1. Vocational Rehabilitation Program

The Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program assists individuals with disabilities in preparing for, obtaining, and maintaining quality competitive employment inintegrated settings that pays a living wage and offers a chance for advancement. DRS has over 300 frontline staff providing, and supporting the provision of, professional vocational rehabilitation services. As a combined agency, the Illinois VR program provides services to individuals with all types of disabilities. Many people with disabilities of working age are eligible for VR assistance. The program provides a substantial number of services to employment seeking customers both directly and through contractual partnerships with community partners.

Quote from VR customer Gaby

Gaby's life was impacted and empowered by the VR program. In her own words, "I had begun to feel more than overwhelmed not only in life but my future and what it was to become. My disability progressively gets worse the older I get, and the frustrations and embarrassment don't let up either. When I learned about DRS, I had no idea the significant role they would play in my life… DRS came into my life and the process was beyond my expectations and wasn't overwhelming. They have changed my perception on what I can do…and with so many struggles I deal with daily, this was an abundance of gifts to pursue a life I had chosen to live and begin with no regrets. I am thankful for such a wonderful program and my life is better since I have been a part of it."

Competitive Employment:

Customers are provided employment services directly by vocational rehabilitation counselors, through contracted services with community rehabilitation providers, or through a combination of both. An individual must be stable in a competitive integrated employment placement for a minimum of 90 days before the placement is considered successful. The program spends an average of $7,300 on a successful placement annually, in addition to other investments for guidance and counseling and administrative support. Services in support of competitive employment placement generally include: vocational assessment; career development; job development and placement; job retention and stability; and job coaching.  During the reporting year, the average age of a successful placement was 29.5, with the youngest being 16 and the oldest 68.

Supported Employment:

Competitive integrated employment, including customized employment; or employment in an integrated work setting in which an individual with a most significant disability, including a youth with a most significant disability, is working on a short - term basis toward competitive integrated employment. This employment is individualized and customized to be consistent with the individual's unique strengths, abilities, interests, and informed choice. This may also include ongoing support services for individuals with the most significant disabilities. Supported Employment services typically last 24 months after initial job placement; but can be extended as needed.  Customers tend to earn approximately $240 a week through this program.

Customized Employment:

Customized Employment is designed to meet the unmet needs of the employers, that also match with the skills and interests of the individual. This includes job creation, self-employment, and a business within a business. This must be consistent with the individual's unique strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice. 


  • Eliabeth Barth Studying at her Computer
    Elisabeth Barth is a 19-year-old woman who studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign. She was born with cerebral palsy, and relies on a power wheelchair for mobility. Through a partnership with the Illinois Assistive Technology Program, an assistive technology specialist determined what technology would help her work independently as a college student living on campus. Elisabeth has unique speech patterns, so several different voice recognition software applications and various microphones were tested, along with several keyboard and mouse options as she worked to narrow down the best devices and software applications for her needs.
    DRS offers employment age youth with disabilities a continuum of coordinated transition services. Services primarily surround:
    • Job Exploration Counseling;
    • Work-Based Learning Experiences;
    • Counseling on Post-Secondary Education;
    • Workplace Readiness Training; and
    • Instruction in Self-Advocacy

Students in local high schools receive services under the DRS Secondary Transitional Experience Program (STEP). Local high schools make up our largest referral source (43% of FY21 referred customers) and are key partners in the coordinated services provided to students. STEP is an assessment and work experience program that helps students with disabilities prepare to transition to employment and community participation during and after high school. Students learn to become productive, self-sufficient adults through a variety of STEP experiences. These experiences include:

  • Assist students in developing desirable work habits and realistic career goals;
  • Provide opportunities for students to explore careers;
  • Encourage students to develop the social and personal skills needed to maintain successful employment.
  • Offer meaningful work experiences which include in-school and work site training options, including internships, with the goal of having an employer paid job in an integrated setting in the community.

