Congress Reaches Compromise on Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act


A bipartisan group of lawmakers from both the House and Senate recently reached agreement on how to modernize and improve federal workforce development programs including vocational rehabilitation.  The effort, introduced in the House as HR 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), represents a compromise between two previous versions of the bill, one that passed the House in March of 2013 and one that passed out of Senate Committee in July 2013.

On June 25, the compromise legislation was considered and passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support by a margin of 95-3, and it is expected to be considered in the House of Representatives when Congress returns from their 4th of July recess.

The scope of the legislation is significant; a number of provisions contained in Title IV should be of particular interest to many AOTA members:

Title IV of WIOA: This section of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act reauthorizes and makes major changes to Title II of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which authorizes vocational rehabilitation programs, including services, training, and support for employment, the independent living center program, and research and information to assist individuals with disabilities.  The Rehabilitation Act was last reauthorized in 1998.

State Vocational Rehabilitation Services: These changes are designed to set high expectations for individuals with disabilities with respect to employment. These provisions focus on giving young people with disabilities more opportunities to practice skills, consider career interests, and get real world experience. Vocational rehabilitation agencies will coordinate with the transition services provided in schools under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, including a 15% set-aside of funds for these purposes. Finally, changes included in the bill challenge states to provide competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities, regardless of their level of disability.

Title IV of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act also includes significant changes to the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).

Name and Administration: Under this legislation, NIDRR would be renamed the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. Additionally, the Institute would be moved from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services of the Department of Education to the Administration for Community Living of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

ICDR Chair: The Interagency Committee on Disability Research chair will now be a designee of the Secretary of HHS, rather than the Director of the NIDRR.

Focus and Funding: The bill includes “independent living” and “health and wellness” as part of the Institute’s portfolio that already includes employment, community participation, health and function, disability demographics, and assistive technology. It also requires a report from the Director on the funding and progress of recipients in achieving measurable goals and a summary of implications of research outcomes on practice.

Strategic Plan: The new bill directs the ICDR to develop a comprehensive government wide strategic plan for disability, independent living, and rehabilitation research. The strategic plan must include:

  • a description of the—
    • measurable goals and objectives;
    • existing resources each agency will devote to carrying out the plan;
    • timetables for completing the projects outlined in the plan; and
    • assignment of responsible individuals and agencies for carrying out the research activities;
  •  research priorities and recommendations for all government funded rehabilitation and disability research;
  • a description of how funds from each agency will be combined, as appropriate, for projects administered among Federal agencies, and how such funds will be administered;
  • the development and ongoing maintenance of a searchable government wide inventory of disability, independent living, and rehabilitation research for trend and data analysis across Federal agencies;
  • guiding principles, policies, and procedures, consistent with the best research practices available, for conducting and administering disability, independent living, and rehabilitation research across Federal agencies; and 
  • a summary of underemphasized and duplicative areas of research.

The proposal requires that the strategic plan must be submitted to the President and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions of the Senate and the Committee on Education and the Workforce of the House of Representatives.

An annual report must be prepared by ICDR on the progress made in implementing the strategic plan above and detailed budget information.

Independent Living Definition: The bill also defines “independent living,” used in conjunction with research, as “research on issues and topics related to attaining maximum self-sufficiency and function by individuals with disabilities, including research on assistive technology and universal design, employment, education, health and wellness, and community integration and participation.”

Collaborative Input: The ICDR is also required to invite, for at least 1 of its meetings at least every 2 years, policymakers, representatives from other Federal agencies conducting relevant research, individuals with disabilities, organizations representing individuals with disabilities, researchers, and providers, to offer input on ICDR’s work, including the development and implementation of the strategic plan.
Advisory Council: HHS would be required under this legislation to create a “Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research Advisory Council.”  Members of the Council must be generally representative of the community of disability, independent living, and rehabilitation professionals and researchers; directors of independent living and community rehabilitation programs; the business community with experience with the system of vocational rehabilitation, independent living services, and with hiring individuals with disabilities; stakeholders involved in assistive technology; and school professionals.  Also, at least one-half of the members must be from the community of individuals with disabilities and or their representatives.

Please email with your comments or concerns.

  • A link to the press release announcing the deal can be found here.
  • An official one-page summary of the legislation can be found here.
  • The full text of the legislation can be found here.
  • The statement of managers, including a section-by-section summary of the legislation, can be found here.