Utah’s employment resources for people with disabilities

Story and slideshow by PAUL S. GRECO

Meet Corby Campbell and learn more about his success story.

People with disabilities bring valuable skills to the workforce. For example, in 2008 the National Science Foundation reported more than 600,000 scientists and engineers in the U.S. have disabilities.

Some top innovators have learning disabilities, including chief executive officers of Ford Motor Co., Xerox, Kinko’s and Charles Schwab. Apple’s Steve Jobs had dyslexia.

The federal government and each state provide means for people with disabilities to receive assistance with getting employment.

The Utah State Office of Rehabilitation (USOR) is located in downtown Salt Lake City inside the Utah State Board of Education building. Its mission is to assist eligible people with disabilities in obtaining employment and increasing their independence.

The USOR has four divisions: the Division of Rehabilitation Services, Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Division of Disability Determination Services.

Kyle Walker was recently selected as the director of the DRS. He’s been employed with USOR for 13 years.

Born in California and raised in New Mexico, Walker received his Bachelor of Science in sociology and Master of Rehabilitation Counseling degrees from Utah State University. He’s lived in Utah for 20 years.

Walker said every counselor working for USOR has a master’s degree and is licensed with the National Board for Certified Counselors in addition to being state certified.

“So when a person comes in our door,” Walker said, “we’re not just looking at ‘let’s go get you a job at McDonald’s.’”

Instead, clients are given an assessment by a certified counselor. This evaluation is to help the client make meaningful choices for employment, taking into account their interests, aptitudes, abilities and values.

But first, a client must be considered eligible for counseling.

As one of the four divisions within USOR, The Utah Division of Disability Determination Services (DDS) is designed to determine if a claimant is disabled or blind.

Because 40 percent of USOR’s clients have mental illness and 25 percent have cognitive disabilities, evidence must first be obtained. To attain evidence, a claimant’s medical records are sought. If that evidence is unavailable or insufficient to make a determination, the DDS will arrange for a consultative examiner’s evaluation in order to gain additional information.

After sufficient information is gathered, a determination is made by a two-person team consisting of a physician or psychologist and a disability examiner.

If the claimant is found eligible, employment counseling is conducted under the DRS’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program.

After completing the assessment, determinations are made for clients regarding not only their interests and abilities, but also what is needed to obtain employment.

For example, if it’s decided that schooling is the best option, VR will pay for the client’s tuition costs. If transportation is an issue, VR will provide travel arrangements to work sites through UTA or by making special accommodations to the clients’ vehicles — things like hand controls on steering wheels or wheelchair lifts.

If working for an employer is not the answer, USOR will fund self-employment opportunities.

“Really, our program is whatever we can do, whatever’s necessary to help them get back to work,” said Walker, director of the Division of Rehabilitation Services.

Eighty percent of the funding for VR’s services comes from the federal government. The remaining 20 percent is provided by the state’s Department of Education.

Employing individuals with a disability benefits both state and government.

In 2005, the University of Utah’s Center for Public Policy & Administration conducted an Economic Impact Study. The results showed that for every dollar the state contributes to the Vocational Rehabilitation program, $5.64 is returned. These returns are in terms of individuals paying taxes from employment and no longer needing government and state assistance.

Corby Campbell, 27, was born in Utah and lives in Orem. Nine years ago Campbell broke his neck in an accident and uses a motorized wheelchair.

“I can’t feel anything below my armpits or move anything below my armpits,” Campbell said.

He said someone told him about the Vocational Rehab program and that it might be able to help pay for college and other job-related necessities.

“And so, I went there,” Campbell said, “expecting to find help from them to get me through school.”

He talked with VR’s counselors and they helped him get started at Salt Lake Community College. Later, he transferred to Brigham Young University and graduated with a Bachelor of Computer Science degree. The Vocational Rehab program paid all his tuition costs.

“They’re wonderful,” Campbell said. “They’re super great people that are just all about trying to help you and figure out just where you want to go.”

In addition to helping with his schooling, VR got him in touch with the right people so he could buy a van.

He bought one with a ramp. VR paid for steering wheel modifications and other hand controls like special knobs to control the wipers, heating controls and other items.

“So that I could drive it independently, which was great,” Campbell said.

He felt his counselors liked working with him because he had direction and he was trying to obtain the goals they set with him.

Campbell finished school in December 2010 and started working full time as a software developer for Mobil Productivity Inc. in Orem the following February.

But his van broke down.

He bought a new one and paid for all of the modifications himself.

“I’m completely self-sustaining,” Campbell said. “That’s what a degree and a van did for me. That’s the point of VR.”

Another resource that helps people with disabilities find employment is TURN Community Services located at 423 W. 800 South in Salt Lake City.

Karen Wright directs two programs for TURN, vocational rehabilitation, and employment personal assistance service.

The latter assists clients who need help with daily living tasks so they can get ready for work. In addition, if the person needs help during work, a personal assistant will act as a liaison for the employer and TURN’s client. These services are provided free of charge.

Wright also works directly with USOR’s vocational rehab counselors once they have completed a client’s assessment and determined whether she or he can work.

“We start on thing like resume, job development, some life skills. Things like learning how to use a bus, learning how to use TRAX, learning how to advocate for themselves,” Wright said.

The list of companies that hire people with disabilities is long. Businesses include Home Depot, Kentucky Fired Chicken, Dan’s Market, WinCo Foods and Sutherlands.

