development activities with students.
  • Wow! Success Stories
    A collection of video resources for students, families, and other stakeholders, featuring individuals with disabilities experiencing successful employment and other adult outcomes.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

ASPIRE!

ASPIRE logo

The Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income, or PROMISE, program is an interagency collaboration of the U.S. Education Department, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, the U.S. Labor Department and the U.S. Social Security Administration. The program strives to improve the education and career outcomes of low-income children with disabilities receiving Supplemental Security Income and their families. Under the PROMISE program, state agencies have partnered to develop and implement six model demonstration projects (MDPs) serving 11 states


Veronica and VictorAchieving Success by Promoting Readiness for Education and Employment, or ASPIRE, is a PROMISE model demonstration project consortium of six states—Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.

ASPIRE helps families gain a clear understanding of how benefits work and ways to earn more money while keeping their health care.

Equipped with this knowledge and the support of their ASPIRE case managers, ASPIRE Montana families are taking charge of their futures by participating in benefits counseling and returning to work.

Veronica, an ASPIRE parent, left her job to care for her son, Victor, when his seizures increased in frequency and severity. Veronica felt she could not go back to work because they needed Medicaid to cover the high costs of critical medications and procedures. This left the family with benefits that were not meeting their needs. They felt stuck between choosing health care and having enough money to pay for other essentials without going into debt.

As an eligible ASPIRE participant, Victor met with a certified benefits counselor and learned how employment really affects their benefits.

He has now set a goal to get a part-time job. To prepare for a job, Victor has learned how to read job descriptions, apply for jobs, and take advantage of the career services in his community.

Victor is also gaining independence and exploring assistive technology to help him move into employment and through life more safely and independently.

Veronica is planning to return to work.

Victor and Veronica have also shared the information they have learned through ASPIRE with the rest of their family. These two and their other family members are now connecting with services, applying for jobs, and moving toward financial security without risking the loss of their health insurance.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Finding Rehabilitation Training Materials: RSA Technical Assistance and Other Resources

National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM) -- RSA Funded Assistance & Other Resources

For National Disability Employment Awareness Month, check out the many resources available in the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM), funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).

Bookmark the NCRTM RSA Technical Assistance & Other Resources page for quick access to the RSA portal, RSA TA centers and funded projects, Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) federal partners, other resources and research databases.

In this second of a three-part blog series from NCRTM, we share information from three more RSA-funded TA centers and highlight resources that can serve as a springboard for learning about new ideas, and promising and effective practices for expanding disability employment opportunities.

View our first blog from NCRTM.


Logo - Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC)

Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC)

The WINTAC helps state VR agency staff, rehabilitation professionals and service providers develop the skills and processes needed to meet the requirements of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

WINTAC helps agencies, staff, professionals and service providers with pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) to students with disabilities and supports employment services to youth with disabilities. Pre-ETS makes up one of WINTAC’s five focus areas, all of which can be found on WINTAC’s site. The following links to Pre-ETS resources can help get you started:

  • WINTAC Pre-Employment Transition Services Page
    • Contains an overview of pre-employment transition services with information and links to promising practices and literature review, resources, training, frequently asked questions, and laws, regulations and policies
    • Describes the required Pre-ETS services that include:
      • Job exploration counseling
      • Work-based learning experiences, which may include in-school or after school opportunities, experiences outside of the traditional school setting, and/or internships
      • Counseling on opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or postsecondary educational programs
      • Workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living
      • Instruction in self-advocacy
    • WINTAC Promising Practices and Literature Review on Pre-Employment Transition Services
      • Features promising practices and full-text links to the literature related to each of the required Pre-ETS services

Logo - Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center for Youth with Disabilities (Y-TAC)

Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center for Youth with Disabilities (Y-TAC)

The Y-TAC provides TA to state VR agencies to improve services to and outcomes of students with disabilities who:

  • Are in school and not receiving services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); and
  • Youth with disabilities who are no longer in school and are not employed, including dropouts, youth in the juvenile justice system, homeless youth and youth in foster care.

The following Y-TAC resources offer information related to customized employment.

  • The Essential Elements of Customized Employment for Universal Application (co-developed with WINTAC)
    • Customized employment focuses on the individual’s strengths, needs, interests and abilities and the employer’s business needs, and is carried out through flexible strategies.
    • Guide for the universal application of these elements across service delivery and training providers.
  • Recommendations for Customized Employment Practices (co-developed with WINTAC)
    • Outlines practices that subject matter experts recommend for effectively practicing CE. This document focuses on practices related to Customized Job Development. This document can also inform training on and evaluation of CE.

