Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS)
Laurel Iverson Hitchcock, University of Alabama at Birmingham
The Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS) serves residents with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities from birth through adulthood. The ADRS uses a continuum of services approach, which gives clients a single point of entry into services and helps them transition through the department's four principal programs as their needs change. Prior to 1995, ADRS was the Division of Rehabilitation Services within the state's Department of Education. As demands for rehabilitative services increased over time, state legislators and officials recognized the need for an independent department within the Alabama state government. On May 5, 1994, the legislature voted to create ADRS, a separate state-level department, which officially commenced operations on January 3, 1995, under Alabama Act No. 94-824.
The Board of Rehabilitation Services oversees ADRS. The board consists of seven members who represent each of Alabama's congressional districts and serve seven-year terms. Three members must have a disability and one member must have a child with a disability. The governor appoints members, but the board elects a chair and vice-chair from its membership. Board meetings are held quarterly and are open to the public. The ADRS commissioner is appointed by the board, and is responsible for the supervision, management, maintenance and improvement of the department.
ADRS currently operates four primary programs that serve different age groups: Early Intervention, Children's Rehabilitation Services, Vocational Rehabilitation Service, and Independent Living/Homebound Services. A network of regional, community-based offices managed by the department serves all 67 counties in Alabama. Each office provides diagnostic, medical, and other health-related clinic services, supportive services, and educational and employment assistance. In addition, ADRS collaborates with employers throughout the state, providing services and resources to help companies recruit, train and accommodate workers with disabilities. In 2006, over 7,500 disability management and employee placement services were delivered to Alabama companies. Alabama's Early Intervention System, mandated service under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments (IDEA) of 1997, provides assistance to infants and toddlers from birth to age three who have disabilities and developmental delays. The Early Intervention (EI) program coordinates a state-wide network of providers who help clients and their families access needed resources and services. In a combined effort with eight other state agencies, the program also helps prepare young children for preschool or other community-based programs by offering assessments, non-medical health services, service coordination, training, and family support. The EI program provides services through seven regional offices, and supports more than 50 community programs offering early intervention services. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) in the U.S. Department of Education provides federal funding; about 59 percent of EI's annual budget, and oversight for these services.
Children's Rehabilitation Services (CRS) provides individuals from birth to age 21 with evaluations, medical services, adaptive technology and case coordination through 15 statewide offices, in addition to service provision at clients' home, school, or other community settings. Federal funding is provided through Title V of the Social Security Act, which is administered by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and accounts for 15 percent of the program's annual budget. The program works closely with the Alabama school system to assist children with disabilities in the classroom, and operates Teen Transition Clinics to help adolescents with disabilities transition to adult medical care. Alabama's Hemophilia Program, also housed within CRS, serves children and adults who have such life-threatening blood disorders.
The Vocational Rehabilitation Service (VRS), the largest ADRS program, provides educational and vocational assistance to adolescents and adults with disabilities, helping them obtain and maintain employment. The program's 21 state-wide offices provide vocational assessments, counseling, job training, assistive technology, orientation and mobility training, and job-placement assistance. The program works in partnership with local school systems, colleges, universities, community rehabilitation programs, and businesses to provide services and employment opportunities. Specialty services help individuals with visual and hearing impairments and traumatic brain injuries obtain employment and live independently in their own homes. The federal OSERS also provides a majority of this program's funding.
Also under VRS is the Statewide Technology Access and Response System (STAR) program. It operates three assistive technology centers in Alabama and provides assistive equipment and training to more than 400 individuals with disabilities each year. In 2006, ADRS formalized a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, allowing Alabama's disabled veterans to access VRS services. Additionally, VRS produces a variety of specialized training and educational materials for persons with disabilities on topics such as advocacy, emergency preparedness, and job readiness. The program works closely with other state agencies, including the Alabama Medicaid Agency, and the Departments of Industrial Relations, Human Resources, and Education, to provide and accept referrals, ensure access to services, and improve the quality and efficiency of services.
Homebound individuals are assisted through the State of Alabama Independent Living Service (SAIL). The division's seven offices provide specialized services that allow individuals with severe disabilities, typically resulting from spinal cord or head injuries, to live on their own rather than in nursing homes. Teams of registered nurses, rehabilitation specialists, and other professionals provide direct care, equipment, and assistance with activities of daily living within the home.
Since its inception in 1995, ADRS has steadily increased the number of individuals it serves, averaging 1,000 new clients each year, and reaching almost 65,000 in 2006. The department has more than 800 employees, but has maintained low administrative costs, about 5 percent annually. The agency has also developed electronic medical records for the CRS program and earned high client satisfaction ratings across all programs (94-98 percent). Recent challenges for ADRS include retaining staff due to retirement, and competing with private sectors wages, maintaining aging facilities, and dealing with recent decreases in federal funding.
Advisory Planning Committee for Vocational Rehabilitation. Statewide Planning for Vocational Rehabilitation Services Final Report. Montgomery: State Department of Education, 1968.
Annual Reports. Montgomery, Ala.: Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, 2000-2006.
Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. 1995-2005: Celebrating 10 years of Success. Rehab News 8(3) 3-7.
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