Wright said people with disabilities are very dedicated. “They want to get up in the morning and get ready and they want to go to work. They really like working and they’re good hard workers.”

Being able to be in the workforce not only increases the income a person with a disability makes, but also betters their quality of life.

According to USOR, the following information demonstrates the individual and program success VR achieved during 2012:

  • 30,853 individuals were provided with VR services.
  • 3,427 individuals with disabilities were successfully employed.
  • $15,437,130 in estimated annual taxes were paid.
  • 146 public assistance recipients were successfully employed.
  • 671 Social Security Disability Insurance recipients were successfully employed.

In addition, clients found work in the following areas:

  • 1,032 industrial
  • 754 sales/clerical
  • 727 service occupations
  • 704 professional occupations
  • 98 homemaker/unpaid family worker
  • 74 farm/fishing/forestry
  • 37 self-employed

“This is how welfare programs should work,” Corby Campbell said. “This is what I see Vocational Rehab as: (it) is something to help people that fell down … get back in a way so they can be independent.”

Utah organizations for people with disabilities see need for financial improvement

Story and photos by DYLAN LIERD

Under the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Utah State Legislature authorized more than $215 million to assist people with disabilities in Utah. However, organizations like the Division of Services for People with Disabilities and TURN Community Services Inc. still cannot provide assistance for all.   

According to the DSPD’s website, it is the main source of assistance for Utahns with disabilities. The DSPD serves more than 4,000 individuals, and helps fund some of the more than 50 for profit and nonprofit organizations that provide assistance for people with disabilities.

According to a source in DSPD’s financial department who asked not to be identified, more than 1,900 citizens are still on DSPD’s waiting list. He said that for those who currently receive services, the $215 million is not enough to finance the needs of all Utahns with disabilities.  

“We have half as many people on the waiting list that we are able to serve,” said the source in a phone interview. “The limit of financial assistance was not created from the sequester or the federal government. The legislature appropriated what they could, but there is not enough tax dollars to fill all of the need.”

Consequently, DSPD must determine whether a person is eligible for assistance by evaluating the severity of an applicant’s disability. According to DSPD’s website, individuals who have an IQ of 70 or lower lack daily living skills, which impairs their ability to grapple with the demands of daily life. For that reason, they will receive assistance, or will be prioritized on the waiting list.

The same is true for those who have physical disabilities or brain injuries. Funding for physical disabilities is based on functional loss of limbs, and if the loss is for a continuous period. For brain injuries, the severity of the physical trauma or non-traumatic injury is used to justify the individual’s need to receive services. Preferences are not given to any disability, but priorities are given to applicants who have the most needs.

People who receive financial support are more often long-term recipients. Applicants on the waiting list can only receive financial assistance when there is an increased amount of legislative allotment, or if a recipient dies or moves out of the state.

Eliza Detherage gathers information concerning people with disabilities and TURN.

Eliza Detherage gathers information concerning people with disabilities and TURN.

Eliza Detherage, director of operations for TURN Community Services, said too many people are being turned away from receiving funding due to a lack of revenue.  

“Around 3 percent of the population have a disability in the United States,” Detherage said. “If the population of Utah is around 2 million, then 60,000 people have a disability in Utah, but only a few meet the requirements.”

TURN Community Services employs more than 475 full- and part-time workers, and provides supervised living and 24-hour group homes for people with disabilities. According to TURN’s website, the nonprofit provides summer camps for kids and helps people with disabilities find job opportunities from a variety of employers. A contract with DSPD largely funds TURN Community Services, and for 2013, its budget is more than $14 million. The budget provides financing for supported employment, day programs, respite care, host homes and other services.

According to a document posted on TURN’s website about the contractual agreement with DSPD, it must be an approved Medicaid provider to allow DSPD to bill Medicaid for TURN’s services. Detherage said Medicaid is an essential service for people with disabilities and for TURN. Included with Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income and Social Security disability programs also help fund the costs of TURN’s programs. Detherage said less than 1 percent of TURN’s clients are on SSI or the disability programs. That means few receive additional funding.

“On a broad scale, when you look at people with disabilities, everything we receive is essential. Should there be more? Absolutely,” Detherage said. “I get about 10 calls a week from people that are absolutely desperate, but I know those people are not going to be eligible for services, and if they were eligible, they would just be sitting on the waiting list.”

Areas where TURN helps Utahns with disabilities.

Areas where TURN helps Utahns with disabilities.

Individuals on SSI receive $710 a month, an amount set by Utah law. Detherage said this is the only amount that many people with disabilities have. Therefore, because many people with disabilities cannot work, she said she believes the state legislature must appropriate more funding in order to shrink DSPD’s waiting list and allocate more to SSI beneficiaries.

Mike Bullson is a lawyer at Utah Legal Services. “The monthly benefit is limited, but the only way to receive greater amounts of funding is to allocate more money before being unable to work,” Bullson said in a phone interview. “This would help bring a lot of people out of poverty, but [it] is hard for disabled individuals to do.”

The source at DSPD said the amount of tax revenue the state receives does not allow the state legislature to allocate greater amounts of funding to Utahns with disabilities. Until legislators approve additional funding, organizations like DSPD and TURN Community Services must continue to work with their current funding. And that means many on DSPD’s waiting list will continue to remain there.