Logo - National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT)

National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT)

NTACT helps state and local education agencies, state VR agencies and other VR service providers to implement evidence–based and promising practices to ensure students with disabilities stay in school, progress in school, and graduate with knowledge, skills, and supports needed to succeed in postsecondary education and employment.


Do you want to keep up-to-date with new VR resources as they are added to the NCRTM? Follow them on Twitter @RSA_NCRTM and subscribe to their monthly New from NCRTM newsletter.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

The Importance of Connection

AR PROMISE logo

The Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income or PROMISE, program is an interagency collaboration of the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Social Security Administration. The program strives to improve the education and career outcomes of low-income children with disabilities receiving Supplemental Security Income and their families. Under the PROMISE program, state agencies have partnered to develop and implement six model demonstration projects (MDPs) serving 11 states.


Arkansas PROMISE program’s three primary components are intensive case management provided by a case manager, known as a “connector,” hired from the community; at least two paid summer work experiences of up to 200 hours each; and additional education provided during required monthly meetings and through a week-long, statewide summer camp.

The first component gets perhaps the least attention and is regarded as the least sustainable. Connectors support the household’s needs and engagement with PROMISE services and existing resources.

While the realities of agency budgets make small caseloads difficult, data from the PROMISE projects where small caseloads were a component may encourage us to rethink priorities and invest in a strategy that has proven its value.

We invited Arkansas youth and parents to share stories of the impact PROMISE has had on their lives and communities. Their testimonies emphasized the importance of the relationships the connector has been able to build and the lasting impact that they have had on the families they engaged.

Phillips County, located in the Delta region of Arkansas, is a prime example. The median household income in Phillips County is $26,829 and the poverty rate is 33.5%. African Americans make up 62 percent of the population and 91 percent of those individuals live in poverty.

In September, Denise Olloway, the Phillips County connector, began the final monthly meeting for her caseload participants by sharing some statistics as part of a ceremony to recognize the participants’ accomplishments. She started with a caseload of 23 youth and their families three and half years ago. Of those, four moved out of state and three did not engage with the services. Of the 16 youth remaining, 10 have graduated from high school and two are seniors scheduled to graduate in 2019. Five youth are employed full-time, and two are attending college. One of those attending college is also working part-time.

Denise had asked three youth and three parents to say something about how PROMISE had impacted them, but almost every youth and parent at the ceremony chose to speak.

The youth used the words, “PROMISE changed my life.” They spoke about how they had learned to earn money, use money wisely and save. They talked about how they had learned about communication and work skills. One young man talked about how he had been living on the streets and stealing to survive before PROMISE, and now he was earning and bringing in money.

Parents talked about how PROMISE had “opened doors for our kids.”

“It’s not just about the money. It’s about all the things the kids have learned. When they said we had to come to these meetings, I thought, ‘I’m not going to meetings,’ but I came to the first one, and I’ve been to all of them since then,” said one father who attends required monthly meetings.

As each youth and parent spoke, it was clear that “Ms. Denise” was the stimulus that brought people into the program, got them engaged, encouraged them, goaded them to keep them motivated, and kept them involved in working toward their education and employment goals.

One mother talked about how Denise had “come into our home, not with anger or disrespect, but with the same [positive] attitude every time.”

It was clear that the youth and families felt loved and supported by Denise, and that they loved and supported her in return. Every single person present said to her, “We love you” or “I love you.”

I attended the meeting in Phillips County to give a presentation about the Arkansas no-cost extension, which services would continue, and to reassure participants that they were not being left alone.  However, that presentation proved to be superfluous.

Denise had done her job well. She had connected the families on her caseload with local and statewide resources that could provide assistance and showed them how to access those services. She had helped the youth and parents identify goals and the steps needed to accomplish those goals. She believed they could achieve their goals, and they believed in themselves.

The participants in Phillips County did not need PROMISE any more. They did not need a connector. They will always want Denise in their lives as an encourager, mentor and friend, but they did not need her as a service provider. She provided them with the knowledge, skills, and connections to continue achieving their goals and setting new ones.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

NDEAM 2018 | Kwik Trip

NOTE: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Kwik Trip Storefront

In addition to assisting individuals with disabilities prepare for, secure, retain, advance in or regain employment through the provision of vocational rehabilitation (VR) services, state VR agencies provide training and other services to employers who have hired or are interested in hiring individuals with disabilities under the VR program. A few state VR agencies in the Midwest have demonstrated how uniquely positioned they are to meet the needs of both individuals with disabilities and employers through their partnership with Kwik Trip, a family-owned business of convenience stores.

