Hawaii Human Services Department Clients with Disabilities Among Nation’s Top Earners

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BY TONI SCHWARTZ HONOLULU –The Hawai‘i State Department of Human Services (DHS) is among the most successful government agencies in America in terms of helping clients with disabilities obtain good-paying jobs, according to a new federal report.

The report from the U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration indicates that DHS clients with disabilities earned an average of $41,067 in annual wages during 2009. That amounts to nearly 67 percent of the average wage in Hawai‘i’s workforce – which is one of the highest ratios in the nation. Only six states had a better performance last year.


“Disability does not mean inability,” DHS Director Lillian Koller said. “Our employees at the Vocational Rehabilitation and Services for the Blind Division (VRSBD) do an excellent job of encouraging positive attitudes among clients as they prepare for, secure, retain and regain employment.

“Even clients with significant disabilities, such as blindness and deafness, are now working in fields that are financially and psychologically rewarding,” Koller said. “And as technology and training methods advance, our clients will excel in an increasingly wide range of careers.”

In 2006, Koller named Joe Cordova as VRSBD administrator. Cordova, a blind rehabilitant himself, previously served as Regional Commissioner for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

During Cordova’s tenure at VRSBD, the average wages of clients have increased every year. In 2005, before Cordova joined DHS, clients with disabilities earned less than 57 percent of the average wage in Hawai‘i. By the 2009 fiscal year, DHS clients were earning nearly 67 percent of the average wage.

“We strive to assist our rehabilitants to reach their maximum potential so they will have a better chance of attaining high-quality employment and eventually becoming economically self-sufficient,” Cordova said.

“The biggest barrier faced by people with disabilities is not the lack of skills or ability, but rather the low expectations held by society in general regarding disabled individuals,” Cordova continued.

“Our challenge in vocational rehabilitation is empowering clients with the necessary training, skills and confidence so they can be fully prepared to compete alongside their non-disabled peers. That way we can begin to raise society’s expectations about people with disabilities,” Cordova added.

DHS Public Information Officer Toni Schwartz submitted this report