(L-R): Carmella Ramos, Melanie Murray, Paula Thomas and Jenifer Curtis hold up their Vocational Rehabilitaition sign.

Human Resources Vocational Rehabilitation Division

By Richie Corrales
Au-Authm Action News

The Salt River Vocational Rehabilitation Program, part of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Human Resources Department, set up a booth with information for interested individuals on October 16 at the Round House Café. The program provides vocational rehabilitation services for Community members and residents with disabilities to help them enter and contribute to the workforce.

While vocational rehabilitation may bring to mind physical rehabilitation, it’s not the same thing. Vocational rehabilitation is a program for individuals with documented disabilities who want to work. They may need assistance with job training, interview skills or getting accommodation from a potential employer.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, part of a campaign to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. The theme for 2013 is “Because We Are Equal to the Task,” which goes along with vocational rehabilitation and the willingness to work.

The roots of NDEAM go back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

During the event at the Round House Café, people received valuable disability employment information and had the chance to enter a raffle and get a 10-percent discount on their lunch that day.

The SRPMIC Vocational Rehabilitation Program assists Community members and Native Americans with disabilities who want to work or are already working, and they just need some help to get a job or to keep the job they have. Some of the services provided are counseling, training, job search and placement, coaching, assessment, assistive technology, on-the-job assistance, referrals, transportation and occupational needs, such as equipment, uniforms, tools and licenses.

“We actually opened our doors in October of 2012, so we’ve been around for a year now. We have exceeded our [initial] expectations; our goal was to serve about 30 people, and so far we have served 77, so that’s more than double,” said Melanie Murray, manager of the Vocational Rehabilitation Program. She added that the program has helped 21 people gain employment.

Any Native American residing within the Community who has a disability that can be documented by a medical professional is eligible for vocational rehabilitation. The SRPMIC program also has a working relationship with Salt River High School, which is different from other tribal vocational rehabilitation programs.
“We have done some pre-vocational transitions to help [students with disabilities] prepare for the real world,” said Paula Thomas, vocational rehabilitation counselor. The program helps students get further in their lives, “whatever their goals are, whether it’s further education or work related. We just don’t want them to feel that they are done once they are out of high school.”
“The way that we view it is, no two cases look the same,” said Murray. “We look at each person’s condition and how it limits them functionally.”

There are six tribal vocational rehabilitation programs in Arizona to help serve the Native American population. Native Americans have a history of being underserved because the programs are not in rural areas, but require travel to cities to access services.

If you live on the Community, have a disability and are an enrolled Community member, or an enrolled member of another federally recognized tribe, and you want to work, come to one of the twice-monthly vocational rehabilitation orientation sessions held in the Creosote Room of Two Waters Building B (see sidebar). Or for more information, call (480) 362-5587.

Vocational Rehabilitation Program – Upcoming Orientation Sessions

Held twice monthly on Tuesdays, 10-11 a.m., at SRPMIC Human Resources, Two Waters Building B, Creosote Room.

December 10, 2013
January 14 & 28, 2014
February 11 & 25
March 11 & 25


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Human Resources Vocational Rehabilitation Division