Celebrating the 100 Year History of Vocational Rehabilitation (1920-2020)

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woman with down syndrome smiles and uses laptop

In 1920 the Smith-Fess Act/Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act created a civilian vocational rehabilitation program. It was heavily modeled after the Smith-Sears Rehabilitation Act of 1918, a Vocational Rehabilitation program for disabled veterans. The Smith-Fess Act only served people with physical disabilities.  


In 1935 the Social Security Act provided permanent federal funding for VR.


In 1973 the Rehabilitation Act: The Complete Rehabilitation Act replaces the VR Act and brought wide-ranging changes to the VR program. It prioritized serving individuals with the most significant disabilities and emphasized evaluation for customers and professional development for VR staff. The Act also instituted more customer involvement in the VR process and tied disability to life functions, thereby shifting away from the “medical model” of providing services.


In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed, signifying civil rights protections for individuals with disabilities and addressing inclusion in the workplace and across all sectors of society.


In 1992 the United States Congress developed a formal mechanism (by amending Title 1, Section 105) for people with disabilities to have influence in shaping the vocational rehabilitation services they received. State Rehabilitation Councils are this means of influence.


In 1993 the Consortia of Administrators of Native American Rehabilitation (CANAR) was incorporated into the Act.  


The Washington State Rehabilitation Council was established in 1994 by Executive Order 04-04. The Rehabilitation Act requires DVR to work with the Council as a policy partner.


Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 ensured equal access for individuals with disabilities to all workforce services and increased collaboration between VR and other federal and state employment and training programs. WIA also more fully integrated State Rehabilitation Councils into state VR agency planning.


Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 amended and strengthened the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It affirmed Vocational Rehabilitation as a core component of the state and federal workforce system. WIOA emphasized employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, especially on pre-employment services for youth transitioning from school to employment. (The Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act- WIOA)

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