Discussion on disability issues at the White House

At the White House -- Advocates for those with disabilities met at the White House July 10 to discuss policy directions for consideration by the Obama administration.

Photographed in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the West Wing, are (from left): Patricia Leahy, director of governmental affairs for the National Rehabilitation Association; Carl R. Flowers, associate professor in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Rehabilitation Institute and association past president; Stacia L. Robertson, Rehabilitation Institute associate professor and president of the National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns; presidential adviser Kareem Dale; Rita Martin, director of policy, research and membership services for the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation; Carl Suter, the council’s executive director; and Beverlee Stafford, executive director of the rehabilitation association. (Photo provided)

July 17, 2009

Experts discuss disability issues at White House

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Two experts from Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Rehabilitation Institute met July 10 at the White House with presidential adviser Kareem Dale to talk about issues affecting people with disabilities.

At Dale’s invitation, Carl R. Flowers, past president of the National Rehabilitation Association, and Stacia L. Robertson, president of the National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns, joined representatives of the rehabilitation association and the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation in providing background to be used in developing federal policy in this area.

The group emphasized the importance of keeping the public vocational rehabilitation program within the U.S. Department of Education rather than moving it to the labor department.

“The collective thinking is that individuals with disabilities will be lost within the Department of Labor, based on the fact that it is completely focused on employment,” Flowers said.

“Individuals with disabilities want to work and contribute to society, but there are other needs that must be addressed as part of the rehabilitation plan.”

The group also discussed the need for qualified rehabilitation professionals in state agencies and the value of being attuned to cultural differences.

“In some state employment agencies, the staff serving persons with disabilities are general employment personnel who are not familiar with the need for additional services,” Flowers said.

“In addition, the literature suggests that in the past, rehabilitation counselors have not always been sensitive to racial and ethnic backgrounds and so do not achieve the results they have with clients from other backgrounds.”

Robertson said she particularly wanted to focus on diversity and a credentialing process that emphasizes learning to deal with people from other cultures.

“As the NAMRC president, I have already contacted Dale’s office to follow up on that discussion and to supply him with information on the association,” she said.