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Evolve: VR, a Comprehensive Plan to Strengthen SSB

Systemic Change Overview


Evolve: VR is a multi-year systemic change initiative to redesign our vocational rehabilitation services to better meet the needs of current and future customers of our program. When WIOA came out in 2014 and the subsequent regulations in 2016, our program was a square peg going into a round hole. We modified our peg to meet the needs, but it wasn't what it could and should be. Evolve: VR will create a new peg that fits the mission, vision, and intent of WIOA.

We are evolving into:

  • A customer-centric program that results in individuals obtaining life-sustaining careers that offer competitive wages and opportunities for advancement,
  • Providing individualized and transformational vocational services that are easy to navigate and positively impact the lives of individuals who are blind, visually impaired, and DeafBlind, and
  • The best VR program in the country that people want to work for and with.

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility will be embodied throughout and within the entire systemic change.

Why Evolve: VR

The national vocational rehabilitation program is under intense scrutiny for declining numbers, less than satisfactory performance, and millions of dollars in returned funds. According to the Rehabilitation Services Administration from Federal Fiscal Year 2017 to 2020:

  • Number of applications are down 43.5%
  • Number of individuals determined eligible are down 44.3%
  • Number of participants receiving services are down 13.4%
  • Number of individuals exiting with an employment outcome are down 33.6%
  • The employment rate has been steadily declining from 49.5% to 43.8%
  • The median hourly earnings have only increased $2/hour, from $10 to $12
  • The median number of hours worked has not increased at all and remains at 30 hours per week

In FFY 2022, 22 states relinquished over $338,000,000 in VR funds, almost 10% of the total VR grant. This is an unprecedented amount, and the reasons for the return include a lack of state investment via non-federal match, decreased applicants and participants, increased focus on students and youth, and poor fiscal management.

The rehabilitation counselor profession has become watered down; the CORE accreditation for rehabilitation counselors has been absorbed by Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). CACREP historically has excluded disability and vocational counseling from their 8 core components. This has resulted in an increased focus on licensed professional counseling and mental health. Getting people with disabilities into employment (i.e. work) is not part of the core curriculum at all.

Simply put, in order for VR to be a national leader in increasing the workforce participation rate of people with disabilities in this country, we need to rethink our model and improve our performance. Not doing so will surely result in the dissolution of vocational rehabilitation as we know it.

Evolve: VR Framework (MAPPP)

Evolve: Mindset

  • Bring staff back to the core values of vocational rehabilitation and person-centered approaches.
  • Instill trust at all levels: trusting staff, trusting leaders, trusting processes, and most importantly, trusting customers. This involves building cohesion and comfort in being vulnerable with one another.
  • Shift our perceptions, biases, misconceptions, and viewpoints as it relates to vocational rehabilitation and people with disabilities.

Evolve: Awareness

  • Develop a targeted outreach and engagement campaign that:
    • Changes the perception of our program to one that is easy to engage with and fully supports people in achieving all types of employment and careers, not just entry-level.
    • Changes perceptions and biases around hiring people who are blind, visually impaired, and DeafBlind so more employers recognize this talent pool as essential in solving their workforce shortage.
    • Showcase our program so that current and future partners know how to connect and collaborate with us to achieve a common goal: personal and vocational independence of Minnesotans who are blind, visually impaired, and DeafBlind.
    • Increase the number of applicants that want to start working, keep working, or advance in their careers.
    • Increase the number of people with disabilities achieving life-sustaining careers.
    • Incentivize service providers so they can build and expand their services, resulting in customers being able to quickly engage in adjustment to blindness and employment services wherever they are.

Evolve: Process

  • Create a customer-centric program that is easy for individuals to navigate on their journey to employment.
  • Lean into our philosophy that we believe the individual and the staff person closest to the direct delivery of services are in the best position to make decisions about rehabilitation plans and services. Because of the importance of our mission, we cut out unnecessary procedures and we keep our communications with each other open, consistent, and based on ethical principles
  • Implement a Rapid and Continuous Engagement model that focuses on four key components of the VR program:
    • Orientation, Intake, and Eligibility
    • Comprehensive Assessment and Plan Development
    • Provision and Delivery of Services
    • Job Readiness and Employment

Evolve: Personnel

  • Foster a program, environment, and culture that talented, qualified professionals seek out and want to work for.
  • Design an organizational structure that meets the needs of the program, the staff, and most importantly, the people we serve.
  • Restore the vocational rehabilitation counselor role to be a counselor, not case manager.

Evolve: Performance

  • Transparently talk about our program using multiple methods:
    • Data dashboards
    • Stories of impact.
  • Redefine data collection requirements and staff responsibilities.
  • Use data and feedback to inform our program.
  • Have accurate budgetary information to make fiscally sound decisions that will sustain our program for years to come.

How We Are Achieving This

This is a multi-faceted approach that will include and embody:

  • Staff feedback, ideas, and suggestions;
  • Customer, Council, and stakeholder input; and
  • Evidence-based practices and innovations from other state VR agencies, CSAVR, and NCSAB.

This is a transformational change that takes careful planning and strategizing. Transparency and ongoing communication will be essential in achieving success. This systemic change is not intended to overwhelm, but it will push and stretch us into being the best we can be. We recognize that not every strategy we implement will be successful; we will keep what works and change what doesn't. We need to be nimble, flexible, open, and willing to take risks.

We will engage with all units within SSB, so they too become champions for Evolve: VR. Each unit engages with the VR program in some fashion, and they are a critical component for celebrating and promoting the work that we are doing.

Prior to strategy implementation, we must begin work around changing our perceptions, biases, misconceptions, and viewpoints as it relates to vocational rehabilitation and people with disabilities. This is a cultural shift that needs to include:

  • Bringing staff back to the core values of vocational rehabilitation.
  • Instilling trust: trusting staff, trusting leaders, trusting processes, and most importantly, trusting customers.
  • Changing the fear of making mistakes and the risk-aversion mentality that has historically permeated government workers.
  • Fighting the urge to complain but not bring solutions.
  • Building a culture of innovation.
  • Celebrating the risk.

We call this Evolve: Mindset and is the pre-work that needs to happen before we can truly implement our Evolve framework.


This is a multi-year systemic change with strategies being implemented at various times and only when the time is right. Some strategies are contingent on others. We prioritize those items that are most important and have the highest impact first.

September 2022

  • Launch the vision of Evolve: VR to the Workforce Development Unit team
  • Solicit ideas and input from staff
  • Finalize the Evolve Systemic Change Plan

October 2022

  • Launch the vision of Evolve: VR to the State Rehabilitation Council-Blind at the October meeting
  • Share the Evolve: VR Systemic Change Plan to all SSB staff and Council for feedback

November 2022

  • Initiate a contract with the Management Analysis Division to begin collecting information from customers and stakeholders
  • Present to staff the why behind our evolution through a presentation titled Looking Back to Understand the Future of VR by Steve Wooderson, CSAVR
  • Continue to collect information and feedback from staff, customers, and stakeholders
  • Discuss Evolve: VR and begin the cultural shift conversation (Evolve: Mindset) at the November WDU Staff Meeting
  • Determine the top three strategies to start with

December 2022

  • Fully initiate Evolve: Mindset
  • Finalize top 3 priorities and begin plan implementation
  • Update SRCB at December meeting

January 2022-Until Completion

  • Implement plan strategies
  • Document and report out on progress on a quarterly basis

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