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Celebrating 100 Years of Vocational Rehabilitation

Date: June 2, 2020

Media Contact: Cisco Gamez
Phone: 512-463-8556


AUSTIN ⎯ The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program. The VR program helps people with disabilities prepare for, find or retain employment and helps youth and students prepare for post-secondary education and competitive integrated employment opportunities. Vocational Rehabilitation business relations teams also help businesses and employers recruit, retain and accommodate employees with disabilities.

“Every Texan deserves the opportunity to live and work independently while contributing their talents to our economy,” said TWC Chairman Bryan Daniel. “Our VR program is a vital bridge connecting individuals with disabilities to employment support and services.”

On June 2, 1920, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Fess Act, also known as the Industrial Rehabilitation Act and commonly referred to as "The National Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act," into law. This program was the first federally funded program to assist people with disabilities that were not acquired as a result of military service.

In 1929, the Texas Legislature passed the Texas Vocational Rehabilitation Act beginning the State Board of Vocational Education, now the Texas Rehabilitation Committee, with a staff of two and budget of $12,500.

During the past century, Texans have played a major role in advocating for individuals with disabilities and shaping the landscape of VR.

  • Barbara Jordan, the first African American to serve in the Texas Senate in the modern era and the first Southern African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives, had multiple sclerosis and was a forceful advocate of promoting the talents and skills of people with disabilities.
  • Judge Criss Cole, who lost his sight while serving as a Marine during World War II, was instrumental in improving state services for all people with disabilities. The Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center is an innovative, residential vocational rehabilitation training facility that serves adults who are legally blind by helping them learn alternative techniques to prepare for, find or retain employment, attend a college, university or trade school, and live independently in the community.
  • Lex Frieden, Professor of Health Informatics and Rehabilitation at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, was instrumental in conceiving and drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 which President George HW Bush signed into law.

“Individuals fighting for the rights of workers with disabilities are a part of Texas’ rich history and TWC is committed to continuing their work,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez. “How we support our workforce is a reflection of who we are as a state and who we are as a state is a mixture of all kinds and types of people.”

VR in Texas has been influential in assisting individuals with disabilities find fulfilling employment opportunities. The VR program also assists youth and students with disabilities prepare for and obtain post-secondary education and employment opportunities by offering job exploration, counseling, work-based learning experiences and training.

In partnership with local Workforce Solution offices, Vocational Rehabilitation serves businesses and employers seeking to recruit, hire and accommodate employees with disabilities, including helping them to comply with federal hiring and accommodation requirements. Services include assistance accommodating employees with disabilities, disability awareness training, recruitment and job-matching assistance and coordination of employer symposia and job fairs.

TWC makes creating employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities a top priority,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Aaron Demerson. “I am proud that a great number of Texas employers consciously practice inclusion and diversity in their workplace.”

In 2016, Vocational Rehabilitation Services, including more than 1868 staff, transferred to TWC. TWC continues to integrate VR Services as a core program within the Texas Workforce System. Currently more than 770 staff from Vocational Rehabilitation Services have been integrated into 70 Workforce Solutions offices.

While much has changed over the past 100 years, the basic purpose of the VR program has remained the same: empower individuals with disabilities, particularly those with significant disabilities, to achieve high-quality employment outcomes.

Individuals or businesses interested in the VR program at TWC can call 800-628-5115 or email at vr.office.locator@twc.texas.gov.


The Texas Workforce Commission is a state agency dedicated to helping Texas employers, workers and communities prosper economically. For details on TWC and the services it offers in coordination with its network of local workforce development boards, call 512-463-8942 or visit www.texasworkforce.org. To receive notifications about TWC programs and services subscribe to our email updates.

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