Ohio is the birthplace of vocational rehabilitation for Americans with Disabilities

After graduating from Miami University, I went back to my hometown of Carbonale to begin a master’s degree program in rehabilitation counseling at Southern Illinois University. Like rehab counseling students across the country – every year – I began by learning about the foundational laws that brought the field of vocational rehabilitation into being. There are several of these laws but chief among them was the Smith-Fess Act of 1920, the law that established the Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation program. This program was set up to help injured soldiers returning from World War I to learn new skills so they could continue to have productive lives after their military service was done.

Eventually, the Smith-Fess Act of 1920 was replaced by the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which established the nationwide state-federal vocational rehabilitation program that we have today. Through this program, millions of Americans with disabilities have been able to receive training leading toward employment careers. Many professionals in the field today – including those from Ohio – may not realize the vital role Ohio played in establishing this incredibly important system.

Simeon Fess, one of the bill’s champions, was from Ohio. He was a graduate of Ohio Northern University and in 1907 became the president of Antioch College in Yellow Springs. In 1912, Mr. Fess ran for Congress, sucessfully, thus beginning a remarkable legislative career in Washington. He would serve 5 terms in the House of Representatives and then 12 years in the United States Senate. Along the way, he pushed through a bill – the Smith – Fess Act of 1920 – that would change the employment landscape for Americans with disabilities for generations to come. 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of passage of the Smith-Fess Act.

Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities – Ohio’s state-federal VR program – put out a video hosted by our governor, honoring the life and accomplishments of Simeon Fess. It turns out Governor DeWine and Senator Fess have a lot in common: They are both from Yellow Springs, they both graduated from the Ohio Northern College of Law, and they both went on to serve in Congress and the Senate. In 1998, then-Senator DeWine was given the responsibility of reauthorizing the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, the law that began with Simeon Fess’ vision for a better life for Americans with Disabilities. Senator Fess passed away in 1936 and was laid to rest in Glen Forest Cemetary in Yellow Springs – directly across the street from Mike DeWine’s childhood home.

Please enjoy this short video and be proud of the role Ohio has played in making lives better for Americans with disabilities, through the generations.

ODB Presents: The Ohio DD Council, Part 3… Collaboration and Action are the Keys to Success

Today we unveil the final installment of our interview with Carolyn Knight, director of the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council. In this segment, she discusses an innovative look at providing transportation solutions for people with disabilities. In all of my different areas of work through the years, access to transportation has always been of paramount importance to people with disabilities. The Ohio DD Council helped start a program to provide more public transportation options to people living in Athens county, a primarily rural county in southeast Ohio. The key to the success of the program, Carolyn explains, is the willingness to reach out in partnership with other agencies and programs that are struggling with the same issue for their constituentcies.

Director Knight also talks about the success of the DD Council Legislative Day, where Ohioans with DD come from all over the state to a political celebration and rally, and then go out and meet with the their state representatives and state senators. It is true that two of the best “abilities” in politics are availability and visibility. To be able to share their concerns – in person – with the powers that be is an important way to help people understand the challenges facing Ohioans with DD every day. The Legislative Day has been a huge success, often featuring visits by the Governor, Lt. Governor and other statewide elected officials. It is an idea Ohio led the way on and has been adopted by many other states across the country.

We thank Carolyn for being generous with her time and for her amazing career helping people with developmental disabilities. You can learn more about the DD Council by going to their website (ddd.ohio.gov). Please enjoy part 3 of our interview with DD Council director Carolyn Knight.

Ohio Disabilty Blog Presents… The Ohio DD Council, Part 2: Turning Innovative Ideas Into Disabilty Grants

Today we are happy to present part 2 of our interview with Carolyn Knight, Director of the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council. The Ohio DD Council is a statewide board made up of Ohioans with developmental disabilities (or family members), disability service providers, and professionals from disability state agencies. The Council takes federal money and sends it out in the form of grants to entitities in our state that are working to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

How does that happen? Where do the ideas for these grants come from? Today, Carolyn talks about the process by which Council sets the agenda and turns innovative ideas into grants that go out into the community. She also talks about a particular grant that is opening up new housing opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.

We are grateful to Carolyn for her time and her lifelong commitment to helping Ohioans with disabilities. Please take this opportunity to learn more about this wonderful program that constantly seeks out new and innovative ways to improve the lives of Ohioans with DD.

Ohio Disability Blog Presents: What is the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council? An Interview with DD Council Director Carolyn Knight

I have been working in the disability field in Ohio since 1991. I started working as an intern at Goodwill Rehabilitation Center on Edgehill Drive here in Columbus that fall and I have been around ever since. I eventually moved on and worked as a social worker in the mental health field for a community mental health center in Columbus. I also spent several years working as a rehabilitation counselor in the workers’ compensation field, including running my own business for a few of those.

Upon coming to Ohio State, I was fortunate to be appointed by Govenor Bob Taft to serve on the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council. I spent six wonderful years on the Council. I wound up being the chair of the Employment committee and, in the last two years, the chairman of the Council at large. It was an amazing experience. In all of the experiences I’ve had in my career, none was more valuable than the time I spent on DD Council.

What is DD Council? When I worked in other areas, I could not have answered this question. But it is an amazing group of people (31 in all), made up of people with disabilities (or family members), providers of services to people with disabilities, and professionals from state agencies that touch the lives of people with disabilities. They serve on this Council that is charged with sending out grants into the community to try and establish innovative programs to improve the lives of Ohioans with developmental disabilities.

