Emre Umucu, Ph.D., center, UTEP assistant professor of rehabilitation counseling, is the lead site investigator on a multisite study to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Co-principal investigators are UTEP faculty members Beatrice Lee, Ph.D., left, and Veronica Estala-Gutierrez. Photo: Laura Trejo / UTEP Communications

UTEP Awarded Grant to improve employment, quality of life for individuals with disabilities

The University of Texas at El Paso is one of eight U.S. universities participating in a multisite study to increase sustainable employment and career advancement opportunities for individuals with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the five-year project is led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which awarded UTEP an $833,337 grant to enhance employment assistance services for veterans and Hispanics with disabilities and chronic conditions.

UTEP will be part of UW-Madison’s Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center for Quality Employment (VRTAC-QE). The grant’s principal investigator is Timothy Tansey, Ph.D., professor in UW-Madison’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education. Research will focus on increasing the knowledge and skills of state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies that help individuals with disabilities find employment.

Emre Umucu, Ph.D., assistant professor of rehabilitation counseling in UTEP’s College of Health Sciences, will lead the site project with co-principal investigators Beatrice Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of rehabilitation counseling, and Veronica Estala-Gutierrez, lecturer in rehabilitation counseling.

Umucu said the study will identify and provide resources to rehabilitation counselors so that they can help individuals with disabilities, including veterans, to successfully find and keep jobs. He plans to collaborate with state vocational rehabilitation agencies, Veterans Affairs, and nonprofit community rehabilitation and mental health agencies.

“It is very meaningful research given that employment is associated with a better quality of life and well-being for individuals, including those with disabilities and chronic conditions,” said Umucu, director of UTEP’s Veteran VVell-Being Lab (V3). “Our focus is to help veterans and Hispanics with disabilities and chronic conditions. Both of these populations need further attention to improve their employment outcomes, which will ultimately lead to better health, well-being, and quality of life for themselves and their family members and communities.”

Some specific objectives for the VRTAC-QE include the development of a state-of-the art, accessible website for communicating with state VR agencies; conducting a comprehensive review of effective strategies and best practices that lead to employment for people with disabilities; and providing targeted training and technical assistance to state VR agencies, among other initiatives.

UTEP is one of two Hispanic-Serving Institutions participating in the center. Other UW-Madison partners include Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, Florida Atlantic University, South Carolina State University, Iowa Wesleyan University, the Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute, the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Autism Workforce, Yolobe.com, and several direct service organizations engaged in innovative practices in the employment of persons with disabilities.

Author: Laura L. Acosta –  UTEP Communications