To further eliminate employment barriers for Kentuckians with disabilities, Governor Matt Bevin today issued an executive order streamlining the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) and the Office for the Blind (OFB) into one centralized agency offering services to individuals with disabilities.
Effective Oct. 1, the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet will consolidate services previously offered by OVR and OFB into a newly created agency, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Continued services for individuals with visual disabilities will be offered through the agency’s Division of Blind Services. The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation will operate under the leadership of Cora McNabb who previously served as the acting executive director for the Office for the Blind.
“The launch of the new Office of Vocational Rehabilitation is the result of many months of thoughtful collaboration among a wide array of public and private sector groups,” said Gov. Bevin. “One of our Administration’s cornerstone aims is to promote economic opportunities to empower all Kentuckians. This new one-stop agency will enable the Commonwealth to better equip disabled individuals with tools and resources for success, while ensuring that we continue to meet the specific needs of our citizens with visual impairments.”
In 2017, the Office for the Blind and Office of Vocational Rehabilitation jointly served more than 26,000 Kentuckians with disabilities, connecting over 3,400 of those individuals with employment. The streamlined Office of Vocational Rehabilitation will continue to operate 10 local offices serving individuals with visual impairments and 34 vocational rehabilitation offices.
“Bringing both agencies under one structure will allow us to continue to focus our efforts on connecting Kentuckians with disabilities with gainful employment opportunities,” said Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Derrick K. Ramsey. “The reorganization helps us ensure that we are effectively tailoring our resources to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities throughout the Commonwealth.”
The reorganization is the result of a collaborative effort among state agencies and advocacy groups to streamline government services for Kentuckians with disabilities. For the past two years, leadership from the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, State Council of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Office for the Blind State Rehabilitation Council have worked together to ensure the reorganization of these two agencies would be a seamless transition for the individuals served throughout the Commonwealth.
“I feel the merger can be a positive for both agencies. They should be better able to serve more customers under one umbrella instead of having two separate entities. I believe we will see great things after the merger of OVR and OFB,” said Joe Cowan, chairperson for the State Council of Vocational Rehabilitation.
To ensure specialized services for individuals with visual impairments would remain a priority throughout the reorganization process, the Office for the Blind State Rehabilitation Council formed a steering committee consisting of representatives from the Kentucky National Federation of the Blind, Kentucky American Council for the Blind, and the Blue Grass Council for the Blind.
“As the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky, I was pleased to have a place at the table to assist with the planning and preparation of the merger of the Kentucky Office for the Blind and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. I believe those of us on the stakeholder committee who represented the blind community were respected, and our concerns were met,” said Cathy Jackson, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky.
Theresa Thomas with the Blue Grass Council for the Blind said, “We are pleased that the consumer organizations were included in discussions where we were given the opportunity to share our ideas and concerns.”
In addition to the steering committee, 10 public hearings were held across the state during the months of May and June to allow the public an opportunity to comment on the reorganization process.
Gerry Slusher with the Northern Kentucky Council for the Blind said, “As long as specialized services can continue to exist in the combined agency you certainly can’t go wrong with a win-win situation.”
To review the executive order establishing the Office of the Vocational Rehabilitation, please click here.