VSI Group Pursues Community-Wide Accessibility

Members of VSI’s Accessibility Committee work on issues facing people with disabilities, at work and in the community. During a recent meeting, committee Chair Sherry Summers (standing right) leads a discussion on safety signage.

Although Vocational Services, Inc. is known for providing employment opportunities for residents of Clay and Platte counties, it does a lot more.

One of the best examples involves VSI’s Accessibility Committee. For over 15 years, the group has worked to ensure that VSI employees have employment opportunities but also live and work in an environment that accommodates their disabilities as much as possible. It’s a largely unseen effort that brings significant impact.

“We work to ensure that our buildings are accessible and any other areas that impact our employees,” explained Committee Chair Sherry Summers. “That can include areas like transportation or even working with others in the community to help reduce barriers.”

Diverse Group

The 10-member committee is comprised of representatives from VSI’s two locations in Liberty and one in North Kansas City, plus VSI’s program for those employed at community jobs, as well as those in a special program to help those who may not meet state workshop qualifications. An equal number of staff members and employees with disabilities are involved.

The work follows standards set by CARF International, the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. It also includes a lot of firsthand research. “At the beginning of every year, we tour each of our locations,” Summers explained. “We look at everything and develop a plan to improve accessibility, including space and things like signage, water fountains and other things. It’s very comprehensive.”

In many cases, accommodations need only a simple solution. An employee might need a jig to hold assembly work in place or images to help visualize a complex process. In cases where workers are employed in the community, VSI may partner with the employer to modify hours or job duties. “But having the accessibility plan in place emphasizes the importance of providing these supports,” Summers added.

After nearly 20 years of work, virtually all accessibility issues have been addressed in VSI buildings. This has included larger projects such as the installation of automatic doors at two facilities, accessible drinking fountains and an entrance ramp leading to a room that serves workers with more severe disabilities in North Kansas City. Quarterly reviews ensure things stay accessible, but much of the group’s recent efforts has focused on ways to improve past successes and some surprising issues not inside VSI buildings.

Simple Solutions

One case is a good example. “Several individuals have experience with Uber and RideKC Freedom on Demand,” Summers noted. “One issue involved an employee who used Uber to go from work to the doctor. The employee didn’t realize that, inside the doctor’s office, mobile phone connections were scrambled and the employee couldn’t make a call to leave. The solution was simply going outside, but sharing that knowledge helps avoid potentially serious problems for someone with a disability.”

“One of the primary functions of the committee is to serve as an educational and informational resource,” Summers said. “We can also discuss community resources such as transportation options, as well as job modifications and accommodations to support individuals with successful employment and community integration.”

Some creative solutions also apply to VSI. Like everyone else this winter, the committee’s meetings were sometimes difficult to access because of the repeated, heavy snowfalls. VSI’s IT director eliminated the problem by setting up video conferencing, so members at remote locations could participate despite the bad weather. “A lot of times it’s being creative,” Summers concluded. “But these can be important issues.”

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Vocational Services Inc. is proud to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), a not-for-profit, and nationally recognized accreditation authority. VSI is accredited in Organizational Employment and Community Integrated Employment Services.
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