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Aug 8, 2022

RoseAnn retired from being the Chief of the Technical Assistance Unit at RSA in 2021.  

She talks about significant changes that shaped what VR is today, including independent living, informed choice and the impact of technology. RoseAnn elaborates on areas that VR is doing well, and areas VR can improve upon moving forward. 

RoseAnn is currently contracting with VRTAC-QM, and you can find her work on Long COVID on the web at


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Full Transcript


VRTAC-QM Manager Minute: Listen to VR Legend RoseAnn Ashby, with her VR Reflections- Looking Back and Looking Forward



Speaker1: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management, Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Here is your host Carol Pankow.


Carol: Welcome to the Manager Minute. Joining me in the studio today is RoseAnn Ashby, former Fed and part of the RSA team for 34 years. RoseAnn, I have to say, you are legendary. Everybody knows and respects RoseAnn. And for those of you newer to VR, RoseAnn started with RSA back in 1987, and she's supervised a number of units during her tenure there, including the Technical Assistance Unit, the Training Programs Unit, RSA Policy Unit, and the basic VR program unit. So RoseAnn, you retired from being the chief of the Technical Assistance Unit at RSA in 2021. And I have to say, wowsers, I think you've done it all at RSA except for maybe the fiscal unit.


RoseAnn: That's right. They keep me away from the fiscal unit, Carol.


Carol: I love it. I love it. So, RoseAnn, how are things going in retirement or should I say semi-retirement as you're helping us out on the VRTAC-QM with some contract work?


RoseAnn: Well, I'm loving my retirement. I will say it's very much less stress than I had when I was working. But I'm looking for ways to be engaged. And of course, I am enjoying my work with the center. I particularly love seeing my work on the website. That for me is really gratifying, that's for sure, and I hope to be doing some additional travel in the fall. You know, COVID has kind of crimped my style a little bit, but I'm looking forward to some opportunities there and some other volunteer opportunities. But I am loving retirement.


Carol: Good for you. Good for you. Well, we're loving seeing your work on the website, too, because there's nothing worse when we have coming soon. You know, we're going to be done with two years here in a minute. So we're like, yeah, we got to get this filled in. You have been just a big, big help to us. So, RoseAnn, I love that you said you're looking forward to fall, too, and getting to do some fun, travel and things, because I have always loved this month of August and this is the goofy part of me. Ever since I've been little. I like the smell in the air. I like how I can tell summer's ending and fall starting. I love that whole getting ready for school. And even when I was working at State Services for the Blind, I loved our planning. We did over summer and coming into fall for the new school year, we would do our Pre-ETS blueprint. And so I was sitting back and thinking about podcast and I thought, you know what? I want to do something where we can do some reflections with you because you have over three decades of experience in VR and you've seen so many changes. I thought it would be a fun opportunity to kind of reflect back and look forward. So RoseAnn, why don't you tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself and your background and how you got into VR in the first place?


RoseAnn: Okay. Thanks, Carol. So before I went to RSA, I was in the Independent Living Center in Miami, Florida. I was the assistant director there. I grew up in Ohio. I grew up in Canton, which is a little it used to be a factory town. My family was working class, but they always valued education. And I am a person with a disability. I am blind. And my mother, I credit my mother with really pushing hard to fight for mainstreamed education for me. Before that was popular before we had the laws that we have today. That's kind of my background in a nutshell. I went to college in Oberlin, Ohio, and I have a master's degree from the University of Miami in Florida.


Carol: Good for you. So what intrigued you about RSA? What do you think about work? Because did you have to move to D.C.?


RoseAnn: I did. I did. You know, I had worked at an independent living center doing direct services, advocacy, that kind of thing. And I just felt like if I could help influence some policies, that would be so terrific. And actually, one of the women who monitored our center told me about job openings there. And so in 1987, they were trying to bring on in RSA more people with disabilities. And that's how I got in.


Carol: very cool. And living in D.C., I just I have a love for DC. I love when the plane lands. I love everything about it.


RoseAnn: I do too.


Carol: Yeah. And that's exciting, being able to influence policy. So RoseAnn, and I know you came from that independent living side of services, how do you feel like that independent living movement has influenced VR?


RoseAnn: So as folks probably know, the independent living movement puts the consumer in control. The consumer is empowered to kind of control their services and their outcomes. Grew out of the civil rights movement and the feminist movement in the sixties and seventies. And we in VR used to have custodial attitudes that had to change because it used to be that counselors knew best what was good for people with disabilities. Well, after independent living came along, that was no longer true. For instance, in 1973, the concept of the IWR P, which is the predecessor to the IPE, came along. Folks with disabilities were partners with counsel. In determining their plan. And then in 92, of course, we had the introduction of informed choice throughout the VR process and in 2014 we had amendments that brought in the concept of maximizing employment, advancing and employment. So I think independent living needs to be given credit for really changing the scope of VR and how VR Counselors relate to people with disabilities.


