RSA-227 for FY-2020: Submission #1155

Tennessee
09/30/2020
General Information
Designated Agency Identification
Disability Rights Tennessee
2 International Plaza, Suite 825
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Nashville
Tennessee
37917
615-298-1080
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Operating Agency (if different from Designated Agency)
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Additional Information
Lisa Primm
Anna Bass
865-670-2944
annab@disabilityrightstn.org
Part I. Non-case Services
A. Information and Referral Services (I&R)
15
1
0
0
0
2
18
B. Training Activities
1
510
In FY2020, Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT)’s Client Assistance Program (CAP) achieved its goal to provide training to individuals applying for or participating in the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) or Independent Living Center programs. CAP provided one training to 10 parents of children and students with disabilities, who attended the Shelby County Schools Parent Transition Fair. These parents learned general information about CAP services and services provided to beneficiaries of Social Security with barriers to employment. In addition, the CAP training included information about reasonable accommodations in the workplace, taught self-advocacy skills, explained deadlines for filing complaints, and emphasized the value of pre-employment transition services. Parent and students were also provided with CAP brochures and information of how we can help and how to contact CAP.
CAP trainings were not provided to new VR counselors this year due to VR overhauling their training program. Traditionally, CAP provides training to new counselors about services that are available to their customers at VR’s New Counselor Institute. However, in the course of this fiscal year, new counselors have not been trained in the traditional manner. The COVID-19 pandemic has interfered with CAP’s training plans; however, CAP is taking steps to provide this training on a different platform and intends to implement those plans in FY2021.
C. Agency Outreach
DRT conducts ongoing outreach to the community through various methods including social media Twitter, and DRT website; participation in community groups; visits to organizations; and participation in information fairs or conference exhibit booths. In this last year, 54% of the outreach activities undertaken were targeted at underserved or un-served populations including Tennesseans who are deaf or hard of hearing; community resources that work primarily with African American youth; economically disadvantaged communities including rural communities; and individuals with mental illness, traumatic brain injury, and autism. DRT/CAP has intentionally focused on conducting outreach efforts to the Hispanic/Latino communities, which together are the second largest minority group in Tennessee. Current census information shows the population to now be 5.7% of the total state population. This is a slight increase from the prior year. As part of this effort, DRT has translated a number of materials into Spanish as well as networked with other agencies that serve the Hispanic/Latino community. This fiscal year, DRT allocated dedicated staff time to increase outreach efforts to Spanish speaking school age children and youth and their families, translate for DRT/CAP clients who receive services in Spanish, and assist with access to CAP services. These efforts will directly assist DRT/CAP in its set goals to reach previously un-served and underserved populations, as this population includes youth who could benefit from available Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). In Tennessee, only 34.5 % of working-age people with disabilities are employed according to Cornell University’s 2017 Disability Status Report. This is in stark contrast to the 79.4% of work-age Tennesseans without disabilities who are employed.
DRT/CAP makes strategic efforts toward outreaching to employers, VR, and individuals with disabilities about employment which is a large underserved population within our state. As such, DRT utilizes several committees and groups to further outreach to the community about DRT/CAP services and the value of competitive integrated employment. Below are highlights from two of those group outreach efforts: DRT participated in monthly Employment Consortium meetings in East Tennessee and quarterly meetings in Middle and West Tennessee during the first half of FY2020 prior to COVID-19. The DRT representative for East Tennessee also served as the vice chair of the Knoxville Area Employment Consortium (KAEC) during FY2020 and served on the program committee which focused on Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM) activities. The primary focus of each consortium is to increase the number of individuals with disabilities who are employed in competitive integrated settings. Each consortium consists of representatives of state agencies, area community rehabilitation providers, American Job Centers and other stakeholders. DRT serves as a resource to consortium members seeking information regarding the Rehabilitation Act and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Via the DEAM events held by the KAEC, individuals with disabilities participated in employment mentoring activities and employers were educated regarding the benefits of employing individuals with disabilities. Fourteen (14) individuals participated in disability mentoring day with the City of Knoxville in order to learn about employment opportunities and employee responsibilities. The KAEC served in its seventh year as the coordinating entity for recruiting, interviewing and assisting in the selection of interns to participate in the two adult model Project SEARCH programs which focus on increasing competitive integrated employment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Both programs were interrupted for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and those programs are in the process of re-starting and for new interns to begin the programs in January 2021. CAP will continue to play an instrumental role in the consortium meetings to ensure continued focus on competitive employment for individuals with disabilities. This year DRT hosted its 6th Annual Disability Employment Awareness Luncheon during National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The event brought together over 300 stakeholders to bring awareness to the benefits of competitive integrated employment for Tennesseans with disabilities.
Further in FY 2020, DRT/CAP worked to outreach to unserved and underserved populations across the State of Tennessee to increase knowledge of CAP services and to establish working relationships with VR, community rehabilitation providers, community leaders and stakeholders, and members of the general public. Twelve (12) outreach events yielded in 325 individuals, receiving information and publications about DRT/CAP’s employment advocacy program. Outreaches provided included the following: VR Clarksville TRC Resource Fair, Raleigh Egypt High School Transition Resource Fair, DIDD Employment Services Transition Resource Fair, Hispanic Heritage Festival, Signal Center, Knox County Schools Next Steps Transition Fair, Disability Resource Center in Knoxville, Blount County Schools Disability Resource Fair, Statewide Independent Living Council, and VR Regions 1, 8, and 9. Through these outreach efforts these populations know the services DRT/CAP can provide to them when they are in need.

