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Colorado Quarterly Magazine 

"Rewriting the Myths, Redefining the Realities"

 

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Reauthorization:  An Opportunity for Change

By Homer Page and Angie Wood

 

At the end of World War I, there were many veterans returning home with disabilities. So in 1920, the Congress decided to do something about it. They enacted the first Vocational Rehabilitation Act. Times have changed since 1920. Our attitudes towards persons with disabilities have evolved, the nature of work has changed, and the Rehabilitation Act has been amended to keep up. Every five years the Rehabilitation Act is reauthorized to ensure that it stays current. The next reauthorization is scheduled for completion no later than September 30, 2003. Therefore, it is time for interested individuals and groups to give input to the Rehabilitation Services Administration and the Congress concerning needed changes in the Rehabilitation Act. 

Over the last 30 years, significant changes have been made in the Act. Title V, the first Civil Rights Act for persons with disabilities, was added in 1973. Title VII, creating funding for Independent Living Programs, found its way into the Act in 1978 and consumer choice was added in 1992. The disability rights movement has influenced the evolution of the Act and that influence should continue in this reauthorization cycle.

A major priority of the disability community over the last three decades has been the growth of Independent Living Centers. These Centers are consumer controlled, cross disability, community based, private non-profit organizations. They currently are required to offer four core services: information and referral, advocacy, independent living skills training, and peer counseling. The ILCís are advocating for a more significant role in the rehabilitation system.

The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), the organization that represents CILís and Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILC), has produced a position paper on reauthorization. The paper calls for broader consumer control of the rehabilitation process, greater CIL participation in the delivery of employment services, and more CIL-directed training for vocational rehabilitation professionals. The paper also calls for a high level of integration among Vocational Rehabilitation, Work Force Investment Act programs, and Centers for Independent Living. NCIL also supports the CILís becoming even more involved in deinstitutionalization and the prevention of institutionalization. It is recommended that this service become a fifth core service. 

The Colorado SILC Chairperson, Jim Rowland, became aware of the NCIL position paper at the national SILC Congress in January. Mr. Rowland believes that reauthorization offers an important opportunity for the disability community to affect the 2.5 billion dollar rehabilitation program in a positive way. He, therefore, asked the SILC to sponsor a conference that would bring together a cross-section of the disability community to formulate a Colorado position on reauthorization. A steering committee was formed to ensure wide participation in the conference. The conference was held on April 11-13. 

Conference attendees produced a position paper that was presented at a regional Rehabilitation Services Administration hearing held on May 9 in Dallas, Texas. 


Over the next several months, the Congress will be working on reauthorization. Now is the time for persons with disabilities to have their voice heard. 

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