38 episodes

Conversations powered by VR. One Manager at a time. One Minute at a time.

Manager Minute-brought to you by the VR Technical Assistance Center for Quality Management VRTAC-QM Team

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Conversations powered by VR. One Manager at a time. One Minute at a time.

    VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: DIFing the Path Forward - Iowa's Blueprint for Change Bridges Subminimum Wage to Competitive Integrated Employment

    VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: DIFing the Path Forward - Iowa's Blueprint for Change Bridges Subminimum Wage to Competitive Integrated Employment

    Welcome to VRTAC-QM Manager Minute! Today, we're joined by Brandy McOmber, Project Director, Ashley Banes, Counselor Specialist, and Paul Fuller, Counselor Specialist, all representing Iowa General.
    Our focus is Iowa's Blueprint for Change DIF Grant and its creative use of the collective impact approach. This initiative aims to amplify opportunities for competitive integrated employment through strategic partnerships and pilot programs. Its overarching mission? To phase out sub-minimum wage employment in Iowa and revolutionize the career paths of individuals considering such options.
    As 14(C) certificate holders decline, many individuals find themselves without employment, often spending their days at home or in day habilitation programs. Stay tuned to learn more about how they're transforming lives with DIF!

     
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    Full Transcript:
     
    {Music}
     
    Brandy: Making sure that we have a focus across the state, that competitive integrated employment is the first and preferred outcome for all individuals with disabilities.
     
    Paul: We want to partner with the CRPs, the school districts, mental health providers, and we want to be able to provide customized employment or ISPY at a much younger age in the high school.
     
    Ashley: Our work group has looked at the direct support professional registered apprenticeship that already exists in the state of Iowa, and that's registered, and we're looking at what can we take from that and really kind of DIF it.
     
    Paul: We're DIF'ing it.
     
    Brandy: who wants to dive in with us and DIF it?
     
    Intro Voice: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management, Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Here is your host Carol Pankow.
     
    Carol: Well welcome to the manager minute. Joining me in the studio today is Brandi McOmber project director Ashley Banes, counselor specialist, focused on the apprenticeship program, and Paul Fuller, counselor specialist focused on the transition pilot all with Iowa general. So hey, gang, thanks for joining me in the studio today. So a little background for our listeners. I heard this group talk about their DIF project in a recent CSAVR monthly directors meeting, and they were focused on one aspect of the grant that was centered around the IPS project. And in fact, I thought maybe that was the whole thing. And shoot, CSAVR already stole them and stole my thunder. But I learned from talking to the team that there was so much more to their grant to unpack. So we are actually going to not focus on IPS, and we're going to pick up where they left off. Now, I've really enjoyed focusing on the DIF projects from each grant year, and they each have such a unique emphasis, and the ideas that are generated from one state can really be transplanted across the country. So as a reminder to our listeners, this DIF grant series is called the SWTCIE Subminimum Wage to Competitive Integrated Employment. And the purpose of this round of grants is to increase the opportunity for those SWTCIE program participants, which includes students and youth with disabilities seeking subminimum wage employment and potential VR program applicants, or VR eligible individuals with disabilities who are employed or contemplating employment at sub minimum wage to obtain competitive, integrated employment. All right, that was a mouthful. So let's dig in. Now I know our listeners are always super interested about your backgrounds. Like how do people get into VR? How do you even get here? So I'd like to understand each of your journeys into getting into VR. So, Brandy I'm going to start with you.
     
    Brandy: Sure, thanks, Carol. To start out, I've worked with vocational rehabilitation services for 16 years now. Originally, I became interested in VR, as I previously worked at a facility with Transition Youth who were adjudicated as delinquent or CHINA or in other words, Child In Need of Assistance. So these were youth that h

    • 42 min
    VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: CTPIE is reshaping employment in Connecticut! Transitioning people from subminimum wage to competitive integrated employment

    VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: CTPIE is reshaping employment in Connecticut! Transitioning people from subminimum wage to competitive integrated employment

    Today, we're thrilled to have Lynn Frith, Education Consultant from the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services at Connecticut General, in the studio. Discover how CTPIE, fueled by the RSA SWITCIE DIF Grant, is revolutionizing disability employment by shifting individuals from subminimum wage to competitive integrated jobs. With a focus on family input and multi-agency collaboration, CTPIE is at the forefront of innovating employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
     
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    Full Transcript:
     
    {Music}
     
    Lynn:
    We ended up branding the SWITCIE Grant here in Connecticut as CTPIE. The Connecticut Pathways to Integrated Employment.
     
