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Rehabilitation Council of Texas 2014 Annual Report

RCT Spotlight on...


DARS Division for Rehabilitation Services: Benefits and Work Incentive Initiative

The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Division for Rehabilitation Services (DRS) is always finding ways to improve services and help consumers return to work and make a living wage. As an added benefit to consumers, DRS began to provide
basic overview training to its statewide staff about benefits and work incentives programs created by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to incentivize consumers receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The staff members attended a five-day intensive benefits training session and went through an extensive testing process in order to become
benefits subject matter resource staff (benefits SMRS).

The first six staff members certified as benefits SMRS quickly received many requests from vocational rehabilitation counselors (VRCs), DRS staff, Division for Blind Services (DBS) staff, and stakeholders across the state regarding the effects of earned income on SSI and/or SSDI and the accompanying health care benefits. The DRS staff members recognized the importance of building an infrastructure to grow and sustain this effort and extended their knowledge to help DBS staff develop their own benefits SMRS and build a DARS benefits SMRS statewide network. As of September 30, DARS now has 89 DRS and DBS benefits SMRS.

The benefits SMRS have a very important role at DARS. They provide one-on-one consultation and/or trainings to co-workers, consumers, and DARS stakeholders; attend monthly teleconferences; write and disseminate a

“Work Incentive of the Month” to all staff; attend a statewide annual meeting; and receive ongoing technical assistance from a DRS Central Office benefits program specialist and a DBS benefits SMRS lead staff member. Additionally, DRS wants to continue the growth of this program and has hired an additional program specialist to provide five-day intensive trainings every six months.

The benefits SMRS initiative has been successful and is included in the DRS State Plan for federal fiscal year 2015. Activities planned for benefits SMRS include delivering data that shows the result of work completed; creating a five-day training session for DRS Deaf and Hard of Hearing VRCs; transferring essential visual materials into alternative format for consumers who are blind; and producing a short video for consumers for DRS and DBS offices statewide with overview information about SSI and SSDI.

Adding the program to the federal fiscal year formalizes the commitment by DARS to ensure that all consumers receiving SSI and/or SSDI benefits are able to earn a living wage by utilizing SSA and state-specific work incentive programs.

DARS Division for Blind Services: Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center

The Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center (CCRC) is a place where people who are legally blind can receive intensive and comprehensive individualized training to achieve their vocational goals. Through the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Division for Blind Services (DBS), vocational rehabilitation counselors (VRCs) across 12 Texas regions refer consumers who can benefit from this training. CCRC partners with the consumer and DBS staff to provide a targeted, individualized program.

In 1969, the Texas Legislature passed a resolution naming the new Rehabilitation Center for the Blind after Criss Cole as a tribute to his monumental role in improving services for people with all disabilities. Cole lost his sight in 1942 while serving as a U.S. Marine during World War II. He was awarded a Purple Heart and became a member of the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate from 1955 until 1970. He was elected President Pro Temp and served as the governor for a day on January 10,1970. During his time as a representative, Cole helped to establish the Padre Island National Seashore and the Institute of Texan Cultures. He was also instrumental in passing a measure banning racial discrimination by state and local governments.



Since opening in 1971, CCRC has maintained its mission of providing quality rehabilitation services to help people who are blind accomplish their employment and independent living goals. These services include intensive training in residential and community settings in such core skills as orientation and mobility, braille, daily living skills (communication, cooking, planning, and organizing), career exploration, technology, adjustment to blindness, and advanced career guidance.

CCRC serves more than 160 full-time students annually and provides more than 250 specific services, including tours and mini trainings across Texas. It also provides staff immersion training to promote sensitivity toward individuals who are blind. This year, 25 percent of students became employed within a few months of being trained at CCRC. Many others are successfully taking college courses in pursuit of higher education.

The training at CCRC promotes the learning of basic blindness skills non-visually using sleep shades as well as providing visual training in order to maximize the use of any remaining vision.

In order to meet a variety of needs, CCRC offers three programs:

  • Confidence Building Training Program is a seven-week structured nonvisual training program that gives students self-confidence and the understanding that vision loss is not a barrier to success. Consumers participate, learn, and gain valuable skills both in classes such as daily living, technology, mobility, career guidance, and industrial arts. They also participate in community activities, including recreation, shopping, and a volunteer experience.
  • Proficiency Training Program teaches students to identify and obtain the skills needed to achieve employment and independent living goals. Students work with a team to choose from a variety of classes offered and to choose from both
    nonvisual and visual training techniques. The length of program varies based on the individual’s needs and generally ranges from two to six months.
  • Career Focus Training Program teaches students to prepare for competitive employment by developing, implementing, and applying employment readiness skills and capabilities linked toward their personal academic and career goals. They work with a team of staff to determine training needs and objectives. The length of this program can be as short as two weeks or up to two to three months, depending on individual needs.

The CCRC is dedicated to continually meeting the needs of consumers and promoting confidence, competence, and independence so consumers will reach their goals and live fruitful and productive lives.