By Tatyana Hopkins
Although the unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities has steadily decreased over the past three decades, in 2019 people with disabilities were still twice as likely to be unemployed compared to those without a disability. Now a George Washington University center hopes to keep making strides toward a more inclusive society as the COVID-19 pandemic stands to reverse decades of jobs gains in the disabled community.
“There are already so many challenges, and then you add COVID on top of it, and trying to figure out how to manage is very challenging,” said Maureen McGuire-Kuletz, an associate professor of counseling at the GW Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
Dr. McGuire-Kuletz co-directs the GW Center for Rehabilitation Counseling Research and Education (CRCRE) alongside Kenneth Hergenrather, who is also a professor of counseling.
Housed within GSEHD’s Department of Counseling and Human Development Rehabilitation Counseling program, which is ranked third in the nation, the center aims to enhance research and provide opportunities for growth and development to a diverse population, including persons with disabilities.
Now the GW CRCRE, which has served as a national leader in rehabilitation counseling and research since 2014, has been awarded nearly $11.3 million over six years in funding from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to support research and the training of future rehabilitation counselors and administrators.
While the center does not provide direct services to individuals with disabilities, it consults with state vocational rehabilitation agencies and their partners to help them better understand the law and improve services.
“Our focus is on making sure those staffers working with people with disabilities are as prepared as they can be to provide the best services and counseling to people with disabilities,” Dr. McGuire-Kuletz said.
She said while jobs in the field can have a wide range, the number of qualified applicants remains low.
The GW CRCRE was recently-awarded an $800,000 grant over five years, beginning in 2020, to fully fund 13 students to complete GW’s online master’s program in rehabilitation counseling, with the expectation that they will be employed after graduation in a state or private program that serves individuals with disabilities.
In 2019, the scholarship program was also funded for $750,000 over a five-year period to fully fund 13 students GW’s online master’s program in rehabilitation counseling.
Dr. McGuire-Kuletz said GW CRCRE also works collaboratively on large projects addressing the employment of persons with disabilities, including youth and adolescents with disabilities, with universities around the country.
The center has also received a five-year, $5 million contract to support the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in its administration of a DOE grant for the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition for Students and Youth with Disabilities. That program focuses on pre- and post-employment transition services for students with disabilities.
GW CRCRE also will provide intensive technical assistance and training as well as fiscal and program management expertise as a contractor to the San Diego State University Interwork Institute’s five-year, $2.5 million agreement with the DOE for the delivery of technical assistance to 78 federally-funded vocational rehabilitation agencies.
Additionally, the CRCRE is committed to developing innovative methods to train vocational rehabilitation personnel to support the work of state vocational rehabilitation agencies to improve employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Funded by another grant for $2.25 million over five years, it will offer training, webinars and other teaching tools for personnel at state vocational rehabilitation agencies.
“Moving the needle is getting more people with disabilities hired and integrated in to the community and making sure they have a level playing field in terms of employment, independent living and everything like that,” Dr. McGuire-Kuletz said.