    Most importantly, individuals and family members, they have a strong voice in every step of the way that we are taking here in Connecticut.
     
    I love what I do, and I was very in tune with this population. I care a lot about this population. I have always believed competitive integrated employment is the way to go and individuals have that right to be able to work.
     
    Intro Voice: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management, Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Here is your host Carol Pankow.
     
    Carol: Well welcome to the manager minute. Joining me in the studio today is Lynn Frith, education consultant with the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services in the Aging and Disability Services Department. So for short, that means you're with Connecticut General. So Lynn, how are things going in Connecticut?
     
    Lynn: Well, first of all, thank you, Carol, for inviting me to this podcast. I'm really looking forward to our conversation this morning. Connecticut, we're busy, we're jumping, we're moving in grooving.
     
    Carol: I love it. Yep. You're working with Dave and Kathy and all those guys. I'm like, you are all small but mighty. I love what's going on there. Lynn, just so our listeners know, I've had the good fortune to meet and work with you through some of our other technical assistance work that I do with Connecticut General. And in fact, for full disclosure to our listeners, Lynn and I were chatting the other day about something completely different and this topic of the DIF came up and you were bubbling over with excitement and I'm like, oh my gosh, we have to do a podcast. So for our listeners, I featured several of the Disability Innovation Fund Career Advancement Project grants, and now I'm switching over because each year there's been a different focus. I'm switching over to talk about the DIF subminimum wage to competitive integrated employment projects, or it's called SWITCIE for short. So I know we love our acronyms. RSA’s focus for this round is they want to increase the opportunity for those SWITCIE program participants, students and youth with disabilities seeking subminimum wage employment and potential VR program applicants or VR eligible individuals with disabilities who are employed or contemplating employment at sub minimum wage to obtain competitive integrated employment. And so to achieve that purpose, the projects that were funded under this grants going to create innovative models, and they're hoping to have folks identify strategies for addressing those challenges associated with access to competitive integrated employment. Things like transportation and supports provide integrated services that support competitive integrated employment, support integration into the community, and identify and coordinate those wraparound services. So this is super exciting. I know Connecticut's always on the cutting edge of cool things. So let's dig into your approach.  Now Lynn, why don’t you start out telling our listeners a little bit about your journey into VR, I know folks are always interested, like, how do people come? And I know you have a cool path as well.
     
    Lynn: Well, Carol, It is an interesting story in my opinion. I started dating who is now my current husband back in college, and

    • 23 min
    VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: DIF and California DOR - Discover how California’s Department of Rehabilitation is revolutionizing job readiness through a sector-specific strategy

    VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: DIF and California DOR - Discover how California’s Department of Rehabilitation is revolutionizing job readiness through a sector-specific strategy

    Mark Erlichman is in the studio today, Deputy Director of the VR Employment Division with the California Department of Rehabilitation.
     
    Learn how this DIF Grant innovates by aligning services with industry needs, not location, and creating targeted support in tech and more. They also combined the Career Index Plus with the artificial intelligence program SARA to create customized Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) portfolios. Operational in just three months! #Innovation #DisabilityEmployment #SectorStrategy.
     
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    Full Transcript:
     
    {Music}
     
    Mark: You know, we can continue to complain about all the additional reports and data, but if the payoff is worth it because it's something you want and need it to do, it becomes a much easier grant to write and a much easier effort to justify and support.
    I think the counselors and their staff should drive the program. They're the ones that work with the consumers in our businesses. They're the ones who understand what's going on way better than I would sitting in my office on the third floor in Sacramento.
    I'm happy to be a conduit and connect people or anybody or has any questions at all about our project.
    We know collectively, the VR program is so much smarter than any one individual State.
     
