North Dakota's strong job market is creating opportunities for workers, including the state's disabled workers. The result is a waiting list of clients for the state's vocational rehabilitation programs.
"There's certainly a demand for services," said Russ Cusack, state director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Bismarck. "We currently have a bit of a wait list. That's because our federal funding has been really flat for the last couple of years, and we have seen an increase in the requests for training workers."
The division has eight offices around the state, where counselors work with clients to help them reach their employment goals. They also work with high school students with disabilities to prepare them for entering the job market.
Foot-operated mouse pads are among the assistive technology available through Vocational Rehabilitation to help people with disabilities be successful in the work place.
About 265 people are on the wait list in the Minot region, of which about 100 people are age 21 or younger.
Clients aren't being ignored while on the wait list. Cusack said Vocational Rehabilitation is collaborating with Job Service, which has funding for training, to see that people have access to services. Other clients are referred to Independence Inc. if they have employment related concerns, such as transportation.
Vocational rehabilitation counselors make the effort to understand the clients' needs and desires before making the referrals, and then staff follow up to make sure that people are making use of their referrals, Cusack said.
"It's all about making sure that person is independent in the community," Cusack said. "It's our goal to work with the individual to develop a plan that will help them to achieve
employment and also to work with businesses so they can make that connection a good match."
Cusack said job interest by people with disabilities appears to be up. One reason might be that counselors and social workers are encouraging people with disabilities to try employment, he said. Statistics show North Dakotans with disabilities want to work, and that employers are willing to consider accommodations to help those workers be successful, he said. The employment rate for people with disabilities in the state is 56 percent, compared to 36 percent nationally.
A recent count of 2,558 people were participating in vocational rehabilitation programs statewide. Because funding hasn't increased, that number has remained fairly consistent in recent years, Cusack said. Federal dollars account for about 80 percent of funding for vocational rehabilitation in North Dakota. The remainder comes from the state.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple has advised state agencies to hold the line on spending as they provide requests for the 2013-15 budget. Cusack said the decision regarding state dollars for vocational rehabilitation remains up to state policy makers, but it is unlikely there will be an increase in federal dollars in the next year.