Vocational rehabilitation services strives to narrow employment gap for Alabamians with disabilities

By Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw, commissioner
Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services

“What do you do for a living?”

We’ve all asked or been asked that question.

It’s a great conversation starter that helps us learn more about a person. It also underscores our society’s emphasis on the value of having an occupation.

The question is no less important to a person with a disability.

For people with disabilities, employment is about much more than having a job. It is the great equalizer. Working empowers people with disabilities by giving them the means to live independently and to contribute to and participate in their communities.

And yet, employment for people with disabilities lags far behind employment for people who do not have disabilities. In Alabama, the employment rate for individuals with disabilities is a meager 27.5% representing a 45.5 percentage point gap when compared to individuals without disabilities (source: Respect Ability).

Working in tandem with our community partners, other state agencies, and the Alabama Workforce Council, Alabama’s Vocational Rehabilitation Service is striving to narrow that gap through specialized employment- and education-related services that assist people with disabilities in finding and maintaining employment. VRS’ customized services and expertise make employment a reality even for individuals with significant disabilities.

In fiscal year 2018, VRS assisted almost 3,500 Alabamians with disabilities in finding employment, including 482 with the most-significant disabilities.

Of course, that accomplishment would not be possible without willing employers.

Oftentimes, business owners are reluctant to hire people with disabilities because of misconceptions related to job performance, reliability, and cost as well as a lack of familiarity with the resources that are available to ensure a worker’s success on the job.

In reality, though, hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense. The proof is in the results, and it has been my experience that one successful placement with an employer “kicks open” the door to future job opportunities for other workers with disabilities. It’s a win-win scenario: The employer gains a loyal worker and benefits from a more-diverse and inclusive workplace, while the employee gains and benefits from the satisfaction that comes from having a job.

Through the VRS Business Relations Program, employers have access to disability experts who provide no-cost services such as job analysis; recruiting; pre-hire screening; job-site training; post-hire follow-up; disability management; and employer training on such topics as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the medical aspects of disability, the reasonable accommodations process, and disability awareness and etiquette. VRS business relations consultants also offer employers information on financial incentives, pre-hire work experiences, and on-the-job training reimbursements.

VRS is proud to be contributing to Gov. Kay Ivey’s AlabamaWorks Success Plus program through the various services and supports we provide to job-seekers, workers and employers. Specifically, we see VRS as critical to improving work opportunities for a population that faces significant barriers to employment.

As we strive to achieve the goals of the Success Plus initiative, we are working diligently to assure that people with disabilities are included and prepared to join other Alabamians in experiencing the gratification and fulfillment of gainful employment.

For more information about VRS and its services and programs, call 1-800-441-7607. To learn more about AlabamaWorks, visit www.alabamaworks.com.

19 mins ago

Alabama Dem. chair doubles down on racism charges against DNC, Jones — Will ‘be burning in hell for taking away people’s voting rights’

The rollercoaster internal battle among Alabama Democrats and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) reached another milestone on Thursday when a DNC committee voted to recommend stripping Alabama Democratic Party Chair Nancy Worley and Vice-chair Randy Kelley of their credentials.

The committee decision will now go before the full DNC this weekend for a final vote.

The vote in San Francisco, CA, came after a committee hearing in which Worley passionately doubled down on charges recently made against the DNC and those looking to unseat Worley, led by Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

Per The Montgomery Advertiser, Worley said the Jones-led efforts are simply a reaction to last year’s state party elections not going to his liking.

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“The problem is if we had not won that election … there never would have been a challenge,” Worley said. “And so it all had to do with who won and who was mad because we’ve won.”

She also emotionally suggested her opponents were undermining the legacy of civil rights activists in Alabama by looking to take power away from black Americans in the state party.

“You’re going to be burning in hell for taking away people’s voting rights,” Worley declared.

This escalated the sentiment expressed by Alabama Democratic Party Secretary Val Bright last week when she penned an open letter accusing Jones and the DNC of racism.