    Intro Voice: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management, Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Here is your host Carol Pankow.
     
    Carol: Welcome to the Manager Minute. Joining me in the studio today is Mark Erlichman, Deputy director, VR Employment Division with California Department of Rehabilitation. That is a mouthful. So welcome Mark. How are things going in California?
     
    Mark: Well it's going well as always. We have interesting times when the state budget comes out. So we're looking forward to the next week. But all in all, I think we're very proud of the work that we're doing. And I think we're really where we need to be as a program.
     
    Carol: Well of course, and you're working with Joe and I love Joe, but Joe is like, go, go, go, go, go. So I'm sure you guys are running on that treadmill at top speed.
     
    Mark: Yes, you know him very well, and it's exciting to work with Joe because it's never a dull moment. And the more progressive we can get, the more supportive he tends to be. So it does give us an awful lot of incentive to continue to be creative and push the envelope.
     
    Carol:  That's very cool. Well, I want to give you a little nugget of what has happened since February of 22, when you recorded a podcast with me. It was our very first one we did in the series on Rapid Engagement, and I have to tell you, it was our most downloaded podcast we've ever done by like triple. It was wild, and I feel like that podcast was the beginning of a little bit of a revolution. On the rapid engagement topic. I was super excited about that, and so I wanted to let you know that when I think about California VR, I always think about how innovative you guys are. And I'm really excited to talk about the Disability Innovation Fund Career Advancement Project. And so in the fall, I did a series of three with three of the other programs, and I couldn't get you. I kept trying, and Karen Grandin, project officer at RSA, is like, have you talked to California yet? I've said, I'm trying to get Mark, so thanks for being on. I really appreciate it. I just want to give a little recap to our listeners, because they may have forgotten a little bit about kind of why this particular DIF grant came about. And the grant activity here for the Career advancement is geared to support innovative activities aimed to improve the outcomes of individuals with disability. And these were funded back in 2021, and they were intended to identify and demonstrate practices supported by evidence to assist VR eligible individuals with disabilities, including previously served VR participants in employment who reenter the

    • 28 min
    VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: Using AI so VR Staff can Better Navigate All the Requirements - Washington General

    VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: Using AI so VR Staff can Better Navigate All the Requirements - Washington General

    In the studio today are Cassie Villegas, Outgoing Interim Director of Washington General, and Sven Akerman Jr, a contractor from Outlook Insight with Washington General.
     
    You can find out how Washington General empowers staff with an integrated AI tool that does the heavy lifting when researching policies, regulations, and RSA requirements, freeing staff to focus on providing quality services.
     
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    Full Transcript:
     
    {Music}
    Sven: Our team was presented with a challenge from DVR. They had a 767 page customer service manual, but it was really kind of difficult to find answers quickly.
     
    Cassie: You can go right in and find your answer, and I found it in 0.2 seconds rather than two hours. Coming through all of the different policies or regulations.
     
    Sven: I see this more as enablement capabilities as opposed to replacement capabilities to where, like Cassie was saying, get back to focusing on what you really want to do, not what you have to do.
     
    Cassie: Now, I don't think our staff could live without it. If we tried to pull it back now, there'd probably be mayhem.
     
    Intro Voice: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management, Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Here is your host Carol Pankow.
     
    Carol: Well, welcome to the manager minute. Joining me in the studio today is Cassie Villegas, outgoing interim director Washington general, and Sven Ackerman, junior contractor from Outlook Insight who is working with Washington General. So thanks for being here, you guys. Sven, how is it going in Washington?
     
    Sven: Well, things are fantastic heating up and, uh, well, not heating up. It's actually getting wetter. But it's a beautiful time to be in business for Washington.
     
    Carol: Excellent. And, Cassie, how are you doing? I know you're the outgoing interim director. Hopefully you're going somewhere good.
     