It should be noted, CAP’s outreach activities were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic due to the suspension of in-person activities and health and safety restrictions and guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, in an effort to ensure Tennesseans with disabilities continued to receive crucial services from VR and the Centers for Independent Living (CIL), DRT/CAP outreached to VR offices and CILs throughout the state to find out how services continued to be delivered and whether there were any issues with service delivery that needed to be addressed. In particular, we focused on how Pre-ETS were continuing to be provided and how CILs were spending CARES Act money made available to them due to the pandemic. We focused on these two areas due to concerns that transition age students with disabilities could be forgotten and miss necessary services to be successful due to schools being closed during the pandemic. We were also concerned that vulnerable adults with disabilities could lose their ability to live independently due to service gaps created by the pandemic. We were relieved and satisfied by the feedback we received during our outreach efforts and are pleased to report that service delivery was largely uninterrupted by the pandemic. The one issue we needed to address involved Tennessee’s main Rehabilitation Center, TRC Smyrna. TRC Smyrna transitioned to providing services online only during the pandemic and provided technology to access online services to their students who needed it. However, classes were scheduled to resume before all of the technology was delivered which risked students failing their academic programs due to not having technology that was supposed to be provided to them. Following DRT's intervention, the start date of online classes was pushed back until every student had the technology they needed to access their programming.
D. Information Disseminated To The Public By Your Agency
0
1
0
875
33
0
N/A
E. Information Disseminated About Your Agency By External Media Coverage
DRT continues to work with the Tennessee Department of Human Services, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to collaborate in sharing information about the CAP program. By sharing information about CAP in VR letters to clients and training new VR counselors, DRT builds relationships and collaboration to better serve clients working with VR. Additionally, CAP published information about the program in the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities quarterly publication, Breaking Ground.
Part II. Individual Case Services
A. Individuals served
6
39
45
0
4
B. Problem areas
4
14
23
2
0
1
2
0
C. Intervention Strategies for closed cases
22
0
16
0
2
2
42
D. Reasons for closing individuals' case files
18
11
2
1
0
8
0
0
2
0
0
0
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E. Results achieved for individuals
16
1
0
1
13
3
2
0
2
4
Individual withdrew before any assistance could be provided.
Part III. Program Data
A. Age
3
6
12
23
1
45
B. Gender
24
21
45
C. Race/ethnicity of Individuals Served
3
0
0
20
0
22
0
0
D. Primary disabling condition of individuals served
5
0
0
0
0
4
7
1
2
2
0
1
2
3
0
0
0
0
0
1
6
1
0
1
1
4
0
0
0
4
0
0
0
0
45
E. Types of Individuals Served
1
1
39
2
2
0
Part IV. Systemic Activities and Litigation
A. Non-Litigation Systemic Activities
8
In FY 2020, CAP achieved its goal of seeking resolution to systemic issues which impact our mutual clients and their pursuit of employment. As Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) did not introduce new rules or changes that required public hearings or public comments, CAP achieved its goal primarily through its quarterly meetings with VR leadership. At the meetings, VR’s leadership team responds to CAP inquiries and concerns and shares updates about changes that are occurring at VR. CAP gathers its concerns and inquiries from systemic issues it sees while working individual cases and at VR vendor forums and other events it attends throughout the state.

