The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston was recently awarded a $16.8 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help state vocational rehabilitation agencies assist those with disabilities to find paid work in their communities. The goal is to create a model for state agencies, training the agencies to put the model in place, and evaluating its effectiveness.
The ICI grant is the largest single extramural funding grant in UMass Boston’s history.
The project will focus on people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and are using their state’s vocational rehabilitation agency services. Those who are eligible for both SSDI and state vocational services tend to have significant disabilities, which can include physical, health, psychiatric, sensory, intellectual, communication, and other disabilities. In most cases, members of this group acquired their disability after taking part in the workforce for some number of years and contributing to Social Security.
“Persons with disabilities who are on SSDI have worked in the past and many have expressed an interest in returning to the workforce,” said William E. Kiernan, PhD, director of ICI and principal investigator of this grant. “This project will identify and support the public vocational rehabilitation system to assist these individuals in returning to work, increasing their income, and becoming part of the broader workforce again.”
The ICI, based in the College of Education and Human Development, promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in their communities through training, consultation, clinical and employment services, and research.
Over the project’s first two years, ICI and Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. in Washington D.C. will observe and evaluate existing state vocational rehabilitation services for SSDI customers across the country. ICI and Mathematica will work together to create a viable employment services package, partner with state vocational rehabilitation agencies to begin implementation, and then study impact, costs, and customer experiences. The ICI project, the first to focus substantial resources on a comprehensive look at SSDI customers of state vocational rehabilitation agencies, is designed to be a catalyst for long-term, substantial improvement in employment outcomes, and will demonstrate the value of employment services to SSDI beneficiaries, the Social Security Administration, other state and federal agencies, disability advocates, politicians, employers, and taxpayers.
“This grant, and the work of ICI itself, speaks to UMass Boston’s mission of bringing people together and working together so that we can all reach our potential, for the good of all,” said UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley, PhD. “This grant also demonstrates our university’s growing research portfolio and ICI’s national leadership in serving people with disabilities. I congratulate Dr. Kiernan and the institute on their success.”
UMass Boston’s research funding has grown rapidly over the past several years and is up 18 percent over last year, to $50 million.