Starkville Daily News
September 12, 2021
By Cal Brown
The Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services (MDRS) provides appropriate and comprehensive services to Mississippians with disabilities in a timely and effective manner.
They accomplish this through four major programs with services that assist individuals gain and retain employment and live more independently.
“We have the Offi ce of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Offi ce of Vocational Rehabilitation for the Blind. These two programs assist Mississippians with disabilities in helping them prepare for and maintain full-time employment,” said Chris Howard, MDRS Executive Director.
These programs are tailored to help people who have never worked before but want to start working or people who are working but fear losing their job due to a developing disability.
“This could be someone who has never worked before and they want to go to work, or it could be someone who has worked for a number of years and may have developed a disability later in life and need our services to keep working,” said Howard. “For example, you may have a truck driver who has been driving for 25 years, and all of the sudden, he starts losing his vision.
Therefore, he has to look for a different way at providing for his family.”
Howard added the great thing about this program is that it’s all individualized.
“For example, let’s say me and one other person are in a wheelchair. That doesn’t mean we’re going to get the exact same services. It depends on what our career goal is and creating a plan to help us each reach our independent career goals,” said Howard.
Another program MDRS offers is the Office of Special Disability Programs, which provides services to individuals with the most severe disabilities who do not necessarily demonstrate immediate potential for competitive employment.
“This is where we assist Mississippians with significant disabilities,
individuals who can’t work. They are nursing home eligible, so what we can do is help Mississippians stay at home with their families as opposed to having to live in a nursing home,” said Howard. “We can hire a personal care assistant to come in for a certain period of time each time and help them with their living skills. We can modify bathrooms, kitchens, doorways, ramps, whatever that person needs to basically stay out of the nursing home and be able to live as independently as possible.”
The fourth program MDRS offers is the Offi ce of Disability Determination Services which establishes eligibility for Mississippians with severe disabilities who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance and/or Supplemental
Security Income. “This is where a Mississippian may apply for disability. What
happens is you go to your social security office, you file for disability, and that case comes to us,” said Howard. “Our examiners in Madison review the case to make those determinations on behalf of social security to see if someone is eligible or not for disability.”
With the four major MDRS programs, about 100,000 Mississippians are served each year. MDRS also serves Mississippians with a network of community rehabilitation programs that provide vocational assessment, job training, and actual work experience for individuals with disabilities called
“AbilityWorks.” With 15 locations statewide, including one here in Starkville on 207 Industrial Park Road, the mission of AbilityWorks is to improve the quality of life, employment opportunities, and integration of people with disabilities into the community.
“What we do in those locations is the counselor will refer a client to the AbilityWorks system, then we have instructors and evaluators on site who not only teach individuals the hard skills of actually doing a job, but also the soft skills of working with your peers, taking your breaks, dressing properly, taking instructions from your supervisor,” said Howard. “We like having it because we can kind of control how it works. By having our own employees in those facilities, we can make sure clients are getting the top quality services and what they need in order to move forward to the next step, which is hopefully employment.”
For more information on how MDRS serves Mississippians with disabilities, visit their website at mdrs.ms.gov, call 800- 443-1000, or even visit the AbilityWorks Starkville location at 207 Industrial Park Road.