The biggest systemic change VR made in response to CAP concerns this fiscal year was getting VR to complete an overhaul of its Assistive Technology (AT) provision protocols. CAP presented evidence to VR that it was still taking too long for individuals with disabilities to get the AT they need for employment or postsecondary studies, despite no longer looking for comparable benefits and following CAP’s advocacy to make that change last fiscal year. VR investigated the issue and agreed with CAP’s findings, making division-wide timeliness updates and training to ensure better timeliness in the provision of AT. Since VR made these changes, the slowness and delay of AT provision has gone from one of the most frequent issues we dealt with to a complaint we have not been hearing from our clients.

Additionally, CAP was able to advocate for VR to change its policy language for postsecondary funding so it no longer specifically excludes certain career choices; ensuring that VR administrative reviews are impartial by getting VR to change its policy so that direct supervisors of the VR counselor involved in the dispute cannot preside over the review; and helping VR deal with a staffing issue in one particular region by alerting it to excessive wait times for services in that region. These successes were not the only systemic change that CAP achieved in FY 2020. The following activities all demonstrate the results of the positive working relationship that CAP has developed with VR’s leadership team. Due to CAP’s efforts to establish this relationship, we are now able to share concerns and ideas which result in changes for our clients, as well as others. Below are examples of these efforts: A 62-year-old Caucasian man has been fitted for his hearing aids due to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) sponsorship provision. The wife of a gentleman who is hard of hearing contacted Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) because they had waited four months to get hearing aids and they were still waiting. A conversation with the VR Field Supervisor revealed that they were waiting for the Regional Supervisor to approve VR sponsorship of the hearing aids. While we were obtaining signed forms from our client, his issue with VR resolved, although he still does not have his hearing aids. He has been fitted and due to COVID-19, the medical provider is not seeing patients currently. Once their office re-opens, our client will be scheduled to go in for final testing and if the hearing aids work for him, he will have the accommodation to hear at his workplace again. A transition age youth is receiving Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) support to participate in an approved transitional learning program at an out-of-state school. The father of an 18-year-old Caucasian female, who has Asperger syndrome and resides in a rural area, contacted Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) and reported that VR had denied their request to receive VR support to attend a transitional learning program in a neighboring state. The VR Counselor (VRC) indicated that the young lady should instead consider one of the similar in-state programs which were approved for VR support. However, our client and her family reported they had researched those programs and continued to feel that the out-of-state program provided the best learning opportunities for our client. Our client and her family wanted to learn more about their rights to appeal the VR decision. Following DRT's initial contact with the VRC, the VR field supervisor shared that VR had reviewed the training program's information and had subsequently included this program on the list of approved programs for consideration by transition age youth eligible for VR services. He also noted that this process had led to a similar program in another neighboring state being added to the approved vendor list. Our client is now enrolled in the transitional learning services program which she and her family had selected as the optimal program to meet her needs to prepare for further education and employment. As a result of our client's case, other transition age youth who are eligible for VR services will readily have the opportunity to also pursue these out-of-state options for transitional learning services upon completion of their secondary education programs.