Carol: I love that I sometimes help Maureen Maguire Kuletz from our team do a session for her grad students around self-advocacy. And I love looking back to those early days. You know, you go in the sixties, there's a lot of cool stuff that came out of that and it has really influenced and shaped what's happening in the world today, and that is amazing. So you've got to see that all.


RoseAnn: Absolutely.


Carol: RoseAnn, what do you think has been a real game changer in VR over the years?


RoseAnn: Well, one of the things I like to talk about as a game changer and there's probably many, but the one thing that occurs to me is technology and the advancement of technology and how that has opened up so many opportunities to people with disabilities that would just never have been there before. I remember typing on a typewriter a long time ago and having someone correct my typos. And now of course, with Jaws Screen Reader, I can do all that work myself. In fact, I edit other people's work and it is just so liberating. And that's just one very, very small example. All of the smartphones and tablets that are accessible right out of the box, that is so exciting for folks with disabilities. Now, of course, I'm most familiar with technology for blind people, but deaf folks now have video interpreting. They can live in the middle of a very rural place, and as long as they have Internet, they can get interpreters to help them facilitate their communication. And folks with physical disabilities, even very significant physical disabilities, have assistive technology to help them with their computers and to be independent at home and at work. I just cannot say enough. I think this has opened up tremendous career opportunities for people.


Carol: Yeah, I agree with that. On that technology, I think about when I was at State Services for the Blind, even just during my tenure there looking at equipment we bought early on. And then in the end you kind of want, hey, the iPhone does almost everything and there are a million awesome apps that are folks were downloading and going, Hey, we just need this. I don't need a bunch of other equipment, I just need a phone and this app and I'm good to go. I think that's cool. And for those young people out there, yes, typewriters. I remember typing master's papers and we had one line that could go back and correct. Otherwise we were using correct tape.


RoseAnn: Yes.


Carole: So, yeah. For those young people who have no idea what we're talking about, it's true. They can be grateful that there's been that advancement. So along with that kind of changes in technology, of course, what do you think is different about the expectations the newer, younger customers have as they access VR?


RoseAnn: Well, I think it's very exciting. So first of all, we've got to realize that young people were raised in a post ADA world. The ADA passed in 1990. So they expect things to be accessible. They expect services, they expect facilities to be accessible. They don't know that they shouldn't have those expectations. I find it's so gratifying to see young people with such pride and self-confidence. They demand services. They want everything right now. You know, we talked about this before, Carol, with Amazon. Amazon has raised people's expectations that they should expect their products to be delivered immediately. And I think young people particularly want the VR to reach out to them and to serve them quickly. And that's just not happening. I know we're doing some work on some modules that will be posting soon on rapid engagement, and that's just very exciting to me.


Carol: Yeah, I'm glad you made that plug for our rapid engagement series. So for our listeners, we are working on a really cool series that should come out and August and into September where we're going to talk about rapid engagement and some of the practices that could help you in VR to really more quickly engage with folks and hopefully then leads to better outcomes. And we're starting to see some really fun results from around the country. Four states that have entered into that. I know I'm working on a bathroom remodel right now and I just laughed because I was trying to order something off of Amazon and I thought, the contractor goes, well, it should be here by overnight tonight. But no, I have to wait four days. I'm like, What's wrong with that?


RoseAnn: That's right.


Carol: Oh, my gosh. So how do you those expectations that folks have now fit in with consumer choice and informed choice?


RoseAnn: Let me just talk a little bit about VR. And their role. I see the counselor as facilitating the dreams of people with disabilities. The counselor and the person with a disability are partners, and this is maybe new for some people or different kind of concept. People with disabilities have a right to try to reach goals that they want to reach. A good counselor can help them look at what's realistic. They can help them look at how different choices will have different consequences. But we can develop in VR interim objectives for somebody. For instance, if they pass a certain course, then they can go on to another course or the fall program. People with disabilities have a right to fail. We often learn more from our failures than from our successes, and I do see this whole concept of informed choice just playing into all of this that counselors need to honor that, respect that and support it.


Carol: I like that you said that learning from failure. I remember back to a parent when we were working with Pre-ETS students and they had that realization. They're like, I was trying so hard to protect my child from ever experiencing that failure, but they had this aha moment and we saw it in them and they went, You know what? We have to let them fail, just like we do our other children. Now, I love that you said that, Rosanne, you've talked to me before about Jo-Ann Wilson. She was the former RSA commissioner, and she had a whole philosophy about raising expectations. Can you tell us about that?


