What is DARS? Many of you have been a DARS client at one point in your lives or maybe you are still a current DARS client, perhaps? For those of you who would like a glimpse into what DARS is all about. DARS is not just all about giving you hearing aids, paying for your school, or placing you with jobs. DARS is actually a spectrum of services provided to people of all disabilities funded by the state and federal government. DARS is not limited to the deaf and hard of hearing only like most may assume.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was created in 1973 to grant civil rights to people with disabilities. Section 504 has provided opportunities for children and adults with disabilities in education, employment and various other settings. It allows for reasonable accommodations in the workplace for a person with a disability. Federal law states that each state must have a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency. In our state, we call our VR agency, DARS (or formerly TRC — Texas Rehabilitation Commission that you all may remember in the old days). DARS stands for Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. There are five regions in the state. Houston has its own Region while Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, and Lubbock have their own regions, respectively. The central DARS office is located in Austin which also houses the Office of Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services. We are the only state in the United States who offers our deaf residents in Texas a tuition waiver (which is known as the Certificate of Deafness Tuition Waiver – COTDW). Contact your local DARS counselor to apply for the COTDW. You do not need to be a DARS client to receive this tuition waiver (however, eligibility criteria must be met such as an unaided hearing loss of 55 dB or greater hearing loss in the better ear or an aided loss of 30 dB or greater loss in the better ear). DARS also offers the STAP program which helps deaf or hoh individuals apply for a voucher to receive a free text messaging device, captioned telephone, TTY, or even a bluetooth compatible phone. This voucher is renewable every 5 years.
Each person with a disability is always most likely going to experience some kind of barrier in the work place or at school. As many of you know this, many deaf people need hearing aids to be able to communicate at work, right? DARS provides hearing aids to help “reduce the barrier” caused by the disability. Without hearing aids, a deaf person may be in danger of losing his/her job. Sometimes when a deaf person needs an interpreter for an interview or job training, DARS would provide that. If a deaf person does not want to receive hearing aids, other accommodations can be made such as requesting a videophone to be installed in the workplace which can be arranged with a VRS company of the individual’s choice or even a TTY which is becoming a rarity but yet still exists out there.
As far as other disabilities are concerned, DARS can provide many other services such as those with physical and mental disabilities. DARS can purchase electric wheelchairs or even have vans modified to transport a person in a wheelchair. This makes it possible for this person to go to work. Those who suffer from mental or emotional disabilities such as bipolar disorder or depression may need medication to become stabilized. A person who recently lost his leg in a boating accident can receive a prosthetic leg with DARS’ assistance. These are just a few examples of what DARS can do for many people with disabilities. It’s all about “reducing the barrier” that their disability imposes on them in the workplace. The visually impaired individuals have their own agency which is called DBS – Division of Blind Services. The services provided by DBS are pretty much the same as DARS but with more services to help those with visual limitations. Deaf individuals who also have visual limitations such as Usher Syndrome are referred to DBS.
For those who are seeking employment, job placement services can be provided to help deaf/hoh become “employable”. Interview skills workshops, resume development, Deaf Job Club, and job training are among services DARS can provide to their deaf/hoh clients. Interpreters are provided at the request of the deaf clients for their interviews. DARS works with several vendors (such as Career and Recovery Resources and Nightingale) to provide job placement services to their deaf/hoh consumers.
In Houston, there are at least 12 Deaf or Hard of Hearing Rehabilitation Counselors as well as two Deafness Resource Specialists and a Hard of Hearing Resource Specialist serving our Deaf/HOH population. To visit the DARS website, go to www.dars.state.tx.us or call 1-800-628-5115 or TTY 1-866-581-9328 or email DARS (firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out which office your zip code is assigned to. You will be referred to the local RCD/HH (Rehabilitation Counselor for the Deaf/HOH). To receive DARS services, you must apply first before being determined eligible.
I’ll be happy to blog occasionally on the subject of DARS. For any type of questions regarding DARS, feel free to email me at email@example.com. I may choose to answer some of your questions by writing a blog every now and then.