Bureau helps out disabled

By Jen Hirt Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Workers with disabilities, who already are juggling rehabilitation and medical bills, can find that wait even more discouraging.

But that's where the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation can lend an experienced hand, as Portage County native Louis Baril found out.

Baril, a graduate of the Maplewood Joint Vocational School, encountered trouble in 1994 after injuring his back at his Warren trucking job. A judge denied him Social Security benefits, since he was not totally disabled.

Workmen's compensation came through for a little while, but was lost when his employer appealed on the basis that Baril didn't report the injury immediately.

"I didn't know what to do," he said. "It was frustration all around. I was in limbo."

Baril's mother, Carol Kuchar, from Mantua, felt the frustration also. "We fought bureaucracy for four years," she said.

Then Baril found the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation.

After assessing his abilities, the BVR helped him take classes at ITT Tech in Youngstown in 1996. In March, he graduated with an electronics engineering degree. Now he's an assembly technician with Equus Computers.

"We're trying to find them jobs where limitations aren't even part of the work," said Larry McCorkle, manager of program development for the BVR's parent service, the Rehabilitation Services Commission in Akron.

To the employers, that means workers, no matter what their disability status is, will show no difference in their ability to produce, he said.

"Your expectations should be the same," McCorkle tells the employers.

Baril is now able to help support his wife, son, and daughter, and hopes to move back into the county, where he grew up. "Yeah, it feels pretty good, knowing that you're able to do something, to contribute."

Baril is also finding out that sharing his experience with others feels pretty good.

Following his graduation, Baril, 30, was invited to Washington D.C. by Sen. Mike DeWine.

"He was, at that time, working on legislation about the (Americans with Disabilities Act), which was up for renewal. He had a bill that was trying to group together some of the agencies, like Social Security and the BVR," Baril said.

Baril, having experienced the run-around first-hand, spoke with DeWine about the Work Force Partnership Act, designed to eliminate the stigma of labeling all workers with disabilities as "totally disabled."

That legislation, with the proposed Vocational Rehabilitation Act, could eventually lessen the hassles of trying to work with a disability.

"There's a lot of congressmen who listen," said Baril. "They're actually trying to change things."

McCorkle has already seen positive changes. There's been a "vast increase" in employers who are willing to hire disabled workers. "We're not warehousing people anymore. We're seeing more success stories."

As a result of meeting with DeWine, Baril has put some information on the World Wide Web, in hopes that he can inform other disabled workers about the benefits of the BVR. The page can be found at http:\\members.aol.com\barilhead\disable\disable.htm.

Through the Internet, Baril has already made contact with a computer manufacturer in Virginia who is interested in providing low-impact assembly jobs for disabled workers.

"We all need to be productive members of society," Baril said. He and his mom hope to expand their web page. "I don't think there's anyone out there who doesn't have a disabled person in their family," said Kuchar.

Although the central BVR offices are in Akron, they have numerous counselors and affiliated offices in Portage County.

McCorkle said people can call a local employment bureau or the Akron office at 1-800-251-2368.

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