RoseAnn: Yes, absolutely. I love Joanne. I think she is a fantastic person and I really admire her. Honestly, she has never let anything get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. She travels extensively. She raised five kids. She headed up the rehab center in Louisiana before she became a commissioner. And she was a tireless advocate for people with disabilities. But one of the things that she always would talk about is one of our major barriers to success is low expectations. And she meant low expectations that people with disabilities have for themselves, low expectations that their families have for them, and low expectations that service providers have. And she would always talk about how we can just raise expectations. We would do so much to help people advance in their goals.


Carol: Those are wise words for today. They really are. They ring true even now. I think there's that soft bigotry of low expectations that still hangs around. Absolutely.


RoseAnn: Yeah.


Carol: So, RoseAnn, what are your thoughts about disability and poverty and how could we better address this?


RoseAnn: Well, unfortunately, you know, I don't have the exact data, but I do know that the percentage of individuals with disabilities living in poverty is higher than for the general population. I really think that the RSA's emphasis on good paying jobs is the key. It's not enough for someone to be placed in a minimum wage job or a job that just supplements SSI. I mean, obviously folks have choice about this. We need to be finding better jobs for people. Folks with disabilities have the same dreams as everyone else. They want to raise their families. They want to be active in their community. They want to travel, they want to have fun. And you can't do that if you don't have a good income. I think VR needs to work hard with employers to help them understand that someone with a disability can perform a job competently and as well or better than folks without disabilities. Unfortunately, Carol, there is still stigma or attitudinal barriers in our society. Some employers don't understand that folks with disabilities can be productive. And this is changing. But those barriers are still real. And I think VR needs to work on that.


Carol: Oh, you're dead on on that. I'm really hoping actually the one bright lining out of this pandemic is that it's been proven now that people working remotely, it's worked. I mean, it works really well, which can help individuals with disabilities who may have transportation barriers and other things being able to get into some good employment and employers being less critical about are they going to be able to do the job and giving them a shot for doing that and working from home. So I'm at least hoping I'm hopeful that that will prove to be true.


RoseAnn: I am, too. I think we have more flexibility now in our thinking than we did before the pandemic. And that's key because when we talk about accommodating somebody with a disability, sometimes it's just a matter of like restructuring a job a little bit or whatever. But I think that kind of like let's make it work no matter what.


Carol: Absolutely. So, RoseAnn, what do you think are things that VR is doing really well? And where do you think maybe we're missing the mark A little bit?


RoseAnn: I. First want to say that VR is a great program and I think we need to own that. There's hardly anything that cannot be provided to an individual with a disability if it's related to their employment outcome. We've got a great program to work with. I think it's exciting that VR agencies are beginning to really analyze their performance. That's one of the things I do think we're beginning to do well. I think another thing is that we have very dedicated counselors. It sure isn't the money that keeps them in the field. Right. But they're dedicated and that's wonderful. A few challenges or things that I think maybe could be better. I would love to see agencies work on getting more financial compensation for counselors. I think unfortunately, you know, we have a high turnover rate and if we paid people better, that would really help to keep them. In terms of the VR process, we allow the process to control us. We need to look at outcomes. The process in VR is good because it makes sure that people with disabilities are being treated fairly and equitably. It ensures that all the regulatory requirements are met. But that's not the end in itself. That's not what we're really all about. We're about outcomes and we need to focus our work on outcomes. Another thing I just wanted to mention, I don't think our agencies sometimes reward people on the staff who are creative and think outside the box, you know? And then the last thing I would say is we've often heard that VR is the best kept secret, but why the heck are we a best kept secret? We should be out there waiting to tell people what we do, to tell folks with disabilities, employers, other service providers, what we can offer because we are a tremendous resource. And that's an area where I think we can, we can improve.


Carol: I agree on that 100%. I know when I interviewed at State Services for the Blind, the director at the time told me, yeah, we're, you know, we're the best kept secret. I still remember that. And I remember telling staff when I got to the agency, I'm like, I don't want to be the best kept secret. We need to have people come in the door. And I love that we've got some agencies out now doing some cool things. I know David D'Angelo from Mass Commission for the Blind, he did a whole PSA campaign and it really impacted his numbers. He was, I think, one of the few programs during the pandemic, like their numbers stayed up. He wasn't losing tons of people.


RoseAnn: That's great. Yeah.


Carol: He made a big effort. And I know other folks have really been looking into that same kind of thinking, being able to get the word out so people can come in and find us. So do you have any ideas on how VR can shore up those areas where we might be missing the mark?


