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Strong vocational rehabilitation helps farmers succeed

Secretary Ray Allen

June was Wisconsin Dairy Month, and it’s a great time to highlight the contributions of Wisconsin’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation on Wisconsin’s agriculture industry and Wisconsin’s workforce as a whole. In federal fiscal year 2015, the Workforce Development’s DVR helped 4,875 consumers, including about 180 Wisconsin farmers, achieve employment goals.

The core mission of DWD is developing Wisconsin’s workforce, and that includes helping workers with disabilities move toward greater independence through the dignity of work.

Job seekers with disabilities represent a critical part of our state’s workforce, and through their success in reaching their goals, contribute to Wisconsin’s economic growth. This is why Gov. Scott Walker in 2014 launched A Better Bottom Line in support of overcoming barriers to employment for job seekers with disabilities. A Better Bottom Line is tailored after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell’s initiative with the National Governors Association and promotes employment opportunities for people with disabilities through recognition, education and strategic investments. This includes helping farmers with disabilities continue their livelihood through the most essential — and cost-effective — supports and resources.

In Wisconsin, demand for vocational rehabilitative services is growing with more than 16,000 consumers on DVR’s caseload at any given time, and thousands more expected to seek services as Wisconsin implements federal regulations under the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. In an effort to remain excellent stewards of public funds, DVR has updated practices to ensure critical supports are available to all DVR consumers, including farmers, and long-term financial stability of the program is protected.

DVR has long supported Wisconsin’s strong agricultural heritage and continues to offer an array of services to assist farmers with disabilities who are eligible DVR consumers. For example, DVR will determine the extent to which a purchase of assisting technology or other service would help farmers achieve their employment goals to continue farming. DVR also helps identify and refer farmers to other state or federal resources that focus on Wisconsin farmers.

Additionally, individuals including farmers sometimes approach DVR with the need to pursue a different career. DVR offers individualized services such as career exploration, job preparation, temporary work experiences and post-secondary education and training.

By aligning DVR’s services to farmers with the core mission of the program, we are ensuring Wisconsin’s DVR system remains stable and available to eligible workers with significant disabilities today and in the years to come.

Ray Allen is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.