    Cassie: Yeah, absolutely. Things are winding down here for me in terms of VR, but starting to wind up for the next step. So yeah, pretty excited.
     
    Carol: Good for you. Good for you. Well, thanks for joining me. We are going to have a very interesting conversation today about artificial intelligence or AI as it is commonly known. And artificial intelligence has been all over the news this summer and fall. I think about the Hollywood SAG-AFTRA strike. CEO Sam Altman with OpenAI. And in a nutshell, artificial intelligence is a simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. And so when I was preparing for the podcast, I started making a list of AI in my life. I'm like, okay, what things are considered AI and it really is all around us. And I know we think it's this other big thing there, but it's here, it's everywhere right now. And I thought about my virtual assistants Siri and Alexa, the facial recognition when I go to the airport, I use CLEAR. So they're looking at my eyeballs to, you know, get my identity spam filters. You think about the algorithms in your Google search, driving my car with driver assisted technology and so many more. And I think there's a tendency for people to kind of go to that dark place. They conjure up all the dark things I could do. And you think about machines are becoming humans, and you look back at movies like The Terminator or War Games, Space Odyssey, and there are definitely valid concerns. You know, we've heard in the news as of late where individuals are cloning your voice, you know, and they're sending it to your grandma and asking for a ransom note or something like that. So as with all things that are new, you know, there's always this balance. And so when I think of AI, I always think of things like it being really cutting edge, which, sorry to say, I'm not always associating with VR, you know? And much to my surprise, I come across this article about how you guys are using this in Washington. So we have to dig in. I'm super excited. So,

    • 30 min
    VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: How to Make VR Thrive! Building a Culture That Withstands the Test of Time at Vermont General

    VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: How to Make VR Thrive! Building a Culture That Withstands the Test of Time at Vermont General

    Diane Dalmasse, Director of HireAbility Vermont, is in the studio today. Diane is the longest-serving director nationally in the VR program and has a lot to say about culture in the workplace and the changes Vermont made to retain and attract employees from across the nation. Learn about how hiring an organizational consultant back in the 90s continues to prove its worth today.
     
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    Full Transcript:
     
    {Music}
    Diane: I think that everyone should have their voices heard and have some ownership in how we move forward as an organization. I think it has enabled us to set a very high bar for staff. All in all, our career ladders, our leadership development are supporting professional growth and development in any way we can has really contributed to staff morale and staff retention. They are owning where we're going and actually driving how we get there.
     
    Intro Voice: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management, Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Here is your host Carol Pankow.
     
    Carol: Well welcome to the manager minute. Joining me in the studio today is Diane Dalmasse director of Higher Ability Vermont. Now Diane Vermont's been in the news this fall that crazy flooding you had and other things. How are things going for you?
     
    Diane: Things are actually fine in most places in Vermont, the flooding was very localized to central Vermont, with Montpelier really suffering, as I'm sure everyone watched on the news. It was devastating and still is in Montpelier. They're really working hard to come back.
     
    Carol: I remember seeing the images. It was so incredible. I was down on my treadmill right away. I emailed you guys. I'm like, are you all okay? Are your staff okay? And your customers? I was just, it looked insane, I couldn't even believe it.
     
    Diane: Yeah. There was a lot of housing lost, particularly lower income housing in central Vermont, which really just has made an already crisis situation much worse.
     
