Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) State Rehab Council (SRC)
Disability Rights Connecticut, as the CAP, sits on the State Rehab Council for the vocational rehabilitation for the blind agency. Disability Rights Connecticut participates in the SRC meetings as a voting member and provides guidance on the state’s vocational rehabilitation for the blind program and services. Through our participation, DRCT has been able to ask questions, elicit data, information, and accountability from the state's vocational rehabilitation for the blind agency. As a result of DRCT’s systemic advocacy, it has been able to push for increased representation of blind consumers of the vocational system on the council and pushed for development of a customer service survey for the agency's consumers. It has also reviewed the state annual report and may have the opportunity to join a workgroup focused on the vocational rehabilitation system's state plan.
Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS) State Rehab Council (SRC)
Disability Rights Connecticut, as the CAP, sits on the State Rehab Council for the vocational rehabilitation service agency. Disability Rights Connecticut participates in the SRC meetings as a voting member and provides guidance on the state’s vocational rehabilitation program and services. Through our participation, DRCT has been able to ask questions, elicit data, information, and accountability from the state's vocational rehabilitation for the blind agency. As a result of DRCT’s systemic advocacy, it has been able to push to expand the scope of vocational rehabilitation services, particularly customized employment.
BRS Systems Change Project
Disability Rights Connecticut, as the CAP, coordinated an internal plan to expand its vocational rehabilitation systemic advocacy. Specifically, DRCT staff discussed, developed, and began initiatives that included a FOIA request for vocational rehabilitation data, a deeper look at the state of customized employment in the state, as well as a deeper look into the state of competitive integrated employment within the state. The FOIA requests specifically identified data concerning issues such as eligibility determination, compliance with WIOA, transition age services and provision of those services to transition age youth, as well as lack of informed choice, among others, as barriers to employment for people accessing VR services.
Children's Behavioral Health Advisory Council (CBHAC)
As a result of DRCT’s participation on the Children's Behavioral Health Advisory Council (CBHAC) this past year (FY 21), DRCT educated and informed behavioral health consumers and their families, advocates, medical and mental health practitioners, and state agencies about DRCT's services and provided consumers and families with self-advocacy resources. DRCT's Child Advocate and Executive Director were introduced to CBHAC members and consumers, and CBHAC members and consumers were introduced to DRCT's new work and Children's Behavioral Health Initiatives. DRCT was invited by consumers to participate in other children behavioral health initiates to improve and equip families and children with disabilities with information, education and self-advocacy resources. DRCT provided information and surveys to CBHAC attendees to participate in sharing and identifying issues people with disabilities are experiencing throughout Connecticut that would inform DRCT priorities and priorities and objective for the upcoming FY 22.
Collaboration with CPAC 2021
DRCT has a regular, ongoing collaboration with the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC). This collaboration includes regular meetings between CPAC and DRCT to share information, educate one another, and coordinate efforts around our advocacy for the needs of students and young adults with disabilities. Through this ongoing collaboration during FY 21, DRCT and CPAC focused on transition aged students and their needs for special education and vocational services, specifically Pre-ETS vocational services.
CSDE SPP/APR Stakeholder Group Phase 1
The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) invited DRCT to provide input on its special education State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report (SPP/APR). The SPP/APR is a compilation of 17 special education data indicators that are reported to the U.S. Department of Education on an annual basis. The stakeholder group DRCT participated in provided input on new data targets, reviewed improvement strategies, and commented on the CSDE’s data analysis and progress evaluation. DRCT advocated on behalf of transition age youth with disabilities during the “Life After High School,” phase. Specifically, DRCT raised various impacts and factors impacting measures like graduation rates, dropout rates, secondary transition, and post-school outcomes.
DRCT and its collaborators continued to support a three-year initiative to address employment of people with the most significant disabilities. This systemic advocacy initiative addressed policies and practices of state agencies such as the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS), the State Department of Education (SDE) and the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), agencies that all share responsibility for some aspects of employment for people with disabilities. The project also addresses the training needs, policies and practices of individual Community Rehabilitation Providers (CRPs) because Customized Employment as a vocational rehabilitation service is still being developed in the state. Most employment approaches for people with intellectual disabilities or significant mental health disabilities takes a very prescriptive approach to finding competitive employment for people with disabilities. For example, the vocational rehabilitation agency requires that each employee have a number of skills to meet the demands of the job rather than using a customized approach to match skills with particular employer needs. Through this multi-agency initiative, DRCT, along with other disability advocacy groups and state agencies, is addressing the prescriptive approaches by pushing for implementing of a different model of employment, Customized Employment. The Work Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) requires various agencies to work together to develop employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The Customized Employment Project collaborators have been meeting with these agencies privately and as part of working groups such as the vocational rehabilitation agency’s state rehabilitation council to demand implementation of Customized Employment as a required service under WIOA and as an innovative way to assist people with significant disabilities in finding employment. As a result of DRCT’s systemic advocacy, CRPs had staff trained to provide Customized Employment.
DOJ Educational Opportunities Working Group
DRCT is a member of the DOJ Educational Opportunities Working Group, a partnership between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut, federal and state agencies, and local advocacy organizations. The Group’s mission is to address and prevent civil rights violations through educational outreach and, when appropriate, legal enforcement. The group meets to discuss systemic and individual issues impacting students with disabilities.
Update for FY 2021: As a result of DRCT’s participation in the Working Group, DRCT played an active role with its federal and state agency partners to discuss systemic and individual issues impacting students with disabilities. Some examples of the issues that the work group addressed during FY21 include: the issue of schools not permitting mask exemptions for students with disabilities. DRCT and its other partners in the work group developed a “Dear Colleague Letter” on the issue of mask exemptions by Connecticut’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. The work group also brough several systemic issues to the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut. Those issues resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, prioritization on students with social and emotional disabilities and the impact of COVID 19 on these students. DRCT’s participation on the work group enabled it to advocate on behalf of students with disabilities in guiding and shaping the work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut in the areas of education and disability law.
Roadmap to CIE - WISE Contract
After discussion with community partners concerned about the lack of competitive employment for people with significant disabilities, the CAP contracted with the Washington Initiative for Supported Employment (WISE). The goal of the project is for WISE to identify the current state of competitive integrated employment in Connecticut and provide methods that can engage stakeholders, such as state agencies, in building capacity for expanded competitive integrated employment opportunities. The desired outcome is to provide stakeholders with a roadmap to building a healthy system of supports in Connecticut that will improve outcomes for individuals often determined ineligible for VR services because they are found to be “not competitively employable.”
Transition Task Force 2021
Disability Rights Connecticut, as the CAP, participated as a member of the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Transition Task Force. This participation included attending regularly meetings as well as smaller workgroup meetings. Through its participation, DRCT advised the State Department of Education on issues related to transition age students, particularly the paucity of individualized transition services, unequal access to the vocational rehabilitation agency’s Pre-ETS services throughout the state, the lack of focus on employment goals for transition age students who exit special education due to reaching the maximum age of eligibility, and the lack of participation by the vocational rehabilitation agency in IEP meetings for students exiting special education and students graduating.