Two University of Arkansas professors have been awarded a five-year, $999,999 grant from the U.S. Department of Education for training rehabilitation counselors who can provide vocational and independent living services to people with disabilities.
Professors Brent Thomas Williams and Tameeka Hunter are in the Counselor Education and Supervision Program in the College of Education and Health Professions.
The grant will help address an impending rehabilitation counselor shortage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arkansas has one of the highest rates of disability — 31.5% of all adults —which is well above the national average of 19%.
Williams said national statistics indicate the disability rate will continue to climb, but the number of professionals entering the field of rehabilitation counseling has yet to match demand.
This grant will allow 25 master’s students to receive comprehensive training to become rehabilitation counselors. They will be trained to help people with disabilities as they enter competitive employment and begin a career.
“This involves much more than job placement services and career counseling,” Williams said. “In the current and anticipated economic environment, vocational supports, such as a job coach, may be necessary for a person with a disability to acclimate and succeed in a new position.”
Likewise, simply placing a person with a disability into an existing position with set responsibilities may not be the most productive approach, he said.
“Customized employment in which a position’s tasks and responsibilities are tailored to the person with a disability’s strengths and abilities is more advantageous to both the employee and the employer,” Williams said. “The approach requires employer engagement — the process of collaborating with potential employers to optimize the outcomes for all parties involved.”
This engagement is particularly critical for young people with disabilities. Those who leave high school and don’t enter the workforce have a substantially lower quality of life and are more reliant upon social programs throughout the course of their lives. Pre-employment transition services engage students while they’re still in high school and help facilitate their transition into competitive employment.
The societal benefits of providing rehabilitation services to people with disabilities has been clearly established from both economic and psychosocial perspectives, Hunter said.
Hunter has a lifelong physical disability and greatly benefited from the services of a vocational rehabilitation counselor.
“I was so inspired by my rehabilitation counselor that I chose to become a rehab professional to help those with disabilities as I have been helped,” she said. “This is a full circle moment for me. It is exciting to be in a position to help train future rehabilitation counselors as a way to meet the increasing demand.
“I know firsthand how life-changing rehabilitation counseling services can be, so I am happy to be a part of this effort.”
Hunter joined the U of A this fall as a tenure-track assistant professor in the Counselor Education and Supervision Program. She’s a licensed professional counselor, a nationally certified rehabilitation counselor, and a board-certified counselor. She had a 17-year career in disability services before beginning her doctoral studies. Most recently, she was the director of the Disability Resource Center at Clayton State University.