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Hinesville observes disabled workers awareness month
McLendon with Thomas after signing
Sue McLendon of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency holds a proclamation signed Thursday by Hinesville Mayor James Thomas at city hall. - photo by Randy C.Murray

A physical or mental disability may limit career options or put an end to a particular career.

But according to Kathy Votau, rehabilitation unit manager for Hinesville and Brunswick with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, a disability doesn’t necessarily mean an end to a disabled worker’s ability to earn a living and contribute to the workforce,  "Any citizen of Georgia who has a physical or mental disability that impacts his or her ability to work can benefit from our vocational rehabilitation services,” Votau said. “The whole gist of our program is to assist persons with disabilities to find work.”

Votau said October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In recognition of the part disabled workers play in the workforce, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas signed a proclamation Thursday prior to the city council meeting.

The proclamation encourages employers, schools and community organizations to participate in regional activities throughout the month, including awareness walks and job fairs for disabled workers.

Votau said her agency works with the Georgia Department of Labor as a community partner. Both state agencies are committed to getting disabled workers back to work, she said.

Through job counselors, rehabilitation-employment specialists, job-placement specialists and work-technology teams, Votau said her agency connects disabled workers to vocational-rehabilitation education programs, markets disabled workers to local employers and assists disabled workers with writing resumes and the job-application process.

She said her agency works with high-school students in the process of transitioning from school to the workforce, providing guidance counseling and skills assessments.

Her agency’s assistive work-technology teams — which consist of a rehabilitation engineer, occupational therapist, rehabilitation technologist and technician — assist with disability aids and workplace accommodations that enable a worker to perform his or her job.

She said skills assessment is a big part of services provided. These assessments are used to determine the services necessary to reach an employment goal.

“If someone is a truck driver and, for some reason, he is no longer able to drive a truck anymore, we conduct a skills assessment to see if he has any transferable skills that may allow him to do some other job,” Votau said. “We look at what’s reasonable and appropriate, and if he has no transferable skills, we would look at a retraining program.”

Votau emphasized the state’s vocational rehabilitation program is an eligibility program, not an entitlement program. To qualify for the program, the worker’s disability must be permanent and stable, and there are financial eligibility requirements, she said.

She added that even though the state may sponsor the rehab program, it does not provide the disabled worker supplemental income while he or she is going through the program.

She said a likely candidate for a re-training program would be someone who has no specific skill and has worked his or her entire life doing physical-labor jobs. If that person is injured and can no longer perform physical labor, he or she probably would qualify for re-training.

Once the rehab program is completed and employment is achieved, she said her agency will conduct a 90-day follow-up with the worker and employer.

After that follow-up, the case is considered closed, she said.

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