They are brave. They will try things on a local level no one has tried before, without fear of failure. Througout the years, so many statewide (even nationwide) initiatives that have been implemented to help Americans with developmental disabilities started with a small DD Council grant. They pursue the art of the possible. They are an indispensable part of the disability community, but one that many people may not be aware of.

Today we share the first part of a 3-part interview with Carolyn Knight, director of the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council. In this first interview, Director Knight talks about what a DD Council is, who is eligible to serve on it, what the mission of the Ohio DD Council is, and what they hope to accomplish with the grants that are established by Council.

Parts 2 will be published on December 17 and Part 3 on December 18. We thank Carolyn for her time and her lifelong commitment to improving the lives of Ohioans with developmental disabilities.

People With Down’s Syndrome Need You to Keep Your Distance and Wear a Mask

Since the start of the Covid19 pandemic, people in “at risk” populations were advised to take extra precautions to avoid getting the virus. According to the Center for Disease Control, this list includes the following conditions: cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, heart conditions, people with compromised immune systems, people who are obese, women who are pregnant, smokers, people with sickle cell disease, and those with diabetes.

According to a recent research study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, this list should include one more condition: people with Down’s Syndrome. The Mayo Clinic notes that people with Down’s Syndrome can have the following complications: heart defects, gastrointestinal defects, immune disorders, obesity and leukemia – all of which would put them at higher risk should they contract Covid19. So, although the risk factors often shared by those with Down’s are on the list, the syndrome itself has been left off. The researchers suggest that perhaps that needs to change.

The study, which focused on the first six months of 2020, analyzed data in QResearch, a sweeping, longitudinal primary-care database that has been compiled in England since 1998. According to the study, a person with Down’s Syndrome who contracts the Covid19 virus was 4x more likely to require hospitalization and 10x more likely to die from complications caused by the virus, compared to people who do not have Down’s.

We all need to take care of each other. All of us know of families in our communities who have members with Down’s. If you need another reason to engage in the proper health protocols – washing your hands, maintaining social distance, and wearing a mask – think of them.

A study out of England shows people with Down’s Syndrome to be at much higher risk of dying due to Covid19

OOD Director Kevin Miller Interview, Part 2: Employment for People with Disabilities in the Time of Covid

In part 2 of our interview with OOD Director Kevin Miller, he describes the reaction of the consumers – Ohioans with disabilities – to the pandemic. One day they are making progress toward their goal of a job – a career – and the next they are sidelined by a virus spreading all over Ohio, the country, and the world.

In this discussion, Director Miller talks about how every link in the chain — the employers, the providers, the OOD professionals, and the consumers, had to come together and adapt in order to keep moving forward.

Ohio Disability Blog Interviews OOD Director Kevin Miller

In March of 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine sent almost every state of Ohio employee home due to the pandemic. A new day had started, and it came about quickly. State employees, many of whom had been going to work in a downtown office for 20 years, were now being asked to not come in at all. Although they couldn’t come in, the work of state government needed to go on — perhaps now more than ever. To the greatest extent possible, Ohio’s governmental agencies needed to be on the ready to continue to serve her citizens, even the midst of a pandemic.

Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) is Ohio’s state-federal vocational rehabilitation program. The professionals at OOD are charged with coordinating the types of educational and vocational services Ohioans wtih disabilities need to become employable and, ultimately, employed. The pandemic affected every link in the OOD chain — the employers who would be hiring, the providers offering the training, the people with disabilities receiving services, and the OOD professionals who were coordinating it all. Everything changed. Everything had to be done differently, and everything had to be done of the fly.

In a special 3-part interview, OOD Director Kevin Miller walks through the challenge of providing VR services to Ohioans with disabilities in the middle of a pandemic. In part 1, Director Miller talks about the impact it had on the agency, and how the vocational rehabiltiation professionals had to find new ways to continue to provide services to Ohioans with disabilities… people who were, in many cases, at special risk should they contract the Coronavirus. We thank Director Miller for his time and his message. Please enjoy part 1 of our interview with OOD Director Kevin Miller.

Welcome to the Ohio Disability Blog!

Welcome to the newest creation from Assistive Technology of Ohio – the Ohio Disability Blog!

Assistive Technology of Ohio (AT Ohio) is part of the College of Engineering at The Ohio State University. We are Ohio’s Assistive Technology Act program and all of the service we offer help people learn about the ways that technology can improve the lives of Ohioans with disabilities. Technology can play such a major role in helping people with disabilities succeed in school, compete in the workplace and lead more independent and inter-connected lives.

On the Ohio Disability Blog, we hope to:

  1. Educate Ohioans about the latest developments affecting people with disabilities.
  2. Spotlight new and emerging technologies that help people with disabilities in the areas of education, employment and community living
  3. Highlight Ohioans who are on the frontlines, helping improve the lives of Ohioans with disabilities, every day.

We hope to become Ohio’s online home to discuss issues of upmost importance to Ohio’s disabilities community. And for us, that includes everyone: people with visual impairments, hearing impairments, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities – everyone. They can also come from every disability-related system in Ohio: Developmental Disabilities, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, Aging, the Veterans Administration, Workers’ Compensation… you name it.

We will be utilize some the best and most experienced talent in the state on disability issues. We will be interviewing Ohio’s disability leaders. And we will be letting you know how you can get involved and engaged in helping improve the lives of Ohioans with disabilities.