“Although blacks have been faithful to the Democratic Party and are largely responsible for electing Doug Jones and any white seeking office in this state, once elected on the backs of blacks, the urgency to remove black leadership begins,” Bright wrote.

“In other words, as long as we’re working in the fields all is well, but when we move to positions of authority, a challenge begins,” she added. “From slavery through Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement, we are constantly being shown how little respect blacks receive for being hard working and loyal.”

Bright went on to say the electoral challenge to Worley is “a smoke screen to make it appear that Jones and the DNC is not attacking his true target, blacks.”

State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) on Wednesday told Yellowhammer News he disagrees with Bright’s charges of racism against Jones.

According to Gulf Coast News Today, Jones defended himself to members of the Baldwin County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in recent days.

“I know voices in this state are questioning my commitment to the African American community,” Alabama’s junior senator said. “Because I have had the audacity recently to challenge those who have controlled the Democratic party for a generation and clung to power despite the fact the party has been spiraling towards extinction under their watch … because I believe a viable two-party system is the only way for a state to truly progress and build on the NAACP mission of prosperity for all.”

“If my life’s work … are not enough let me be crystal clear, I am with you. I am there for you. I have never left you and together we will remain vigilant in the mission of the NAACP, our shared mission and we’ll keep on a walking, keep on a talking and we’re not going to let nobody turn us around until the promise of America is made real for all Americans,” Jones added.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

52 mins ago

2019 Yellowhammer ‘News Shapers’ series continues with second rural broadband installment

Join the Yellowhammer News team Tuesday, September 17 for a “Yellowhammer News Shapers” event in Dothan.

Entitled, “Connecting Alabama’s rural communities,” the event is Yellowhammer’s second on rural broadband this year. This latest installment will focus on building partnerships and community awareness.

The event will feature a networking reception followed by a live forum on expanding broadband access and technology across the Yellowhammer State.

Confirmed forum panelists include State Senator Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva); Brad Kimbro, CEO of Wiregrass Electric Cooperative; Jimmy Copeland, director of special projects for Troy Cablevision, Inc.; Dr. Carmen Lewis, associate dean of Troy University’s Sorrell College; and Sean Strickler, vice president public affairs of the Alabama Rural Electric Association.  

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Areas of focus will include exploring partnerships that work, implementation obstacles and best practices, community awareness and future needs and next steps for program advancement.

The event will be held in Everett Hall on Troy University’s Dothan campus: 502 University Drive, Dothan, AL 36303.

The reception will begin at 5:00 p.m., with the moderated forum to follow at 5:20 p.m.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Please contact courtney@yellowhammernews.com for more information.

The legislative edition of Yellowhammer News Shapers kicked off 2019’s series and was followed by the rural broadband edition on July 18 in Guntersville, “Prepare for Launch” in Huntsville on July 31 and “West Alabama and the coal industry” on August 8 in Jasper.

More Yellowhammer News Shapers events will take place across the state this year. The series is non-partisan, on-the-record and designed to localize issues and highlight thought leaders.

Continue to visit Yellowhammernews.com for announcements during the 2019 calendar year.

1 hour ago

Limestone County sheriff’s attorney blasts ‘draconian’ ethics act after indictment

After it was announced on Thursday that longtime Limestone County Sheriff Michael Anthony “Mike” Blakely has been indicted on 13 state ethics counts, separate press conferences featuring his personal attorneys and the spokesperson for the sheriff’s department pumped the breaks on those looking to equate Blakely merely being charged with actually being guilty.

First, Mark McDaniel, the lead attorney for Blakely’s defense, emphasized that the sheriff would be entering in a plea of “not guilty” on all counts and looks forward to trying the case in a court of his peers.

WHNT carried McDaniel’s comments to the media, in which he emphasized that a large part of the defense will be challenging the constitutionality of Alabama’s ethics statute.

