State celebrates 100 years of Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services

Posted at 6:22 PM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-06 22:12:29-04

HELENA — The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services (VRBS) program celebrated 100 years of service on Tuesday at the State Capitol.

Part of the Disability Employment and Transitions Division, VRBS connects thousands of disabled Montanans with career counseling, information and referrals, training services, and job placement services.

“This program breaks down barriers that stand in the way of individuals with disabilities reaching their full potential,” DPHHS Director Sheila 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.”

Former VRBS client Lois McElravy spoke at the Tuesday event and shared her own experiences with the program after suffering a serious brain injury.

After learning her injury would have lasting implications on her life, a chance encounter with a high school friend directed her to VRBS.

VRBS staff helped McElravy find and learn compensatory skills, but more importantly showed her there was a path forward.

“VRBS counselors inspired me with hope for a brighter future,” said McElravy.

The mission of VRBS is to promote opportunities for Montanans with disabilities to have rewarding careers and achieve their personal potential.

VRBS offers individualized vocational rehabilitation and supportive services to assist individuals obtain and grow in jobs that are compatible with their skills and abilities. The services also allow older visually impaired or blind individuals with the ability to live more independently in their homes and communities.

A newer component of VRBS is the Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) program offered to all school-enrolled students with disabilities aged 14-21 in Montana. The services help students get an early start to job exploration and instruction in self-advocacy. The program serves over 1,500 high school students with disabilities each year.

“Pre-ETS helped me with becoming an adult,” Candy Cohen of Missoula 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.”

On June 2, 1920, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Civilian Rehabilitation Act into law. 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.

More information about VRBS can be found here.