Fast Track Transition is a program that serves students with disabilities who qualify under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) as potentially eligible individuals. These individuals must be: at least 14 and not older than 21 years of age; enrolled in an education program; and not already a participant in the DRS vocational rehabilitation program.

Paralypics Athlete Jenna F posing with her bike

There has been a long-standing and productive relationship between the para-athlete program at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the Division of Rehabilitation Services, Vocational Rehabilitation program. This relationship been tremendously beneficial to many students, as they seek not only Paralympic gold but achieving also in achieving their employment goals. One example is Jenna Fesemyer, a first time hopeful at the Paralympics and recent graduate of the University. Her hope is to work with other individuals with disabilities to achieve their academic and vocational dreams. She is seeking further training after her bachelor's degree, to realize that vision of success for herself and for others with disabilities in our community.

College Training

This VR program serves individuals that intend to enroll in a degree-granting academic program of study at an accredited college or university.  During the last year, the program supported over 5,500 degree seeking customers.  The program has a demonstrated history of assisting graduates find employment that pays on average nearly $700 a week.

DRS supports customers that wish to pursue their post-secondary education through two year Associates programs in community colleges, vocational and technical degree or certificate programs, Bachelor degree awarding colleges and universities, and post-graduate studies.

Project SEARCH is a school to work program that takes place entirely at the workplace. It allows for work-based learning experiences, workplace readiness, job exploration and skills training through internships. It is a collaboration between the host business, customer/family, school district, the Community Rehabilitation Program, Workforce Investment Board, Developmental Disabilities, and the Division of Rehabilitation Services.

Individual Placement and Support:

DRS funds, administers, and provides technical assistance for the 56 Illinois teams that provide services based on the Individual Placement and Support Model of supported employment (IPS) to thousands of Illinois' citizens with most significant disabilities in all parts of the state. IPS programs are designed so that individuals with a serious mental illness may receive specialized supports that will enable them to obtain and maintain employment, typically earning nearly $400 a week. The IPS approach is to place an individual into employment as soon as possible, placing less emphasis on the traditional concept of employment "readiness". It is established that working is therapeutic for many individuals with a serious mental illness and therefore contributes to their recovery.

Business Enterprise Program for the Blind:

BEPB Customer Steve Heltsley Standing in Front of a Cash Register

Mr. Steve Heltsley is a blind vendor in the BEPB. No different than many of our blind vendors, he suffered tremendously when COVID took hold on our State. Mr. Heltsley operates approximately 180 vending machines scattered throughout southern Illinois and manages 20 cottages at Hazlet State Park. As the pandemic eased up in the Spring of this Year, he was back to approximately 85% occupancy at this state park and his vending machine revenue has also picked up substantially.DRS provided him with assistance through job retention and he states that his business is on its way to a full recovery!

The Business Enterprise Program for the Blind (BEPB) provides training to blind and visually impaired customers in the VR program in the operation of professional food service businesses including a variety of high-tech vending machines, customized snack stands, cafeteria management, and sundries/gift shops.  The BEPB has 67 successful entrepreneur's, with an average income of $54,000, operating small businesses offering a variety of services in federal, state, private agencies, and businesses statewide.

Work Incentive Planning and Assistance Program:

The program helps people who receive SSDI/SSI benefits understand how working will affect their benefits. Anyone who gets Social Security benefits and wants to work can receive free benefits planning services.

