Happy 100th Birthday, VRS and SSB

MN Dept of Employment and Economic Development

Hello DEED,

As we continue to navigate a challenging time in our state and in our country, I’d like to take a moment to celebrate an important milestone.

Today, June 2, is the 100th anniversary of the public Vocational Rehabilitation program, which in Minnesota includes the programs and services provided by Vocational Rehabilitation Services and State Services for the Blind here at DEED.

Throughout our history people with disabilities have been marginalized, overlooked, and undervalued. Far too often they’ve been denied full inclusion and integration into our communities, and frequently unable to find competitive employment in our workplaces. Today we are observing 100 years of the only publicly funded program that is committed exclusively to providing employment services – counseling, training, placement services, and job supports – to citizens with disabilities. In a very real way, the public VR program is an expression of our core values of equity and inclusion for all Minnesotans.

President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Fess Act of 1920, also known as the Industrial Rehabilitation Act and referred to as "The National Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act," into law June 2, 1920. That year, Minnesota became one of the very first states to create its own VR program, and over the past century, the program has grown into a national partnership in all states and territories, with both federal and state funding. The program has also evolved significantly over time to include people with any and all disabilities – whether they’re physical, mental, emotional, or developmental, as well as deafness and visual impairments.

Here’s a link to some great national VR history that you might want to check out when you have a minute. It’s a nicely done timeline from the VR program’s national professional organization in Washington, DC. 

Minnesota’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services and State Services for the Blind are planning a series of online events throughout the summer to commemorate the 100 years. I know they had hoped to mark the occasion with a combined all-staff gathering today, the actual anniversary date. Had COVID-19 not intervened, it would have been the first-ever combined event for VRS and SSB. 

Thank you to Minnesota’s public VR programs for a century of great work assisting people with disabilities to achieve their employment goals. Thanks, as well, to the hundreds of Minnesotans who have served over the years on the citizen advisory councils – the State Rehabilitation Councils – providing stakeholder input, guidance, and counsel to the VR programs. Thanks to the broad statewide network of community partners who work closely with VRS and SSB to provide these important services. And a very big shout out to all of the large and small businesses who have employed so many thousands of VR participants over the years.

Everyone in our broad statewide coalition is absolutely vital in making the VR program a success and ensuring that it will continue for at least another 100 years into the future. Congratulations and thank you to the approximately 400 staff and managers at SSB and VRS for continuing to live into our core values of full equity and inclusion for all Minnesotans.

With admiration,
Steve Grove |Commissioner 
Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development 
1st National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota St., Suite E200, St. Paul MN 55101