While the pandemic has caused a vast slowdown throughout every industry, it has also allowed for the end of long waitlists for vocational rehabilitation.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (L&I), for the first time since 1994, L&I will reopen the Order Of Selection (OOS) to Significantly Disabled (SD) and Non-Significantly Disabled (NSD) individuals. Terminating the waitlist for all SD and NSD applicants seeking vocational rehabilitation services. The change goes into effect on August 8.
L&I’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) assists Pennsylvanians with disabilities in obtaining and retaining employment while keeping their independence. Since 2016, nearly 370,000 individuals have received services from OVR, including vocational counseling, evaluations, medical diagnostic services, medical restoration services, employment training, placement services, and career support services.
Under federal law, the OOS occurs when there are limited resources to provide vocational rehabilitation services. The OOS allows state vocational rehabilitation programs without adequate funding or staff to provide services to customers who qualify on a priority basis by category. By law, the highest priority must be provided to customers with the most significant disabilities.
“Every individual should have the opportunity to pursue their passion, earn a living wage and build wealth in Pennsylvania,” L&I Secretary Jennifer Berrier said. “OVR makes this possible for individuals with disabilities by connecting them to employers who wisely recognize the value of employing people with different backgrounds and experiences – and who make their workplace open to all through reasonable accommodation.”
Due to the decrease in economic activity during the pandemic, OVR has a surplus of federal funding available to remove the waitlist and use those unspent resources to serve more Pennsylvanians.
The removal of the waitlist for services expands participation in OVR services, along with more in-demand services, such as counseling and training. Over the last year, almost 55,000 individuals benefited from those services.
“Our goal with this process has always been to serve people with disabilities by giving them the tools they need to obtain and maintain employment,” said OVR Acting Executive Director Ryan Hyde. “Removing the OOS allows us to serve more Pennsylvanians with disabilities, aiding them on their journey to be successfully and gainfully employed.”
Individuals currently on the waitlist for groups SD and NSD will be notified by their vocational rehabilitation counselors that they will be able to access services as of August 8. New, eligible customers seeking services in groups SD and NSD will be able to receive services without waiting. This change is effective through June 30, 2023, when OVR will review the fiscal outlook and decide whether the services to all groups can remain open, without the waitlist, beyond this date. On July 1, 2021, OVR reopened the OOS for individuals with a Most Significant Disability (MSD), eliminating the waitlist for any MSD applicants.
Determination of MSD, SD, or NSD is by the following criteria:
- An individual with a most significant disability has a disability that results in serious functional limitations in three or more functional capacity areas.
- An individual with a significant disability has a disability that results in serious functional limitations in at least one functional capacity area.
- An individual with a non-significant disability is determined eligible for the OVR program but does not meet the MSD or SD requirements.