SVRI has a long history of service and innovation, funded primarily through national grants and contracts for services. This brief history demonstrates the ebb and flow of innovative services and research efforts as well as the need for grant and contract funding to drive innovation.
1960’s: Vocational rehabilitation at UW-Stout began with a planning grant to establish a graduate program, developed in large part by Dr. Paul Hoffman. The first master’s degree students graduated in 1968. In the same year, a vocational rehabilitation facility named the Evaluation and Training Center was established by Hoffman and colleagues to provide direct services to persons with disabilities and to serve as a clinical training site for students. In 1969 the Materials Development Center was created to disseminate information and publications. With the onset of online materials availability in the 1990’s, the Center’s work focus shifted away from hard copy resources.
1970’s: The Evaluation and Training Center was renamed the Vocational Development Center or VDC in 1973. The Research and Training Center was added in 1972 to provide research and development capabilities to the Institute.
1980’s: The VDC added a Program for Independent Living and Projects with Industry to its core services in the early 1980s. In the mid-1980s, the Center for Rehabilitation Technology was established to further enhance new services and capabilities to the Institute. In 1983, all of the programs of the VDC were consolidated in a newly renovated facility located in the center of campus. This facility formerly housed the campus Library. The new facility included use of a section of a residence hall. The residence hall was (and still is) attached to the vocational rehabilitation building by an accessible skyway.
1990’s: To fulfill SVRI’s mission, the Continuing Education Center (CEC) was founded in 1996 to focus on training with community-based rehabilitation program personnel. This particular model of service is not currently in use. It was at the end of this decade that John Wesolek, long-time Executive Director of SVRI, assumed the role of Dean of the College.
2000’s: Under the new leadership of then-executive director, John Lui, SVRI’s programs were realigned by function to become of SVRI-Training, SVRI-Research, and SVRI-Services. Additional collaborations and partnerships were developed with the Department of Health Services (DHFS), among many others. New programming including a Transition Partnership School, sensory (deaf/blind) services, benefits analysis, and individualized vocational evaluation services. These services were developed to meet the changing needs of people with disabilities. Online training became a new focus to provide professional development opportunities to rehabilitation professionals across the United States, as part of the RRTC (Rehab and Research Training Center) .
2010’s: Demand-side rehabilitation became another focus of the institute with the development of WorkSource Wisconsin and research partnerships with the University of Wisconsin – Madison. In 2014, Dr. Cayte Anderson became the Executive Director of SVRI. This decade also saw the rapid growth of grant-driven projects: Wisconsin PROMISE, a model demonstration grant of the U.S. Department of Education (OSEP), was awarded to the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. SVRI is a significant partner in the leadership of the effort as well as in training and evaluation. Two collaborative Technical Assistance grants were awarded to SVRI. The PEQA-TAC (Program Evaluation and Quality Assurance), awarded by the U.S. Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration was designed to aid state agencies in the engagement of program evaluation to meet the reporting needs of WIOA. VRTAC-TC Project E3, of which SVRI is a sub-awardee, is focused in work with state vocational rehabilitation agencies and their partners across the United States to help people with disabilities from underserved communities achieve their independent living and employment goals. Further contracts with the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation have launched two service lines, one in management of the Eligibility and Order of Selection data collection process, and the other in development of services provided by Self-Employment Outreach Specialists, located at three sites in Wisconsin. In 2019, Kyle Walker became the fifth Executive Director of SVRI, and the university FABLAB opened in the Vocational Rehabilitation building in the site of the former SVRI “shop” (short for workshop). SVRI Assistive Technology and Services staff will work in close alignment with the FABLAB staff to continue provision of services to consumers and referral sources.
2020-What lies ahead? The next decade is already showing evidence of SVRI’s continuing plans for collaboration in research and in technical assistance projects, for improvement and enhancement of Services, and for growth in provision of innovative training topics to meet the needs of an ever-changing society.