Program Highlights

  • Provided vocational services to over 34,000 individuals with disabilities; with nearly 4,000 customers obtaining competitive, integrated, employment outcomes.
Disability Category Served Outcomes Percent of Outcomes Percent of Served Average Hourly Wage Average Weekly Earnings
Blind-Visual Impairment 1,461 85 2.19% 4.24% $19.10 $549.00
Deaf-Hard of Hearing 1,732 281 7.23% 5.03% $16.33 $543.00
Physical Disability 1,837 182 4.68% 5.33% $15.87 $506.00
Mental Illness 6,777 972 24.99% 19.66% $13.13 $358.00
Intellectual Disability 9,837 957 24.61% 28.54% $12.08 $294.00
Learning Disability 8,883 1,018 26.18% 25.77% $12.72 $375.00
Brain Injury 350 39 1.00% 1.02% $13.92 $383.00
Other Condition 3,520 333 8.56% 10.21% $13.15 $357.00
VR Total 34,397 3,867 100.00% 100.00% $13.36 $379.00
  • The average annual salary for a VR customer with a successful outcome was approximately $20,000.
  • Provided additional critical financial assistance to our community partners to allow for additional follow up and support services during times of unemployment and remote learning.
  • Established a COVID Outreach Program, whereby funds were provided to participating CRPs to make regular contacts with DRS customers to check on their safety, help address any impact COVID was having on them directly, and to offer PPE as needed.
  • Established a COVID Milestone Supplemental Program, provided one-time funds to community providers who had started assessment and job development activities with DRS customers, but had yet to find community employment placement which would subsequently garner the CRP the first of three milestone payments.
  • Implemented its Summer Pathways Program to provide funding opportunities for local school districts and other service providers to provide the 5 core transition services to youth during the summer; bridging that gap between the end of the current academic year and the beginning of the next academic year that so often is devoid of educational and vocational supports.Israa Seated in Front of her Computer Using Assistive Technology
    At the age of six, Israa was diagnosed with cone-rod dystrophy, a rare eye disorder that affects the cone cells of the retina. She received equipment through the VR program including a laptop computer preinstalled with the ZoomText magnifier and reader, a portable digital magnifier, a portable CCTV with optical character recognition, a digital recorder to assist with notetaking, a large print high contrast graphing scientific calculator with audio output, and a desk lamp with varying brightness and color settings to help improve lighting at her desk. Israa has received the support necessary to meet her vocational goal of becoming a special education teacher.
  • Partnered with the Illinois Department of Aging and the Illinois Assistive Technology Program through the Illinois CARE Connections (ICC) to provide technology devices for socially isolated seniors and persons with disabilities in Illinois. The program was supported through federal CARES Act funding that was made available in spring of 2020 during the height of the pandemic. Over 1,000 device bundles were provided to DRS customers.
  • As a best practice leader and innovator in IPS services, Illinois has led the way in serving as a research state for integrating Artificial Intelligence based job interview skills training.
  • Enhanced relationships with the Illinois Assistive Technology Program and the University of Illinois in providing assistive technology evaluations and support services.
  • Placed a renewed emphasis on working with employers and customers through TAP.  TAP is an online system which includes both a national talent pool of VR candidates looking for employment and a job posting system for businesses looking to hire individuals with disabilities.  Illinois had 860 DRS customers enrolled and is working to enroll more customers during the next year.
  • Redesigned brochures to include a QR Code to directly link customers to an online referral.
  • The Workforce Development Unit staff facilitated 1,466 business contacts during the past fiscal year to increase the knowledge and presence of the VR program statewide.
Top Industries Count of Jobs
Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations 1,061
Transportation and Material Moving Occupations 902
Sales and Related Occupations 741
Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations 485
Office and Administrative Support Occupations 459
Production Occupations 308
Healthcare Support Occupations 230
Personal Care and Service Occupations 202
Community and Social Services Occupations 123
Installation, Maintenance and Repair Occupations 108
Education, Training and Library Occupations 106
Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations 98
Protective Service Occupations 78
Construction and Extraction Occupations 76
Management Occupations 63
Top Employers Count of Jobs
Walmart 209
McDonald's 159
Mariano's 69
Hy Vee 59
State of Illinois 58
Fed Ex 55
Amazon 49
UPS 42
Home Goods/TJ Maxx 41
Home Depot 37
Dollar Tree 34
Menard's 32
Walgreen's 31
Burger King 30