Several years ago, Kwik Trip realized its ability to deliver exemplary customer services was sometimes hampered by the range of functions its Guest Services Coworkers had to manage while also being available to serve customers, especially at busy times of the day. To address this issue, Kwik Trip developed a new position, the Retail Helper, but early efforts to implement the position within the company were unsuccessful—until the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation proposed a solution. The state VR agency would serve as a single point of contact to implement a uniform approach to designing the Retail Helper position by recruiting individuals with disabilities and training them to be successful.

The partnership in Wisconsin provided quick results and Kwik Trip soon replicated the model with Vocational Rehabilitation Services in Iowa, where the company operates as Kwik Star, and Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation Services.

Today, Retail Helpers in stores across all three states handle a range of responsibilities allowing Guest Services Coworkers more time to focus on customer service.

Currently, roughly half the company’s 634 stores employ Retail Helpers. Not only do state VR agencies help recruit and train individuals with disabilities for the positions, but they provide ongoing supports, as appropriate, including supported employment services.

After five years, the partnership has been a boon not just for recruitment, but also retention. In 2017, the rate of turnover among Retail Helpers was just 9 percent compared to 45 percent for all part-time employees. Many Retail Helpers have been promoted to Guest Services Coworkers—creating new opportunities for them and those hired to take their place.

Kwik Trip Employees

For these reasons and more, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation recognized Kwik Trip as its 2018 National Employment Team’s Business of the Year.

For more information about the VR programs that collaborate with Kwik Trip, please visit our partners at the Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services; Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation Services; and Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.


In recognition of NDEAM and in partnership with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR), OSERS highlights one of the many successful business partnerships that state VR agencies have developed across the country.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Kathleen West Evans, Director of Business Relations, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
Posted by
Director of Business Relations Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
Chris Pope
Posted by
Rehabilitation Services Administration Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services U.S. Department of Education

NDEAM 2018 | “Always Aim High!”

Note: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Christopher Pauley does the Marshmallow Challenge.

Christopher Pauley does the Marshmallow Challenge / CBS

Christopher graduated with a degree in computer science from California Polytechnic State University and set his sights on becoming a Software Engineer. Over the course of two years, Christopher applied for nearly 600 positions without much success.

As a result of his disability, and like other individuals who have autism spectrum disorders, Christopher had some limitations with social and communication skills that made interviewing for jobs a challenge. His strengths, however, included an acute attention to detail and a strong ability to recognize patterns. He was also a video game guru.

Christopher Pauley plays Rock Band video game.

Christopher Pauley plays Rock Band video game / CBS

In 2015, Christopher began to receive vocational rehabilitation (VR) services from the California Department of Rehabilitation. His VR Counselor provided counseling and guidance and helped Christopher learn more about his career skills through a vocational assessment. A Business Specialist worked with Christopher to build his resume and hone his interviewing skills.

In August 2016, Microsoft accepted Christopher into its Autism Hiring Program. According to the company’s website, “the academy provides applicants with disabilities an opportunity to showcase their unique talents and meet hiring managers and teams while learning about the company.”

Christopher completed Microsoft’s multiple-day hiring process—a hands-on academy that focuses on workability, team projects, and skills assessment; and one month later, Microsoft hired Christopher as a Software Engineer! He completed the company’s onboarding process and developed a relationship with his mentor, a Microsoft colleague.

During his first few months of work, Christopher received supports from PROVAIL, a non-profit multi-service agency based in Seattle as he settled into his new position.

Christopher Pauley working at a computer at Microsoft

Christopher Pauley working at a computer at Microsoft / CBS

Today, Christopher lives independently in his own apartment and drives himself to work each day. His advice to other individuals with disabilities as they pursue their career goals: “Don’t give up and make sure to always aim high. Don’t aim in the middle, you know, shoot for the stars every time cause you never know what might happen.”

In February 2018, Christopher appeared on Sunday Morning, a CBS television news program. The program featured his story and that of a young woman who also has autism and her career with a multinational enterprise software firm.

To read the story or watch the clip, visit Sunday Morning.

For more information about the VR program in California, visit our partners at the California Department of Rehabilitation.


OSERS shares Christopher’s success story in recognition of NDEAM and in partnership with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Kathleen West Evans, Director of Business Relations, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
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Kathy West-Evans Director of Business Relations Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
Chris Pope
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Christopher Pope Rehabilitation Services Administration Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services U.S. Department of Education