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October 4, 2012

DRS Expo spotlights the possible

People with disabilities can accomplish much

With his guide dog Izmir at his feet Thursday morning, vision impaired bagpiper Davis Duty helped set the tone for the fourth annual Department of Rehabilitation Services Expo.

The two-day expo, which opened Thursday at Oklahoma School for the Blind, is presented to show how much people with disabilities can accomplish. Duty, a Fort Smith, Ark., resident active in several pipe organizations and bands, played during the opening ceremony.

Expo participants, who included rehabilitation professionals, saw what people with disabilities can do as well as how they can help those with disabilities succeed.

For example, the DRS is working with other state agencies to give clients a boost in getting jobs. The Oklahoma Department of Commerce uses the ACT WorkKeys assessment tool to help link employers with job seekers.  The assessment helps determine an employee’s skill level, said Terry Watson, director of the Workforce Division with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.

“When we talk about building a workforce, we’re talking about all agencies that have a hand in making people work-ready,” Watson said, listing the DRS and the Oklahoma CareerTech program as valuable agencies.

“We view this as another way for our clients to access a learning tool that helps them be more job-ready,” said Melinda Fruendt, project coordinator for the DRS Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. “It really helps us provide our clients with an advantage.”

Fruendt said the DRS has been using the WorkKeys program for about six years and has seen success.

Linda K. Fox, a vocational rehabilitation placement specialist from Ada, said the WorkKeys assessment is a “great idea.”

However, she said assessments should focus on “soft skills” as well as academic achievement. Soft skills are defined as personal attributes such as optimism and integrity that could enhance an individual’s interactions and job performance. Hard skills are defined as ability to perform a task.

“We have a guy with a law degree, but he only types with two fingers,” Fox said. “He was high academic, but low-functioning.”

Watson said the WorkKeys assessment does look at foundational and soft skills. He said the assessment is one of three parts of the department’s career readiness program.

Fruendt said soft skills are some of the qualities employers say applicants lack when they seek work.

Watson discussed how the OK JobMatch.com program through the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission also can help link job seekers with employers.

The expo offers a variety of other workshops, including diabetic cooking, assistive technology, deaf and blind awareness and cultural sensitivity.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

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