RoseAnn: Well, okay, so just to kind of continue along the same vein I was just talking about, first of all, I think it's really unfortunate that we lost our in-service training grants because of high staff turnover. We really need those training dollars. And I know, of course, agencies can spend their Title One funds on training. I'm sure they do. But I wish we had that dedicated funding source. if we had, I know there's a lot of training available online for counselors and maybe there'd be a way to provide incentives for people completing the training. Also, maybe some incentives for counselors who develop relationships with service providers. You know, we need our partners, Carol, to provide supports to people with disabilities that VR doesn't provide or can't provide. And so if we had folks going out and making contacts in the community and developing partnerships, I think they should be rewarded for that effort. I also think job development, that is a tough skill. It's a different set of skills than most counselors have, that's for sure. And we need dedicated folks to meet with employers and become liaisons with them and really develop jobs for folks. I mean, it is not sufficient to just give a person with a disability a link to Indeed a couple of job openings or whatever. You know, that's not what I'm talking about. I think we need to do some targeted job development more than we do.


Carol: Yeah, I couldn't agree more on that. That job development, it takes a skill set when you're doing that, and it's not always a skill set that a counselor has. And I know definitely some agencies require the counselors to do that work too. But boy, that's tough if that isn't kind of in your wheelhouse of engaging with employers that way.


RoseAnn: Right.


Carol: So Rosanne, if you had a crystal ball, what would be your predictions for VR in 20 years?


RoseAnn: Oh, my goodness. Okay. If I had a crystal ball. Well, first of all, let me say that I do believe we are at a very critical juncture right now. Unfortunately, our numbers are going down. I worry in this inflationary era whether funding for VR will become tighter. We have to prove. Our work, I think that if we offer diminished services and fewer outcomes. That's just not a good thing right now. We need to reinvent ourselves, as I talked about. We need to provide incentives for creative staff and support their creativity. We need to get our consumer partners, our individuals with disabilities to value us. And that's through working with folks with disabilities openly, honestly and being efficient. That whole rapid engagement thing we talked about earlier, educating employers about VR, what VR can do for folks with disabilities. Again, VR is a great program, but we need to market it. I see the future can be bright, but we need to do some work, I think some substantial work and we need to do it quickly.


Carol: Yeah, I agree on that. I was excited to hear the CSAVR group. I was on the director call yesterday and listening to some things that folks are doing to try to shore up recruitment, retention, and that was really encouraging with a couple of states and successes they've had. But I know the fall conference, they're focusing on some three main categories and one of them really is about outreach in the promotion of the program, which is smart. I think they're spot on and that they're in-tune to what's happening right now. So I'm encouraged about what we'll see this fall and hopefully that will get people energized across the country. So, Rosanne, I know there are a lot of people that are new to VR across the country. What advice would you give to them as they're learning and working in the program?


RoseAnn: Well, this has to be your passion. If you're new in this field, you're going to have to work hard. You're not going to get paid as much as you might if you were in some other field. So this needs to be your passion. If you truly believe that folks with disabilities have rights to full employment and should be treated equitably. You are so valuable to us and I really hope you'll stay in this field. But it's got to be a passion for you. We need you, that's for sure.


Carol: Well said. We need you, that's for sure. That is great. So, Rosanne, I just want to switch gears a minute and talk about the work you've been doing for us at the QM. You have been curating a lot of website content and also working on a project regarding long COVID. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about that work?


RoseAnn: Sure. Long COVID is something that gosh, you know, it's very distressing. When I saw the data, a very conservative estimate is that like 7.5 million individuals have long COVID. And that means that they have limitations that are characterized by having had COVID that may prevent them from working. And that's why VR needs to be involved with some of these people. And so the work that I did, which I believe has been posted, talks about when we determine that someone with long COVID has a disability for VR purposes, but it's an evolving area. Carol. I know I particularly want to be involved in keeping up to date because things are changing. There's some reports coming out of the Department of Health and Human Services just this week about long COVID and what supports people need. It's very exciting and I'm really glad that the center here is working on this.


Carol: Yeah, we really appreciate you doing that work. And for our listeners, you can find what RoseAnn has done on our website. And if you go to resources, you can either go on the search box or you can go to resources and look for the information on Long-covid. You'll find that right away on the page. And I know she's continuing to work on adding, so that'll be a kind of an evolving document, I believe, and going forward.


RoseAnn: right.


Carol: Yeah. We really appreciate it. So, RoseAnn, do you have any other parting words of wisdom for all of us?


RoseAnn: Carol, I don't know that I have any parting words of wisdom. I think working together, you know, at all levels, we're going to get this job done. And I'm very excited. I think we've got people with disabilities who are demanding their rights and wanting services. I think we've got people of goodwill and dedication in VR. I'm just very excited about what all this can mean. I think we need to work together, be honest with each other, communicate and really get the job done.


Carol: Well said, RoseAnn. Well, thanks for being on our program today. I really appreciate it. And I look forward to talking to you some more.


RoseAnn: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. I've enjoyed it. I've never done a podcast before, but this has been fun.


Carol: Awesome. Well, have a great day.


RoseAnn: Thank you.



Speaker1: Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time, brought to you by the VR TAC for Quality Management. Catch all of our podcast episodes by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thanks for listening!