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A reflection on the vocational rehabilitation program.

The wider application of the principles of quality is crucial to the creation of a vocational rehabilitation (VR) environment where we reach beyond a closure to assure that consumers have the tools they require in order to approach their working life as a continuum and a career path. In addition, we must also commit ourselves to the goal that, with each closure, we will assist each consumer to earn a living wage.

I would like to take this opportunity to discuss with readers what our research is showing us about education of VR consumers in relation to quality employment outcomes--not only the importance of higher education for jobs in the new economy but also the importance of basic education and literacy to the improvement of the single biggest indicator of outcome quality: earnings.

The Role of Higher Education in the Quality of Employment Outcomes

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that through 2006 most of the occupations with the highest expected number of new jobs will require higher education. Changes in the structure of the work place will require skills of adaptation rather than skills tied to specific job descriptions, implying that the individual will engage in lifelong learning, work outside a job description and adapt to changing job demands.

Labor force participation and education are highly correlative for persons with and without disabilities, with a greater correlation for persons with disabilities. The 1997 Current Population Survey, a joint project of the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, indicates that, of persons with less than a high school education, 18 percent of persons with work disabilities are in the labor force, compared with almost 77 percent of persons without work disabilities. For college graduates, 53 percent of persons with work disabilities are in the labor force, compared with 90 percent of persons without work disabilities.

Providing funding for higher education to VR consumers is an investment that can lead to lifelong employment. RSA will continue to work to find innovative ways to provide you with resources to support this important work. Additional avenues available to some consumers include adult basic education programs.

What RSA's Longitudinal Study Says About Basic Skills

RSA's Longitudinal Study of the Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program brought into sharp focus what VR professionals had long suspected: the higher a consumer's levels of achievement in reading and math, the higher his or her level of earnings is likely to be. According to the study's findings, consumers earning $5 per hour or less averaged a reading level of just over grade 7 and a math achievement level of nearly grade 6.5. In contrast, those consumers earning $7.01-$9.00 per hour average a reading achievement level of grade 9.9 and a math level of grade 9.0.

For those consumers whose hourly wage exceeds $9 per hour, the levels of reading and math achievement are even higher: grades 10.3 and 9.9 respectively. Reading and math achievement levels appear to be the more important factor, given the fact that the years of education completed for those consumers earning $5 per hour or less averages 11.4 and the years of completed education for those consumers earning between $7.01 and $9.00 per hour is 12.3 (less than a grade level difference). For those consumers earning more than $9 per hour, postsecondary education seems to be a factor, given that the average number of years of completed education for this group is 13.1. Still, reading and math achievement levels appear to have the greatest influence on earnings for all groups.

A corollary to the RSA study is that the higher a consumer's levels of achievement in reading and math, the more likely he or she will find employment that provides health insurance. In addition to basic earnings paid to VR consumers, the availability of health insurance for those individuals is often critical; but only 13 percent of jobs that pay $5 or less per hour offer health insurance. Nearly 31 percent of individuals who are placed in competitive employment by a VR agency make more than $5 but less than $7 per hour; but only 35 percent of jobs that pay more than $5 but less than $7 per hour offer health insurance. For slightly higher paying jobs, the percentage that offer health insurance increases significantly. For example, 52.1 percent of jobs that pay more than $7 but less than $9 per hour offer health insurance.

The Role of Adult Basic Education Programs

Recognizing what the Longitudinal Study indicates about the importance of basic skills in reading and math to consumer earnings and the availability of health insurance benefits, clearly basic skills training for our consumers is an area that requires our attention, if we are truly committed to reaching beyond a quantitive outcome focus. It is time for us to begin, in earnest, partnerships with adult basic education programs. These partnerships could enable both VR agencies and adult basic education programs to improve products and services. For adult basic education programs, the "plus side" is an improvement to their programming for individuals with learning and other disabilities. Adult basic education programs are already serving these populations through their work with transitioning welfare recipients and others. For VR, there is the benefit of not having to reinvent basic skills training and to utilize existing structures.

Effective Service to Individuals with Disabilities Within Adult Basic Education Programs

In building partnerships with adult basic education programs, certain factors need to be taken into account to increase the likelihood of success among VR consumers accessing these services. Adult basic education is not viewed by most VR counselors as beneficial for individuals with mental retardation and other cognitive disabilities. However, there is a greater potential for skill improvement if the skills training is provided in relationship to the job functions being completed by such an individual. If VR counselors had an understanding of adult basic education programs and the kinds of services they provided and could explain them, more consumers might pursue this option in their search for quality employment.

In general, adult basic education programs are not designed with individuals with disabilities in mind. There are several ways that this barrier can be overcome. On the accommodation side, there needs to be physically accessible teaching space, alternate format materials and interpreter services available, specialized diagnostic and assessment capabilities, and a recognition of differing learning and test-taking styles, among other accommodations.

In terms of programmatic understanding and incorporation of basic approaches to serving individuals with disabilities, the following characteristics appear necessary within adult basic education programs in order to facilitate success of VR consumers and other individuals with disabilities:

* Association of the material learned to the functions completed in the work setting;

* Building on the student's existing knowledge base, rather than approaching learning from a remedial perspective;

* Fostering the student's self-esteem and giving regular and frequent feedback;

* Providing assistance in realistic goal-setting; and

* Accepting differing learning and test-taking styles.

The Future of VR/Adult Basic Education Partnerships

Much needs to be done to educate and inform professionals in both the VR and adult basic education fields regarding the participation of individuals with disabilities in skill development programs. The results of the RSA Longitudinal Study lay out for us in no uncertain terms that there is a link between skill levels in reading and math and an individual's earning capacity. We can no longer afford to ignore what we have so long suspected.

If VR approaches the adult basic education community with a message that this can be a "win-win" partnership, wherein the expertise of VR professionals augments the efforts of adult basic education programs to serve all individuals with disabilities, it seems highly likely that we can build a meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship between the two programs at each state and local level. VR professionals can expect technical assistance materials from RSA regarding adult basic education programs, how to contact them and how to partner with them more effectively. In addition, RSA and our other federal partners within the adult basic education community will work to develop demonstration and other projects to encourage innovation in this area.
Mark Shoob
Deputy Commissioner
Rehabilitation Services
COPYRIGHT 2001 U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Shoob, Mark
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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