I was a guidance counselor at NMC Upward Bound Program the first time I got to work with a student with disability who was interested in attending Northern Marianas College after high school. In the context of vocational rehabilitation, we call this pre-employment transition services, more specifically “counseling on opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or postsecondary educational programs at institutions of higher education.” That experience, in addition to having a relative who has mental illness, inspired me to become a vocational rehabilitation counselor. I find my work most rewarding when the consumers fully participate in their rehabilitation plans and obtain employment.

As an example of the many ways OVR can assist individuals with disabilities to achieve their employment goals, I am reminded of a particular person with an intellectual disability who was very shy and reached out to OVR to seek employment. This person had difficulty in completing a job application and comprehending conversations due to her low reading level. OVR provided work experience training in an office environment, adult readiness training, work apparel, and on-the-training in a retail store environment. Through the experience and encouragement, the person learned to be more open with other individuals and seek assistance when needed. Eventually, at the end of her OJT program, the consumer was hired by the company as a regular employee. Ultimately, our primary goal at OVR is to help people with disabilities in every way allowable in order that their disabilities do not hinder their employment goals and that they get hired. This was an example of a successful outcome (“Status 26: Closed Successfully Rehabilitated”).

Additionally, we provide counseling, guidance, along with information and referral to consumers at Northern Marianas College or Northern Marianas Technical Institute to help them achieve employment. It might take longer for individuals with disabilities to complete their academic program and obtain college degrees, which makes counseling and guidance such an important service to ensure that they complete their degree program and continue to believe in themselves and believe that they can do anything. Providing information and referral is also important because consumers can use the information and seek proper assistance to achieve employment.

Consumers have rights and responsibilities when they engage with OVR. These rights include confidentiality of information—all the information provided to OVR is kept confidential. Personal information is used for the purpose directly connected with the provision of vocational rehabilitation services. All information is kept confidential in accordance with federal, state, and local laws.

These rights also include the right to contact and avail of the Client Assistance Program, otherwise known as CAP with the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems, Inc. The Client Assistance Program provides assistance in informing and advising the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation consumer and applicants of all available benefits under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. CAP also seeks to assist OVR applicants and consumers, when requested, in their relationships with projects, programs, and facilities providing services to them under the Rehabilitation Act. This includes assistance in pursuing legal, administrative or other appropriate remedies to ensure the protection of the rights of consumers under this program.

Collaborating with employers by having meaningful conversation and providing information to create inclusive workplaces that benefit both workers with disabilities and their employers is another critical function of our counselors at OVR. I say meaningful conversation because I want employers to understand individuals with disabilities are people too. They want to be respected and given the opportunity to show their talents.

It is important to have assistive technology and accommodations in helping individuals with disabilities to be successful in the workplace. There are individuals with disabilities who would need a low assistive technology such as putting a stack of books to elevate the computer or high assistive technology such as motorized wheelchair. It is important for employers to be aware of job accommodations, which they can seek JAN (Job Accommodation Network), www.askjan.com for assistance.

Finally, as a long-time counselor, I would advise and highly recommend that individuals with disabilities who are looking to secure employment learn to self-advocate and utilize resources provided by OVR. I encourage individuals with disabilities to make connections with the Disability Network Partners in the community, which can also provide resources to achieve employment.

I encourage employers and community members to see individuals with disabilities as contributing members of society. Employers should see them for their abilities, not their disabilities.

For more on the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and the services provided therein, contact us at (670) 322-6537/8 or here.

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