During FY 2020, CAP was once again represented on the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC). The SRC met quarterly during the year and also held conference calls as appropriate to conduct committee work. The CAP representative to the SRC served as the past chair of the Council during FY2020 and was highly involved in the following: working with the executive committee in planning for meetings, presenting new member training, leading the preparation of the VR/SRC Annual Report, coordinating with the executive committee in reviewing the VR Portion of the Combined State Plan and in developing the SRC comments to that plan, providing CAP related information to the SRC related to VR policy, representing the SRC on the national conference calls of the National Coalition of State Rehabilitation Councils (NCSRC), reviewing and preparing suggestions for updating the SRC By-Laws, and participating on the outreach committee and providing guidance toward updating the SRC webpage. CAP worked with the executive committee in identifying ongoing training needs of the SRC and addressing those needs through quarterly training. The goal of ongoing trainings is to assist members in understanding VR policies in consideration for recommending changes to those policies in the future and the SRC is planning to create a Policy Committee during FY2021 to address this need. The CAP representative attended Tennessee’s Disability Day on the Hill and met with a state representative to provide information regarding the SRC and VR. At a later date the SRC submitted a letter to Governor Bill Lee to provide information regarding VR and to request that the state not reduce funding to VR due to COVID-19, but rather to at least maintain or increase funding given the role of VR in assisting Tennesseans with disabilities to obtain, maintain, regain or advance in employment. In announcing the SFY2022 budget, the Governor’s office reported an increase in state funding for the VR program, which had been level funded for several years. The SRC’s efforts may have contributed to this increase in funding when the majority of state programs received funding cuts. This increase in state funding for FY2022 will enable the VR program to also draw down an increased level of federal funding, enabling the program to provide additional services to its customers. The SRC is committed to continuing its collaborative path with the DRS to not only improve the VR program for clients of Tennessee but to give them their voice.
Further in 2020, DRT/CAP provided public comments on two separate occasions. First, comments were provided to RSA and to the State Workforce Development Board on VR's portion of TN's WIOA State Plan. VR's response to our State Plan comments resulted in their commitment to publish their policies online for public consumption once they are finished completing a major policy overhaul. This will benefit VR customers who have been frustrated by having to ask VR or CAP for the policies that impact them. Secondly, DRT/CAP participated in the process of reviewing and commenting on the State Plan for Independent Living (SPIL) for FY 2021-2023 as drafted by the Independent Living Network. DRT staff reviewed the draft plan and participated in two statewide public meetings which were held virtually and afforded members of the public to receive information regarding the plan and to offer public comments. As a follow-up to these public meetings, the DRT team prepared and presented written comments regarding the SPIL to the Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC). Of note, DRT identified a concern in the draft SPIL and provided written comment to report that only four of the five core Independent Living services were noted as being included in services available to Tennesseans with disabilities. Upon submission of this comment, DRT received a written response from the SILC to report this core service is indeed provided by Independent Living (IL) Centers in Tennessee and it had been noted and corrected in the SPIL. Overall, DRT commended the SILC for developing a strong SPIL that will expand needed services for Tennesseans with disabilities. DRT encouraged the SILC to continue to pursue expansion of services across the state with a long-term goal of achieving statewideness but in the interim to ensure individuals residing in the counties currently being served by a program know their IL Center exists and what crucial services it can offer them. A member of the DRT team also attended the quarterly meeting of the SILC when the draft SPIL was presented for review and a vote of the SILC prior to submission to the Administration for Community Living. It was noted that minimal changes were made from the draft to the version which was approved at this meeting. It was also noted that the comment made by DRT regarding inclusion of all five core services was addressed and the final draft included this correction.
B. Litigation
0
0
0
No litigation was pursued with CAP funding in FY2020
Part V. Agency Information
A. Designated Agency
External-Protection and Advocacy agency
Disability Rights Tennessee
No
N/A
B. Staff Employed
20 FTE (Advocacy&Legal) -20 employed 100% of year.
2 FTE ( Clerical) - 2 employed 100% of year.
2 PTE (Advocacy&Legal) 2 employed 100% of year.
Part VI. Case Examples
Case Examples
o A minister who is legally blind is now working with a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselor in his quest to learn braille without having to leave his family and church congregation to attend a rehab facility. A 39-year-old Caucasian man who is losing his vision wants to learn braille before he completely loses his vision so he can transition from print to braille. His duties as a minister requires him to read materials and write sermons to deliver to his congregation. His first counselor stated he would need to attend the state’s comprehensive rehabilitation center for braille instruction due to no other resources. Our client has a wife and three children and cannot leave them for several weeks or months to learn braille even though he would be able to return home on the weekends. He called DRT/CAP for information about VR policies in regard to his need for braille instruction and potential need for equipment for braille production. Upon DRT speaking with our client, he stated that he had been assigned to a new counselor and that the counselor seemed to be making an effort to help him. DRT reviewed applicable VR policies with our client to help him better navigate his situation with VR. Due to our client wanting to work with his new counselor on his issue, DRT subsequently closed the case.


