By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK ─ July 26 will mark the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This landmark legislation, signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, prohibits discrimination and guarantees the civil rights of people with disabilities.
In Oklahoma, 16.1 percent of the population or more than 620,250 people have disabilities, according to the most recent statistics available from the U.S. Census’ 2016 American Community Survey.
The ADA focuses on equal access to employment, state and local government services, businesses that provide goods or services to the public and telecommunications, as well as education, transportation and inclusion in other aspects of community life.
“The ADA established the rights of citizens with disabilities to share the same opportunities as those without disabilities – something which was not protected by law before the ADA was enacted,” explained April Danahy, chair of the Commission for Rehabilitation Services.
The Commission governs the Oklahoma Department for Rehabilitation Services (DRS).
DRS provides career planning, employment, residential and outreach education and programs that promote independence and self-sufficiency for Oklahomans with disabilities. The agency also determines medical eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.
“The ADA has set the stage for many to go to work; however, roadblocks, both structural and attitudinal, still prevent equal access to job opportunities and full participation in many aspects of community life,” Noel Tyler, Oklahoma DRS executive director said. “Limited public transportation, for example, remains a significant problem in our state for jobseekers who don’t drive due to disabilities.”
DRS agency programs helped over 97,800 people with disabilities in 2017.
The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services has six program divisions including: Vocational Rehabilitation, Visual Services, Oklahoma School for the Blind, Oklahoma School for the Deaf, Disability Determination Services, and Support Services.
Two of DRS divisions are responsible for career preparation and employment services. Visual Services helps jobseekers who are blind or visually impaired. Vocational Rehabilitation assists those with other types of disabilities.
Clients receive career counseling, education and training, assistive technology, job placement and coaching or medical services required to help them find or maintain employment.
According to a press release, DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services served 11,765 job-seekers and helped 2,014 become employed, earning an annual average of $22,212 and paying an annual average of $3,332 in taxes.
Services for jobseekers on current caseloads are not affected by waiting lists, the release noted.
DRS also helps employers recruit qualified employees with disabilities and advises them on workplace accessibility, adaptive equipment and business tax credits that can facilitate compliance with the ADA.
To be protected by the ADA, an individual must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or be a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or one who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.
This year, DRS celebrates 25 years as an independent agency. On June 11, 1993, then Gov. David Walters signed Senate Bill 356, establishing the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services. Through this legislation Oklahoma is able to provide more effective consumer responsive services for its citizens with disabilities.
For more information about DRS, visit okdrs.gov or phone 800-845-8476.