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Disability Employment Awareness Month in October celebrates access and equity

Friday, September 29, 2023

OKLAHOMA CITY – In spite of employment barriers, 1,158 Oklahomans with disabilities began earning paychecks last year, thanks to their own initiatives and employment services provided by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.

Governor Kevin Stitt declared October as Disability Employment Awareness Month in Oklahoma in celebration of workforce contributions by one in six Oklahomans with disabilities.

DRS’ staff in Vocational Rehabilitation and Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired assisted 11,458 jobseekers with disabilities in 2022.

Services included career counseling, diagnosis and treatment of physical and mental disabilities, education and training, assistive technology and job placement – all intended to improve employment outcomes in the near future.

On average, DRS clients who became employed earned $26,795 in annual wages and paid $4,019 in annual taxes in 2022.

To qualify for services, clients must have a physical or mental disability that is a substantial barrier to employment. They must be able to benefit from vocational rehabilitation services in ways that lead to finding or maintaining employment.

“We’ve made a lot of progress since the Rehabilitation Act passed 50 years ago,” DRS Executive Director Melinda Fruendt said, “but today only 40 percent of working-age Oklahomans with disabilities are employed compared to 79.2 percent of workers without disabilities, according to U.S. Census data.”

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based on disability in federal agency programs, in programs receiving federal funds and in employment by the federal government and federal contractors.

“Employed Oklahomans with disabilities become self-sufficient, taxpaying citizens, eliminating the need for disability benefits, Medicaid and other social services,” she explained. “Our clients generally spend more money in their communities and generally enjoy a better quality of life.”

DRS also helps Oklahoma employers with hiring and training qualified workers through VR and SBVI offices serving every county and the agency’s Business Services Program.

DRS staff work with employers to set up on-the-job training experiences for clients and may cover a portion of their salaries for a specified time. The only requirement is that the business must have a vacant position that can be filled by the trained individual upon completion of the experience.

In addition, federal Work Opportunity Tax Credits provide financial incentives that reduce tax liabilities for businesses employing people with disabilities.

“Hiring qualified individuals with disabilities often brings unique skills and perspectives that enhance workplace productivity,” Fruendt said. “The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is a win-win, so that hiring workers with disabilities benefits both employers and employees.”

For more information about employment programs offered by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, visit www.okdrs.gov or phone 800-845-8476.

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John Graham continues his work as owner of Graham Jewelry in Comanche with assistance from DRS Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which paid for his cataract surgery and eyeglasses.

For more information

Jody Harlan, DRS Communications Director

Cell: 405-203-1318