NEW HIRING PROGRAM BRINGS OPPORTUNITY FOR MAN WITH DISABILITY
Bill Austin is no stranger to adversity. He has faced it his entire life. Austin, now 50, goes through life battling muscular dystrophy on a daily basis. Although it progressively weakens the body's skeletal muscles and has limited Austin’s mobility to two percent use of his right hand, he has not let that slow him down as he chases his dreams.
Austin has been employed with the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) since January as an accounting technician. Austin is the first of 12 people that DRS has hired thanks to a State Work Incentive Program that makes it easy for state agencies to hire DRS’s vocational rehabilitation clients. They are hired as entry-level employees for up to two years on a part-time or full-time basis. These employees do not count against hiring limits set for an agency.
"My search for employment after college was a struggle, despite having an accounting degree," said Austin. "It seems there are many employers out there who still hesitate to hire people with disabilities. The State Work Incentive Program really provided me with an opportunity that was not there previously."
Kevin Statham, federal accounting supervisor for DRS, has welcomed Austin to his staff, and believes that the State Work Incentive Program is an excellent way for other agencies to reach an under utilized segment of our workforce.
Individuals hired under the program are eligible for leave and standard benefits available to all state workers. State agencies can convert a program participant to permanent employment status after two consecutive years in the program if the employee has had satisfactory performance evaluations, meets minimum qualifications for the job and completes any entrance examinations required.
DRS counselors will certify a vocational rehabilitation client’s eligibility for the program which is administered by the Office of Personnel Management and refer qualified individuals to state agencies interested in hiring through the program.
Austin credits DRS for quickly taking advantage of this new law and giving him a chance to prove his worth in the workplace.
"DRS is really breaking ground, and I hope that other agencies will take notice and follow suit," said Austin. "Now that I'm employed I feel like a man again," said Austin. "It is great to be a viable part of society."
"With the labor market as tight as it is now, this is a great opportunity for state agencies to obtain qualified employees from an often unrecognized labor source. Agencies can also benefit from the higher than average job retention rate and low absenteeism demonstrated by workers with disabilities," said DRS Director Linda Parker.
The Department of Rehabilitation Services annually assists approximately 87,000 Oklahomans with disabilities through vocational rehabilitation, employment, independent living and residential and outreach education programs. The agency also determines medical eligibility for disability benefits.
For more information about the State Work Incentive Program, as well as other DRS programs and services, call (405) 951-3400 in Oklahoma City or (800) 845-8476 toll free. The numbers are accessible by voice or telecommunications equipment for the deaf.