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.”

Job outlook positive for injured, unemployed workers


Finding a job in this economy can be tough for anyone. Fresh college graduates are considered lucky to get their foot in the right door, and there’s little telling what’s available for a person with a high school diploma. Even more unsure are those unemployed with a disability.

Fortunately, John Holt, 40, an injured construction worker from West Valley City, recently found a job working for a contractor. After applying for disability because of the lack of interest from employers, Holt landed a four-day-a-week job doing what he loves most.

But after a few days, things weren’t looking good for Holt.

“I was doing tile, and one day walking up a hill I heard a pop and a tearing noise in my calf,” Holt said. “It all swelled up and I can’t put weight on my toes and I can’t walk. I have to use a cane.”

And so this self-described action junkie is back on his quest. He wants help from the Disability Law Center.

“If they say no, I will appeal. But I haven’t gotten an answer back yet,” Holt said. “I should have went on disability a long time ago. The doctors knew what they were talking about.”

The doctors Holt sees are providers for Primary Care Network’s health care insurance program. “They accepted me right away for insurance. They will still help me with meds, which are about $400 a month. That’s basically my house payment, so it really helps,” Holt said. “Some prescriptions I only pay $25 for.”

Emma Chacon, a representative for PCN, said there is a significant population of adults like Holt who don’t have insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid. These people are welcomed at PCN.

“The Primary Care Network is essentially a waiver program under the larger Medicaid program to provide preventative care to individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid,” Chacon said. “We pay up to four prescriptions a month and life-and-limb emergencies. We don’t pay for in-patient hospital or specialty care.”

While Holt can get by paying for his pain medications with help from PCN, the PCN’s program cannot help him get the back surgery he needs.

“We don’t cover that, but we do have specialists that will go out and try to get donated services for recipients with significant issues,” Chacon said.

After receiving an MRI a few months ago, granted to him by Vocational Rehabilitation’s Client Assistance program, Holt knows he needs to see a doctor — not only to fix his back, but also to allow him to heal.

“The person I seen was a pharmacist at the pain clinic and he told me to see a physician next time about procedures,” he said. “But the visit will cost me extra and what I should do about the results will cost, too. If I do get disability insurance then I will definitely go to a physician and get a procedure done so I can go back to construction, where my knowledge is.”

Holt realizes that if his back surgery is unobtainable, he must change his occupation.

“I am still in the same position fighting injury after injury,” he said. “I need to do work that’s not so physical, and that’s the hardest part. My whole life, I’ve been outdoors doing a lot of things. But then again, I’ve been outdoors in car wrecks, getting hurt, playing games and getting hurt.”

So Holt has found himself back at the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation applying for Vocational Rehabilitation’s services. He will take the aptitude test again, as he has before, in the hope of finding the right job placement for him.

“It’s really fun,” Holt said. “They have you do a bunch of tests to figure out career choices you should make.”

According to the Web site, USOR’s mission is to help individuals with disabilities to obtain employment and increase their independence. Its most recent council report states that 21,997 individuals were provided with vocational rehabilitation services and 3,310 individuals with disabilities were successfully employed.

“I am a fairly decent artist,” Holt said. “But I’m 40 years old and there’s kids out there really confident on the computer and the programs they use. So I’m glad Vocational Rehab will pay for training.”

In fact, 64 percent of Vocational Rehabilitation’s expenditures go toward training individuals for jobs. Occupations include service occupations, sales and clerical work and industrial work. Holt will likely be placed in a clerical occupation based on his current abilities.

“I am not worried about the work. I am skilled with my hands and my mind. But to sit around every day with people that have nothing in common with me? It’s a change of lifestyle,” he said. “I don’t even know what regular people get paid and what a regular day is. What is the deal? Nine to five? What do you do for lunches? I mean, I don’t even know.”

More people are finding themselves in a situation similar to Holt’s. Whether unemployment comes as a result of injury or economic downsizing, finding a job can be difficult. However, the results can be fruitful for everyone. According to USOR, an estimated $16 million in annual taxes were paid by vocationally rehabilitated individuals last year.

Several organizations, like the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, the Department of Workforce Services for jobs and careers, and the Workers Compensation Fund are available to assist individuals seeking employment help.

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