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Achieving excellence in rehabilitation education.

Achieving Excellence in Rehabilitation Education

Vocational rehabilitation, as many of you know from personal experience, is a labor intensive, human service interaction. The work of the rehabilitation counselor and the entire rehabilitation team is central to the success of the disabled individual -- as that individual is freed from the bonds of dependency and moves towards and achieves employment, independence and full integration into the community.

The infrastructure that carries the weight of the state-federal vocational rehabilitation program is dependent to a large degree upon the authorities in the Rehabilitation Act that provide for the recruitment, selection, education and training, and placement of a sufficient number of qualified rehabilitation personnel.

The great social planners, who in 1954 recognized the need for specially prepared rehabilitation personnel, gave us a multi-faceted training and education program with sufficient flexibility to accommodate pressing and everchanging needs for a wide variety of professional and technically oriented administrators and direct service providers. Section 304 of the Rehabilitation Act authorizes the RSA Commissioner to make grants and let contracts with states and public and non-profit agencies and organizations for the purpose of increasing the numbers of personnel trained to provide vocational, medical, social, and psychological rehabilitation services to people with disabilities.

RSA's Rehabilitation Training Program is designed to increase the supply of newly trained qualified personnel and to maintain and upgrade basic skills and knowledge of personnel employed as providers of rehabilitation services.

We are now facing an everexpanding crisis concerning the shortage of qualified rehabilitation practitioners, administrators, educators, and researchers. This situation has been amply documented by various studies and in the testimony in the 1988 Bi-Regional Training Forums. On an ongoing basis, our Regional Offices receive calls from universities and from providers of rehabilitation services seeking qualified people to fill vacancies -- especially because those pioneers in rehabilitation who entered the program in the 1950's and 1960's are now retiring at an accelerating rate. Our site visits to rehabilitation counseling programs indicate that in some regions there is an increasing number of "secondary workers" and retirees entering advanced degree programs. The student profiles do not resemble the profiles of the 1960's and 1970's. We lack sizable numbers of minority students in the program who could assist state agencies in effectively working with clients from various cultures. Bilingual students are minimal in all of the rehabilitation disciplines we support with RSA funds. These shortages will undoubtedly surface again when we complete the RSA Training Needs Assessment the RSA Training Needs Assessment initiative currently under way across the country. The shortages being experienced by many medical, educational and engineering disciplines are now beginning to affect the provision of services in the field of rehabilitation. With the decreasing total number of available workers in the labor market, the challenge escalates.

With the assistance of the staff at the University of Oklahoma, the Regional Continuing Education Programs, and the state vocational rehabilitation agencies, last December we embarked on a nationwide effort to ensure that the state vocational rehabilitation agencies effectively manage and retain their human resources. Employee capacity building is the major purpose of our state agency in-service programs and the regional continuing education programs. These agencies are no longer involved in just "training" -- they are changing their systems to address the needs of human resource development. They are working hard to assure that they have the right qualified people in the right jobs meeting the needs of people who are severely disabled. The basic goals of the human resource programs are to create opportunities for employees to acquire the appropriate knowledge and skills to do their jobs under everchanging circumstances and to meet newly identified needs of the people they serve and the agency they work for.

To meet these basic goals and the increasing shortage of qualified personnel, state agencies, educators and other providers are faced daily with problems that beg for creative and resourceful solutions if we are successfully to recruit, train, employ, and retain "the best and the brightest," "the dedicated and the loyal," and "the professional and the accountable" people for the critical work that is performed in the vast national network that comprises the state-federal vocational rehabilitation service delivery system.

We are all familiar with some of these problems: low salaries, poor working conditions, too much paperwork, heavy caseloads, too close supervision, and inadequate or outmoded training or education.

As rehabilitation professionals, each of us holds a special responsibility, an obligation, to seek and to provide the best training and education that money can buy to assure the availability of qualified rehabilitation workers for the state-federal service delivery system. RSA wants and will be a major partner in that initiative. We are fully aware that people are the most valuable resource in the state-federal program. I know that in concert with the rehabilitation educators and training specialists, the providers of rehabilitation services can assist in developing programs that will assure the education and training needed to get the right people to the right jobs.

We stand at the crossroads of rehabilitation education. RSA is embarking on a number of projects that require the knowledge, experience, talents, and wisdom of everyone involved, directly or indirectly, in the rehabilitation process who care about the provision of quality rehabilitation services.

Last February, I launched a nationwide RSA training needs assessment that gives state VR agencies a major role in net-working at the grass roots in search of information that will document our personnel training needs. The participation of all organizations, universities and people who have a stake and an interest in rehabilitation training, is expected. Early reports of participation are promising. The bubble-up process that we are using calls for regional and national meetings of panels of experts to help us sort out the data and prepare recommendations for the 1991 training priorities.

In a parallel move, my staff is putting the finishing touches on the RSA 1990 evaluation contracts. We are especially excited about this year's array of projects. It marks the first time in many years that RSA has control over the section 14 evaluation funds ($1 million). One of the three projects concerns a study of the recruitment and retention practices concerning selected rehabilitation professions. From this intensive exploration of issues and concerns surrounding these shortage areas, we anticipate useful recommendations for positive action in the 1992 training grants cycle.

These two initiatives, coupled with the 11th hour action and a priori decision on the publication of the 1990 priorities -- a chore that I did not relish but found absolutely essential to maintain balance in the program -- bring focus to this mission. We are operating a $30 million rehabilitation education program without an adequate mission statement and without thoughtful and relevant goals, objectives and implementation strategies. Our planful search for a model, or parts of a model, that will contribute to an integrated totality approach to the funding of rehabilitation training and education has begun.

The legislative authorities for rehabilitation training and education were carefully constructed by the great leaders of the mid-1950's -- Mary Switzer, E. B. Whitten, Dr. Howard Rusk, Senator Lister Hill, and Congressman John Fogarty. The RSA training program has provided the foundation for the vast network of rehabilitation services for some 36 years. The program and the people who administer it and the people who teach in it have brought enlightenment, accountability and professionalism to the delivery of services for the benefit of the people with disabilities that we serve. The program has served as the springboard for curriculum development and innovation, the preparation of ethical performance standards, and accreditation, certification and licensure initiatives.

It has precipitated research and it has put to use findings that improve and expand services and practices. The program has contributed to the pursuit of excellence in rehabilitation education in ways that exploit applied imagination and creativity, capitalize on the tremendous reservoir of talented people working in state agencies, universities, community based facilities, client assistance programs, and independent living centers.

The achievement of excellence in rehabilitation education is a goal to which the entire national rehabilitation network must be committed. The 70-year history of the state-federal vocational rehabilitation program suggests that its success is due, in great part, to the quality of personnel produced by the RSA-supported training program. It is reasonable to expect that the newer programs in supported employment, independent living, projects with industry, American Indians, and migrants, will enjoy the same success. Future challenges of the state-federal VR program can be met by increasing and improving the supply of qualified rehabilitation administrators, direct service practitioners, educators, and researchers. The pursuit of excellence in rehabilitation education is worthy of unconditional support, unbridled creativity and solid professionalism. The people we serve throughout the rehabilitation process deserve it and we should demand it. I know that, together, we can meet the challenges of the 1990's and achieve excellence in rehabilitation education.
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Author:Carney, Nell C.
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Mar 22, 1990
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