AS far as training programs go, the Work Experience Training and On-the-Job Training programs through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation under the governor’s office are about as straightforward as they come. The only mystery for me is why more eligible persons with disabilities and employers aren’t knocking on OVR’s doors to avail themselves of the support which can translate to $10,444 in up to a year’s worth of paid labor.

More specifically given eligible, willing and agreeable participants (both trainee and employer), OVR will pay eligible individuals for Work Experience Training at the prevailing minimum wage rate (presently $7.25/hour) for up to 20 hours per week for anywhere from 3 to 6 months.  And thereafter, if the employer is willing to employ them, OVR will reimburse the employer for On-the-Job Training at the same rate for up to 40 hours a week for 24 weeks. In total the employee and employer stand to get 48 weeks of paid labor in the hopes of permanent employment (emphasis on, “in the hopes” — the employer is not obligated to hire the person after the training period, but that is the goal).

Come to think of it, I probably shouldn’t be too surprised and it may not be such a mystery at all why we don’t see more interest in these programs.  I’ll take a stab at a few possible reasons here for whatever it’s worth.  It’s natural (maybe even advisable) when pointing a finger at an issue not to acknowledge the three other fingers pointing back at yourself and perhaps this will be a break from tradition, but given plenty of blame to go around I’ll be the first to admit that much of it falls directly on ourselves; in fact, let’s start there.


Government bureaucracy. Let’s start with government bureaucracy.  Yeah…I said it and for emphasis I’m talking about myself and other bureaucrats who work in government with the general government systems in place.  For a variety of reasons, we have not done a very good job with instilling confidence in the rest of those who look to the government for help.  Put another way, government has a long-standing reputation of being slow, if not unresponsive, and inefficient (with time and resources).  OVR is no exception, so we have our share of disgruntled clients.  Wait times (whether you’re standing in lines, waiting for appointments, listening to elevator music on the phone or sitting at home twiddling thumbs) are simply too common.  Most have come to expect that of government — sad, but true.  That in and of itself can be a disincentive for people to seek us out. 

I know better than to make promises, but I can say with some confidence that OVR can be the exception to the norm (if it is in fact a norm).  We are poised with qualified personnel and a wealth of institutional (local and federal government) knowledge to rise above the fold.  Our sitting Governor and Lt. Governor have expressed in no uncertain terms their expectations for us to ensure and/or restore “fiscal stability, more efficient government operations, and improvements in the delivery and responsiveness of public services.”  Personally, I would love nothing more than to be a part of making that happen, not just for OVR but for our government in general.  What we need is more consistent buy-in to the real intent of what we offer both from potential employers and from eligible individuals with disabilities who truly want to work.


Welfare culture. There is a pervasive sense of entitlement in our society due in large part to generational dependence on welfare programs — a welfare culture or welfare state of mind, if you will.  And, our people with disabilities are not immune to it; in fact, all too many are brought up to think very little beyond government handouts as their primary, if not only, option.  Given a choice to receive something for free or go to work and earn what you get most will choose the free option.  This is especially true when it comes to receiving a Supplemental Security Income check versus getting a job and receiving a paycheck.  The truth is that a monthly SSI check (at $914 for an eligible individual or $1,371 for an eligible individual with a spouse) is nearly the same amount (maybe even more depending on deductions) as a paycheck for someone working full-time at the minimum wage rate — it’s hard to blame anyone who chooses the SSI option.  Still, the harder truth is that the prescribed “federal poverty level” is still higher than the SSI rate which (by the way) also comes with an asset limit.  The point being that conceding to life on SSI is essentially a commitment to a life of poverty.

Of course, I am not without empathy.  I understand the added challenges to competitive employment for people with disabilities and the fear of losing benefits through gainful employment; nonetheless, if we are ever going to break the cycles of dependence, employment must be part of our ongoing discussion and, essentially, OVR must provide needed supports to eligible individuals in order for them to obtain or retain gainful employment.

Disability stigma. Sadly, people with disabilities are most often viewed by what others perceive they cannot do more than what they can do — disability discrimination is a very real thing.   Many employers (I dare say most employers) dismiss even the mere notion that a person with a disability especially those with visible, severe disabilities could offer any value in the workplace.  The common assumption is that any person with a disability must be a basket case – of course, we all know what it means to assume. 

Truth be told, attitudes are the real problem — both the attitudes of the job seekers and the job providers; in fact, the same is true regardless of whether or not disability is a factor.  Breaking into an already meager job market requires genuine effort, a certain amount of luck and, to be clear, a sense of responsibility to be qualified for the work at hand. And yes, people with disabilities also have a responsibility to be qualified.

For more information, please contact the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation at (670) 322-6537/38 or online or on