The DARS vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs help people with physical disabilities or mental and behavioral health issues prepare for, find or keep employment. The DARS Division for Blind Services (DBS) and the Division for Rehabilitation Services (DRS) offer specialized services to help Texans with disabilities find the high-quality jobs or training needed to be successful in school and beyond in order to live independent lives.

DBS offers VR services to Texans who are blind or visually impaired, including services to help transition-age students effectively transition from secondary school to adult life and the world of work.

VR services through DBS include assessments, rehabilitation teaching, counseling and referral, deafblind services, orientation and mobility training, physical and mental restoration, reader services, transportation, technological aids and devices, vocational training, and employment assistance. In addition, DBS provides Pre- Employment Transition Services to students with disabilities.

DRS offers VR services to adult Texans and transition-age youth and students with a wide variety of disabilities, including those related to mental and behavioral health, hearing impairment, impairments of arms and legs, back injuries, intellectual and developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and any other physical or mental disabilities that prevent a person from finding and keeping employment.

VR services through DRS include vocational counseling and evaluation, vocational training, hearing and medical examinations, physical and mental restoration, assistive and rehabilitation technology devices, employment assistance, and follow-up after employment to ensure success. In addition, DRS provides Pre- Employment Transition Services to students with disabilities.

2015 Highlights

Business Relations Team

DBS and DRS VR program staff partnered to form the Business Relations Team, responsible for coordinating the efforts of both divisions to strengthen and develop partnerships with businesses across Texas. The team's goal is to help Texas businesses achieve a diversified, qualified workforce and help qualified people with disabilities gain competitive employment. Team members refer qualified people with disabilities to businesses to meet staffing needs and provide resources and guidance to business partners.

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) for Youth and Students

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act added Pre-ETS to the array of VR services. These services meet the needs of transition-age students with disabilities and include job exploration and counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling on opportunities for higher education, workplace readiness training and self-advocacy.

Increased Services to Consumers with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

The DRS VR program published three new VR policies that provided additional resources to meet the needs of VR consumers with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, including implementing ASD supports services to address and reduce barriers to employment, and developing an environmental work assessment to determine the appropriate work environment for each person to maximize job performance.

Kevin Advances Career, Pursues Goals

Kevin Kinchen, 54, of League City has been a self-employed minister for more than 30 years, is an author and has traveled locally and worldwide as a public speaker. In 2008, Kevin's wife Margie noticed that he was dropping things. He sought medical testing and was told that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS leads to an inability to move muscles and may also effect activities such as speaking, eating and breathing.

Kevin found that it was increasingly challenging to maintain his ministry because he could no longer use his hands to grasp things, and he quickly became tired and unstable while walking. Kevin started using his feet to manipulate objects. Through sheer determination, Kevin authored his book, The Secret Place, Revealed, by using his feet, and sometimes his hand, to hold the computer mouse.

As Kevin's condition worsened, he and his wife started looking for assistance that would allow him to continue advancing in his profession. Kevin's neurologist referred him to the DRS VR program.

Kevin's VRC worked with him and his wife to determine services and supports needed and helped them coordinate with doctors, vendors and insurance companies to receive services. As result of coordinated efforts, Kevin received counseling and guidance, a customized power wheelchair and assistance with the purchase of a modified van.

Doctors originally predicted that Kevin had three to five years to live when he was diagnosed with ALS, and he is happy to have proven them wrong. Kevin has not let his diagnosis stop him from pursuing his goals. "I tried depression; it did not work out too good," said Kevin. So, I made up my mind that I'm not doing that." He remains actively employed and continues to write blogs, accept speaking engagements, be an involved parent and grandparent, and provide support for those newly diagnosed with ALS. He is currently writing two new books.

Kerwin Continues Working on Beloved Cattle Ranch

Kerwin Denton, 57, of Winters values the independence he learned growing up on a cattle ranch. Kerwin's independent spirit helped him build a successful career as a rancher until he lost his sight due to an accident at age 37. Although Kerwin's ranch hands and his wife of 38 years — the love of his life — helped him continue to run his ranch after his accident, Kerwin knew he had to find new ways to continue being independent and doing the work he loved.

When Kerwin first met with his DBS VRC to discuss how DARS could help him achieve his goals, he was still working on his ranch and was relying heavily on a battered white cane. When his VRC asked Kerwin about his cane and why it was so worn, he explained that his cane was not just a way for him to navigate his property, but that he also often relied on it to herd cattle and to warn them of his presence to prevent them from injuring him. The first thing Kerwin's VRC did was arrange for DARS to provide Kerwin with a new white cane.

In addition, Kerwin received orientation and mobility training, assistive technology and training in nonvisual techniques to help him make repairs on his ranch and care for his cattle. Kerwin received and was taught how to use a talking GPS unit and compass, and is now able to get around his ranch without having to ask his ranch hands to drive him in their trucks. Kerwin also received and learned to use a talking tape measure, click ruler, liquid level indicator and a nail holder and is able to replace windows and perform maintenance and repair activities at the ranch with little assistance.

Today, Kerwin's ranch is doing better than ever. He expects to add almost 200 head of cattle to his herd in the next few months. He credits this success to his greater level of confidence and independence as a result of receiving training and assistive devices from DARS. He said, "The services that I received went over and above what I expected."