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DVR Newsletter - March, 2020 Issue

The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation's latest initiatives and activities.

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Man with silver hair, beard and mustache,, smiling and wearing a dark grey suit, maroon tie and glasses.

Director Mayes reflects on his returning to VR in time for this year's 100-year celebration of Public Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) in America. "When I realized I would get to be a part of the 100-year celebration of Public Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) I was overwhelmed with emotion and thrilled that I get to be a part of this celebration in my role as the DVR Director for the great state of Alaska."

Read More from Director Mayes

Over the past 74 years, DVR has played an important role in helping Alaskans adapt to formidable statewide challenges, like the 1950s Tuberculosis outbreak, the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, and the dramatic increase in physical disabilities due accidents in the burgeoning industries of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, logging and construction. Today, we add facing the COVID-19 virus to this list. While DVR continues to monitor the evolving situation and formulate new plans, here are a few of the immediate actions we have taken:

DVR has had the honor of working with the Governor's Office to ensure televised announcements about COVID-19 are accessible to Alaskans with disabilities.

DVR staff sign language interpreter, Ryan Scortt, interpreting for our governor’s press interview addressing COVID-19.Using the CDC's definition of who is most vulnerable to serious complications of COVID-19,DVR analyzed our current customers and found that 80% are at high risk. We then implemented recommendations from Alaska's Chief Medical Officer to keep our vulnerable customers safe, including:

  • Our staff will not be meeting with people in-person, but rather by phone, email, SARA, or mail.
  • We have postponed all public orientations until after April 1st, 2020, or until we can ensure that we can provide orientations in the safest way possible.

DVR is committed to continuing to support the needs of individuals with disabilities and recognizes this is a very stressful time for many of the individuals we serve. DVR staff will continue to be available, however, the best way to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus is to practice Social Distancing (remaining at least 6 feet away from other people and avoiding public areas).

If you are DVR client or interested in services, please call the DVR office that serves your community to discuss how we can best continue to work with you while keeping you safe.

2020 marks the 100th year of vocational rehabilitation (VR) services in the United State of America and the 74th year of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation’s (DVR) operation in Alaska.

The federal VR program can trace its roots to WWI. Because of advances in medicine at the time, many more soldiers survived battlefield injuries than before. Huge numbers returned home unable to perform their former jobs, so a program was started to help them find new work. The program was so successful at helping veterans, and was such an obvious benefit to the economy, that a VR program open to non-veterans with disabilities was started soon after.

"I am grateful the State of Alaska… helps us be better than we thought we could be after such devastation."

- DVR Participant

Over the past 74 years, DVR has served over 200,000 Alaskans with disabilities while Alaska has evolved dramatically. It moved from a U.S. territory to a state, persevered through natural disasters, and saw the boom of different industries which attracted a large influx of workers to well paying, but difficult and dangerous jobs. DVR played a critical role in facing these all these challenges and more.

DVR is not just important to Alaskans facing a Statewide crisis, but also when facing the personal crisis that disability can cause for many Alaskans.  It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans have a disability today. Throughout this newsletter you will read just a few of the thousands of public testimonials that DVR has received describing how we have helped Alaskans face the challenge of working with a disability.

From Broken and Addicted to Healthy and Financially Independent

"I began working with DVR when I was living at the Fairbanks Rescue Mission and working through how to heal from a past where I'd been broken, addicted, and beaten down. I'd lost all hope in myself.

Working with DVR helped me to begin to realize that I am, in fact, capable and I am worth being supported.

Since working with DVR, I have:

  • Graduated that Genesis Program
  • Gotten my license back
  • Gotten a safe, secure home for me and my son, and
  • Started working at THREAD Child Care Assistance as an eligibility specialist.

Because of DVR's support, I'm able to live a happy, healthy, and independent life away from the threat of institutions or death that I'd been facing."

- DVR Participant, Public Testimony

“DVR helped me summon the courage to try to be someone else after my surgery, when I thought all was lost.

My identity was being an audiometric technician.

My DVR counselor helped me see I could be someone else almost just as well.”

- DVR Participant

Today, Alaska faces new challenges, and DVR is evolving, once again, to meet them.

This past state fiscal year:

We have helped our clients stay in or re-enter the workforce, enter the workforce for the first time, increase their incomes, or move off public supports to become financially independent.

While these are great successes, there is much work to yet to be done. Alaska DVR must continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of Alaskans with disabilities.

Alaska has a growing population of "at-risk" youth that are either exiting the foster care system and/or the Division of Juvenile Justice correctional facilities with minimal supports in place to ensure success. DVR is proud to be part of a new, cross-department taskforce created at the direction of the DOLWD Commissioner, Dr. Tamika Ledbetter, and the Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner (DHSS), Adam Crum, to improve outcomes for this population. We are confident that the State of Alaska can affect this change for the better, and do so in a collaborative manner between both DOLWD and DHSS.

DVR also continues to better serve students with disabilities by building on the success of our Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), expanding our reach, finding more passionate partners, and refining our various Pre-ETS programs.

"The Transition Camp was amazing! Every kiddo that participated thought it was incredible and said they'd do it again. They felt like they were exposed to topics they had no idea even existed.

Their confidence in school has changed. Three of my students who are my most at-risk for dropping out, now want to stay in school graduate, and either go to AVTEC or go to college.

Community feedback was super-positive as well. Doing this camp helped pave the way for our newly formed high school life skills class to follow suit, getting out and meeting with businesses in the community. Thank you so much for all you do!"

-School District Special Education Coordinator

Alaskans are living far longer, and seniors want to, or must, work beyond previous retirement ages. Sometimes referred to as the "Silver Tsunami," the number of citizens 65 and over living in Alaska has increased by more than 5 percent each year since 2010 and is growing faster than any other state in the nation. The Mature Alaskans Seeking Skills Training Program (MASST) is an important program to help this population, but it will take teamwork and innovation to help meet this challenge.

At the direction of Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner, Dr. Tamika Ledbetter, DVR, MASST, Alaska Job Centers, and the Alaska Commission on Aging have begun strategic planning to effectively tackle the ever growing issue of senior employment.

After 30 years in construction, Scott Martin was not ready to hear what his doctor had to say next: It's time for an office job. "My first thought was, No way! Are you kidding me?" Scott said. "I did not think office work would be for me, and I wondered how I could even get a job like that, because I had no experience." But Scott found success and a whole new career.

It all started with a call to DVR. Read more about Scott Martin's journey