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“Virtually anything you do as a public servant now under that act is illegal, so we’ll be contesting the constitutionality of the ethics act also,” McDaniel said.

He called the ethics act “draconian” and added he will file a motion asking the court to strike it down.

Asked what about the ethics act they will be challenging, McDaniel responded, “A lot of things.”

McDaniel specified that one of those things will be how overly “broad” the statute is.

“You don’t even know what you’ve done [wrong],” he added, saying that the public should stay tuned to see their motions “attacking” the ethics act’s issues.

In a press conference shortly afterwards, Limestone County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Stephen Young stressed that Blakely continues to serve as the sheriff and that the department’s operations will not be affected by the ongoing legal situation.

Young also cautioned people about utilizing indictments as indicators of guilt.

“A grand jury indictment is not a conviction,” Young advised. “In fact, it’s the process typically used when an agency cannot obtain enough probable cause to obtain its own warrant. As Sheriff Blakely once told me, ‘You can indict a ham sandwich.’”

Watch:

Blakely served in the U.S. Marine Corps and as an Alabama State Trooper before becoming the county sheriff in 1983. He has also served as an officer in the Alabama National Guard.

McDaniel said it is an “honor” to represent the sheriff and that he is “proud” to defend Blakely against the charges.

The attorney noted that Blakely “absolutely” intended to continue serving. The sheriff was back at work immediately after posting bond on Thursday.

A Democrat, Blakely is the longest-serving sheriff in state history. He won the statewide “Bobby Timmons Sheriff of the Year Award” as recently as 2017.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

Alabama postpones 50th anniversary tour over singer’s health

Country band Alabama says it is postponing the remainder of its 50th anniversary tour as lead singer Randy Owen battles health complications.

The group announced Wednesday that the 69-year-old Owen is suffering from migraines and vertigo, and doctors say he needs more time to recover.

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The news comes after a string of already-canceled shows due to the singer’s health.

Bass player and vocalist Teddy Gentry wrote in a statement that though he and the rest of the band are disappointed, Owen’s recovery is the priority.

The 50-city tour was scheduled through Nov. 23, where it would have ended in Salisbury, Maryland.

Rescheduled dates will be released in the coming weeks.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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How Alabama’s Iron Tribe Fitness sets the standard for group workouts

Iron Tribe Fitness, founded in Birmingham, Alabama, is leading the way for workout programs across the nation. Ranked as one of the top five workouts in the nation, this 45-minute HIIT group workout class offers participants exciting and effective workouts in a time frame that works with any kind of schedule.

Recently, the gym hosted Coach 201, a weekend training session for their instructors in their downtown Birmingham corporate location. This session brought together all of Iron Tribe’s local coaching staff to review training guidelines and program goals.

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In hosting this training, Iron Tribe is living out their core value of delivering a consistent experience. Forrest Walden, Iron Tribe’s founder and CEO says this training session taps into the heart of what the program does — which is creating communities that change lives.

“It’s always great to see the entire team come together to fellowship and dive deep into why we do what we do every day,” Walden said.

During the training, Iron Tribe coaches were given the opportunity to learn more about the classes they teach and strengthen their relationships with each other. As a result, the coaches are empowered to return to their home gyms and lead their athletes with renewed skills and confidence.

“Kyle Sottung, our director of product development, is extremely thorough and talented at what he does. To see him lead our Birmingham coaches is always such a blessing. Our coaches are more empowered now than ever to pour into the Birmingham community,” Walden stated.

According to Walden, Iron Tribe is successful because the program is more than just a workout, but a way to strengthen the communities they serve.

“Iron Tribe stands on a list off essential core beliefs. These beliefs steer what we do every day, both inside and outside the gym. It’s our hope that by continuing to develop ourselves that we can be exceptional coaches and role models within our communities,” Walden said.

Ready to get in the best shape of your life? Learn more by visiting irontribefitness.com.