o Formal complaints have been filed with the Administration for Community Living, Office of Independent Living and with the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services as a result of an individual reporting concerns she observed at the independent living (IL) center located in her urban community. A 61-year-old Caucasian female who is deaf contacted DRT/CAP and reported that she had recently attempted to visit the IL center on two separate occasions during their regular office hours and found the office to be closed. On one occasion she found a note lodged in the door facing which was from another individual who had sought assistance from the center in recent days. Following a visit to the IL center and contacts with the Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC), the individual referenced in the note left at the IL, the Council on Developmental Disabilities, two other community members and research of the IL centers information filed with the IRS, DRT filed written complaints with the Administration for Community Living (ACL) and with Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of US Dept. of Health & Human Services. The complaints addressed concerns such as the utilization of the center's financial resources, the recent apparent closure of the center for a period of time, ongoing community difficulties in contacting staff and the failure to provide the core services the IL center is federal obligated to provide. Both entities have confirmed receipt of the complaints and the OIG reported plans to conduct an on-site investigation at the IL center in late August. ACL also reported that staff are taking steps to address the concerns brought by disability stakeholders in Tennessee and will provide an update to DRT/CAP when they are prepared to make the information available to the public. As such, DRT will continue to monitor in FY2021 and to provide feedback to our clients upon receipt of the outcomes of the complaints.

o A woman who moved from another state is pursuing her dream of owning her own business. A 36-year-old African-American woman with muscular skeletal disabilities she incurred from a gunshot induced spinal cord injury contacted DRT/CAP because VR was requiring her to participate in evaluations she had already participated in during her VR case in the other state or was determined by that state to be unnecessary. Our client had partially developed a business plan to own her own barber shop school. She already had instructor credentials and wanted to move her business to our state since she moved here even though she still lived within driving distance of the other state. DRT provided a copy of the self-employment plan and explained to our client that she may need to participate in the vocational evaluation since an assessment of the individual’s capability for self-employment is determined. However, DRT provided information that our clients mental health records should be referenced prior to conducting another psychological evaluation. During this time, our client was assigned a new VR counselor who determined the psychological evaluation was not needed. Our client is now participating in an eight-week on-line course to learn business practices and complete the development of her business plan.

