Journal-News, a newspaper distributed in Rockland County, New York, January 6, 1992.
I'm re-publishing this column as part of my online blog. I still believe the message is appropriate today and is an example of the activities many of us with disabilities can enjoy in the United States, and perhaps around the world. Photos may be added to this posting from my collection or the web. Some of the organization names may have changed or no longer exist in New York State as of this writing. I hope you find this column helpful and informative.
If you are disabled and trying to get into or stay in the workplace, the local VESID ( Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities), may be able to help you.
Unlike several state or federal agencies I've dealt with, the experiences I've had with VESID and its predecessor organization, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, were positive.
VESID's basic mission is to help disabled people find jobs or keep the jobs they already have. Services range from medical treatment to improving your ability to work, to providing meal allowances, books, tools and transportation during job-training.
Some services, like college sponsorships, for example, are based on financial need. Other services, such as counseling, job placement and vocational testing are free.
I first used the services offered by VESID nearly 10 years ago, as a patient with a recent spinal cord injury at New York University's Rusk Institute, in Manhattan. At the time, VESID was called OVR (Office of Vocational Rehabilitation).
Even in 1982, the counselor's mission was to help me, as much as possible, get back to work so I could be productive and financially independent.
Although I wasn't always confident, this mission made sense because it kept me focused on my goal of getting back to work. And, it made sense for the state because once I got back to work, I would become a taxpayer and contributor to society, not a burden. The counselor also made recommendations that would enable me to better cope with my spinal cord injury once I got home. Remember, I was never physically disabled before my injury, so any help I could get to prepare me for my "new" life was welcome.
The recommendations included making arrangements for transportation to get to work, hiring nursing care and modifying my home to suit my disability – – ramps instead of steps, modifying bathrooms to accommodate wheelchairs and identifying and removing other architectural barriers.
But we're not talking just about advice. What really helped me was the financial and technical assistance I received to equip my van so that I could drive myself to work without having to depend on others.
There's a great deal to consider when you attempt to get severely disabled people on the road again, including passing a new road test and selecting the right equipment for a vehicle. Prices range from $250 for a basic automobile hand control, to $100,000 for a high-technology equipped van.
As a result of a car accident I had recently while driving my van, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could receive assistance from VESID once again. In most situations, you can reapply for services and receive additional assistance.
This time, VESID provided temporary transportation for me to get to work while I sought to repair or replace my old vehicle.
What is important to note is that by getting me to work, VESID prevented the possibility of my being fired from my job due to the lack of transportation.
To qualify for VESID services you must have a physical, mental, emotional or learning disability that interferes with your ability to work. There must also be a reasonable chance that you will become gainfully employed if you receive rehabilitation services.
There are also a number of procedures to help ensure that the rights of handicapped individuals are being met, which include administrative reviews and fair hearings, and the Client Assistance Program (CAP).
CAP provides "legal, administrative and other remedies" to protect the rights of disabled individuals. In effect, these all amount to safeguards for individuals looking for help and ensuring that people are not denied services illegally.
A supervisor at VESID said, "Most people with disabilities can engage in some kind of work, so long as their health is stable, their goals are realistic and they persist in the face of inevitable challenges and hardships."
If you are disabled, and want to work, I think a call to VESID is a good place to start. Don't you?