IHD Awarded Second Five-Year, $5M Cooperative Agreement to Provide Training and Technical Support to Tribal VR Projects Nationwide

October 15, 2021

For the last six years, the American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Training and Technical Assistance Center (AIVRTTAC) has played a vital role in supporting vocational rehabilitation personnel who help American Indians with disabilities obtain gainful and fulfilling employment. Now, thanks to another five-million-dollar, five-year cooperative agreement awarded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, this important work can continue. As a collaboration between the Institute for Human Development (IHD) and the Northwest Indian College Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (NWIC-TVR) Institute, AIVRTTAC will be able to build on its earlier success in providing culturally responsive education, guidance, training, and technical assistance to the 86 American Indian vocational rehabilitation (VR) projects across the country.

Since receiving its inaugural award in 2015, AIVRTTAC has provided a variety of services to American Indian VR projects located on tribal lands throughout 26 states, whose job is to help their participants overcome barriers to employment resulting from disabilities. AIVRTTAC services range from intensive, on-site training and technical assistance to widely distributed webinars, newsletters, and website resources intended to reach a broader audience within the tribal VR community. Over the last six years, AIVRTTAC has provided on-site services to more than 30 tribal VR projects nationwide and has reached over 5,000 users through its website, social media, and webinars.

During the upcoming funding cycle, IHD will begin collaborating with the NWIC-TVR Institute, whose program has also made a significant contribution to the training of tribal VR staff. The TVR Institute has developed 13 courses covering foundational tribal VR knowledge and skills; during the previous six-year funding cycle, 101 courses were offered with a total of 1,187 enrollments, including 272 unique students from 66 AIVRS projects and three state vocational rehabilitation agencies. The TVR Institute also created the Financial Management Toolkit - which provides new tribal VR directors with information and resources related to grant and budget setup and management - as well as the TVR Handbook, which serves as a comprehensive training resource for tribal VR staff and others who serve American Indians with disabilities.

According to Professor Kelly Roberts, Executive Director of IHD, "The work done by AIVRTTAC staff over the last six years has demonstrated direct impact while also empowering tribal VR project staff to share their knowledge and expertise with other projects. This interconnectedness is crucial to the ongoing health of the American Indian VR projects. Together we are stronger." Tribal VR staff likewise report that AIVRTTAC services have greatly improved their ability to help project participants prepare for and gain employment. As the director of one VR project stated, "The team at AIVRTTAC has been a wonderful asset to our program. The AIVRTTAC staff is very knowledgeable in the implementation of VR services and the training provided is paramount." Another project director credited AIVRTTAC with providing their staff not only "increased knowledge and program improvement, but resources to continue learning... AIVRTTAC is our first line resource when questions arise individually and as a team."

The renewed funding provides AIVRTTAC with the opportunity to continue providing these services while expanding into promising new areas of training and technical assistance. Specifically, the NWIC-TVR Institute will continue offering credit and non-credit bearing courses on tribal VR services, increasing the knowledge and skills of tribal VR staff across the country. AIVRTTAC (in partnership with another IHD program, the Arizona Technology Access Program) also plans to emphasize exciting new developments in the field of assistive technology and their potential to increase access to employment for tribal participants with disabilities. Additionally, AIVRTTAC will be increasing its training and technical assistance in the field of mental health and tribal VR, building on its recent webinars on the subject and working with partners across the nation.

As a result of this cooperative agreement, AIVRTTAC will continue to play an important role in fulfilling IHD's mission of "enhancing access to all aspects of the human experience" for individuals with disabilities. This also aligns with the goal established in NAU's 2018-2025 Strategic Plan to "collaborate with Native/Indigenous nations to develop projects and programs for the direct benefit of Native American and Indigenous communities." AIVRTTAC staff have always worked hard to ensure that indigenous practices, principles, and concepts are integrated throughout all their activities. This commitment to providing services that are tailored to the unique cultural and historical dynamics involved in tribal VR will continue into the new funding period, fulfilling a vital need for culturally appropriate VR services in the American Indian community.

For more information about AIVRTTAC, contact [email protected].

*About IHD: The Institute for Human Development is one of the nation's premier centers focused on advancing a vision of the future in which all Americans, including those with disabilities, participate fully in all life experiences. The Institute is a dynamic, multi-faceted environment staffed with faculty and professionals representing a range of human service disciplines and offering a broad spectrum of resources and programs for both students and members of the community. all aimed at advancing its vision of an inclusive society. IHD is home to a wide range of interdisciplinary programs whose efforts collectively support its mission of facilitating ongoing improvements in access, attitude, and inclusion for people with disabilities. Some of IHD's programs provide direct services to the community, while others focus on research initiatives, training and academic programs, and/or information dissemination about disability-related topics.