o A 22-year-old Hispanic male with Autism (and his parent) contacted DRT about the lack of communication and employment services he received from Vocational Rehabilitation. Upon contact with VR, DRT learned that our client's case with VR had been closed. VR records also indicated our client had signed the IPE to change his VR goal from plumber to warehouse worker. DRT educated our client and his parent on the record findings and explained how VR's Financial Needs Assessment policy can impact the financial assistance he receives from VR. Our client and his parent are now equipped with education about VR policies and provided with contact information that will assist him with reapplying for VR services

o Through Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) intervention, a man who is blind and who has a heart condition is scheduled to enter a comprehensive rehabilitation center to begin learning a new trade and how to adapt techniques due to his disability. At the age of 57, our client found himself a member of the disability community and needed to learn a new trade in order to work and support himself. He loved to cook so he wanted to enter into food service. He also needed housing in anticipation of losing his apartment in the near future. He and his Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselor determined that entering the food service program at the rehabilitation center would meet all his immediate needs. However, the counselor failed to follow through on duties that would allow our client to apply for admission to the center. Our client expected to enter the center by a certain date and his counselor had not even completed and submitted our client's application. Our client requested a new counselor and DRT facilitated the new counselor assignment through advocacy efforts. DRT also assisted our client with communication issues with his new counselor and had to work through the Regional Supervisor to facilitate the level of communication our client expected from his VR counselor. The new counselor, however, did follow through on paperwork and our client's medical providers in order to satisfy the rehabilitation center's admission requirements. Our client now has an admission date into the facility and its programs provided COVID-19 issues do not prevent on-site operations of the center in the new year.

o With DRT/CAP assistance, a fifty-six year old, African American male, with orthopedic & physical impairments was able to re-establish communication with his VR counselor and continue working toward his self-employment goal of becoming a commercial painter. Our client was also concerned his case was closed prematurely by VR. DRT/CAP educated the client on the process of applying for VR services, informed choice, and his right to change his counselor. After DRT/CAP involvement, a new application for VR sponsorship was completed and he was found eligible for services within 60 days. The client was also able to complete an Integrated Work Site Assessment and continue to work with his counselor toward his self-employment goals.


o A man who has paraplegia and who uses a wheelchair can now work independently because Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is providing a standing manual wheelchair so he can reach computer cables placed up high out of his reach. A 51year-old Caucasian man with mobility disabilities works on a contract basis repairing and installing computer systems. He uses a manual wheelchair and cannot stand due to his disability and some of the systems he works on have cables placed too high for him to reach from his chair. He has to hire an assistant to help him with these cables and other equipment. Our client requested VR to help him acquire a standing manual wheelchair so he could stand to reach these high places enabling him to work independently. The assistive technology (AT) evaluation did not recommend the standing manual wheelchair, however, because our client did not have a safe way to load the chair in his vehicle and they did not want him to injure himself picking up a heavier chair to place in his vehicle. DRT advocated for a second AT evaluation performed by a different evaluator. The counselor sought assistance from the state technology access project per our suggestion. They determined our client only needed a doctor's prescription and for a medical professional to provide our client's measurements for a standing wheelchair. With this documentation, VR proceeded to process our client's request no longer denying him the accommodation or ability to work independently.

o A forty-six year old, African American male with a learning disability was able to accomplish his employment goal of becoming a certified crane operator. Disability Rights TN (DRT) negotiated with Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) for approval and payment of the crane course. They agreed to provide the needed support. Our client now has the opportunity to seek employment that will provide him with a higher income and increased marketable skills.
Certification
Approved
Lisa Primm
Executive Director
2020-12-23
OMB Notice

OMB Control Number: 1820-0528, approved for use through 07/31/2023

According to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, no persons are required to respond to a collection of information unless such collection displays a valid OMB control number. Public reporting burden for this collection of information is estimated to average 16 hours per response, including time for reviewing instructions, searching existing data sources, gathering and maintaining the data needed, and completing and reviewing the collection of information. The obligation to respond to this collection is required to obtain or retain a benefit (Section 13 of the Rehabilitation Act, as amended). Send comments regarding the burden estimate or any other aspect of this collection of information, including suggestions for reducing this burden, to U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C. 20202-4537 or email ICDocketMgr@ed.gov and reference the OMB Control Number 1820-0528. Note: Please do not return the completed form to this address.