    Carol: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Well, I'm hoping with the winter coming and I saw you have awesome weather that'll be happening out on the coast, you know, that that isn't going to impact people so much, especially with this housing situation. Well, I'm excited about the discussion we're going to have about culture. I know in my TA work, I get asked all the time. And our listeners, you know, are those folks there going, hey, who's got a good culture? And, you know, that's a really tricky question. And a lot of agencies are struggling with this right now, really have been for some time. And on the side, one of my things I've been passionate about looking at is the turnover in directors, you know, nationwide. And I'm up to 134 changes in the last decade out of the 78 SVRAs. And you just go, holy smokes. And you can see this trajectory, you know, WIOA hit and the pandemic hit, and you just see the chart going up, up, up and the great resignation. And so I think people are feeling kind of tired and worn out. And we have a lot of new directors coming in who are coming in from outside of VR.
    And so people reach out and they go, hey, who's got something good going on? And the funny thing is, everybody and maybe not so funny, but everybody says, gosh, you got to talk to Diane in Vermont. And so I was super excited. I get to see your staff, James and Amanda at CSAVR. And I'm like, Amanda. She was sitting next to me. I said, I really want to talk about your culture. You have to talk to Diane. Like, Amanda was so excited. She goes, you absolutely have to talk to Diane. So I am super excited to unpack this today. I do like the Peter Drucker quote. He said, culture eats strategy for breakfast. And I know sometimes people like to say culture eats strategy for lunch, whichever meal it is. He really was on the pulse with something. So let's dig into this. So, I know Vermont is a smaller state. Can you give our listeners a little picture

    • 27 min
    VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: What important question is VR missing when working with our Older Blind and Visually Impaired IL customers?

    VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: What important question is VR missing when working with our Older Blind and Visually Impaired IL customers?

    In the studio today is Kendra Farrow, Project Director with the Older Individuals Who Are Blind – Technical Assistance Center at the National Research & Training Center on Blindness & Low Vision Mississippi State University.
     
    Kendra and Carol discuss the question, “Why not ask the Older Individuals who are Blind right up front if they want to work?" Are we missing the boat with these talented individuals who are commonly not given the option for VR services that can benefit them? Whether it’s training, job development and placement, or job retention, VR services in conjunction with IL services, can lead to successful employment outcomes for Older Individuals who are Blind and contribute to their sense of purpose and meaning.
     
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    Full Transcript:
     
    {Music}
    Kendra: When somebody who is 55 or older loses vision and they call about services and they say, well, how old are you? And if they're over 55, they're just pushing them into the older individuals who are blind program. They aren't necessarily then offered the services that they could benefit from. We're cutting ourselves short, and it's a very easy closure once the person has regained their confidence with the older blind program and learning some skills, once they start seeing I can do these things, maybe I want to go back to work now that I have some confidence again.
     
    Intro Voice: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management, Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Here is your host Carol Pankow.
     
    Carol: Well, welcome to the Manager Minute. Joining me in the studio today is Kendra Farrell, Project Director with the Older Individuals who are Blind. Technical Assistance Center that is housed at the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University. Holy moly. That's a mouthful. So, Kendra, how are things going in Mississippi?
     
    Kendra: Oh they're good.
     
    Carol: Awesome. Thanks for joining me today. So for our listeners, I want to give a little background. The Technical Assistance Centers that are funded by RSA, we hold a regular TAC collaborative meeting so we can leverage resources and keep each other informed so we can serve all of you better. And in a recent collaborative meeting, I asked the group for any possible ideas where we could collaborate on a podcast. And sure enough, Kendra brought up an interesting conversation that she had with a group of experts that was talking about eligibility for the OIB program, and that led to a deeper discussion about a place where VR might be missing the boat on serving a very important group of people. So, of course, my background as a former director of a blind agency, it really resonated with me, and I wanted to let our listeners in on the conversation. So let's dig in. So, Kendra, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and how you came to be the director of the OIB TAC?
     
    Kendra: Yeah, I started out my career working in direct services, providing vision rehab therapy services to individuals of all ages at a nonprofit agency. And after doing that for 14 years, I saw a job posting with the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision. We call it the NRTC for short, and they gave me a job. I was hired on a research grant related to employment for people who are blind or have low vision. And once we got started with that a little bit, there was the opportunity to apply for the grant to have the Technical Assistance Center for Older Blind services. And my colleague and I said that we kind of felt like maybe we were doing a disservice to the field if we didn't apply because we have a long history at the NRTC of doing like some external program evaluations for older blind programs. I think we had conducted program evaluations for, I think it's over 25 of the states over the years. Since I've been here, we've only worked with maybe 5 or 6, so not

    • 23 min

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