Collaborative new grant projects aim to improve services for people with disabilities

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UW–Madison faculty help secure major new
vocational rehabilitation assistance grants

UW–Madison’s Timothy Tansey and Fong Chan will be collaborating with partners both in Wisconsin and across the nation on two new initiatives that are designed to assist state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies.

The state-federal VR program serves about a million individuals per year and spends more than $2.5 billion annually in helping people with disabilities achieve their independent living and employment goals. But these different state agencies across the nation often operate in different ways, and the two new projects are designed to tease out and then amplify the most effective practices.

As part of this work, Tansey and Chan, who are both faculty members with the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education, will lead efforts to conduct a national needs assessment with the 80 state VR agencies.

DisAbility Advocate 2016 cover“We’ll be looking at what states have tried in their efforts to help people with disabilities, and what works and what doesn’t work,” says Tansey.

One of the newly funded projects is the “Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center for Targeted Communities: Educate, Empower, and Employ (Project E3).” This program will identify and address the persistent, pervasive, multi-layered barriers to employment for marginalized groups with disabilities living in economically disadvantaged communities.

This $12.5 million, five-year federal grant is being led by a team at Southern University and A&M College, a historically black institution of higher education in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Tansey and Chan are co-principal investigators and secured $2.5 million in grant support to evaluate the effectiveness of the initiative.

Tansey and Chan will also be playing key roles as co-principal investigators on another new project called the “Technical Assistance Center for Vocational Rehabilitation Agency Program Evaluation and Quality Assurance.” This initiative is being led by UW–Stout colleagues at the Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute (SVRI), and will include partners at Michigan State University and the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR).

 This project will aim to help state VR agencies transform their service delivery models and develop the program evaluation capacity to determine the most effective services in helping people with disabilities find good-paying jobs consistent with their abilities and career interests.

“We are thrilled to be working closely with our colleagues at UW–Madison,” says Cayte Anderson, the executive director of the Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute and a co-principal investigator on this grant. “Tim Tansey and Fong Chan have an incredible reputation as leaders in the field and a strong, demonstrated research background.”

Adds Anderson, who earned her undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. from UW–Madison’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education: “This project plays on the strengths of both teams — with UW–Madison providing its world class quantitative research analysis and UW–Stout focusing on the applied research. These large-scale projects are very complex. They require a network of high-caliber partners that bring independent strengths to the table. We then collaborate and find the best ways to deliver high-quality research and outcomes.”

Timothy Tansey pull quoteOverall funding for the program evaluation and quality assurance project is $2.5 million over the next five years, with the UW–Madison researchers being awarded a total of $800,000 to, in part, lead a joint needs assessment of five national technical assistance centers, and to support training and policy development during this time.

Both grants, which started Oct. 1, are funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Several other faculty members with UW–Madison’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education will also be involved with the Targeted Communities grant, including: Brian Phillips, Susan Smedema, Bonnie Doren, Kimber Wilkerson, Aydin Bal, Andrea Ruppar and Taucia Gonzalez.

These new, federally funded projects will also give current and future students with the department the opportunity to become closely involved with these innovative initiatives. These grants include funding for project assistantships that will allow Ph.D. students to develop professional skills and increase their opportunities to network with other researchers and service providers.

“The capacity to provide students with these research opportunities is invaluable in helping us attract and train high-quality doctoral applicants,” says Tansey. “Such efforts are integral in assisting the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education retain its ranking as the home of the nation’s No. 1-ranked Rehabilitation Psychology program. Collaborative efforts like this will continue to keep the Rehabilitation Psychology program, the department and the School of Education at the forefront of research and practice.”