The vision of MRC is to promote equality, empowerment, and productive independence of individuals with disabilities. These goals are achieved through organizational innovation committed to creating options that enhance and encourage personal choice and risk taking toward independence and employment.

The purpose of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission is to provide comprehensive services to people with disabilities that will maximize their quality of life and economic self-sufficiency in the community.

This is accomplished through multiple programs in the three divisions of MRC: the Vocational Rehabilitation Services Division, the Independent Living Division, and the Disability Determination Services Division.


Commissioner of Rehabilitation

Deputy Commissioner, Administration & Finance

Chief of Staff

Deputy Commissioner, Independent Living Services

Deputy Commissioner, Disability Determination Services

Deputy Commissioner, Vocational Rehabilitation Services


A Message from Commissioner Bartels
Agency History
Diversity: Making A Difference
Rehabilitation Council
In Memoriam

Vocational Rehabilitation

  • VR Division Overview
  • Staff Stories
  • Partnerships With Business
  • Facts And Figures

Independent Living

  • IL Division Overview.
  • Staff Stories
  • Facts And Figures

Disability Determination

  • DDS Division Overview
  • Staff Stories
  • Facts And Figures
MRC Financials

A Message from Commissioner Bartels

It is once again my great pleasure to present the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2001. As we begin another decade of successfully serving individuals with disabilities who live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it seems most appropriate to shine the spotlight on the people who provide these quality services to your fellow citizens, the dedicated staff of the MRC.

The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission provides quite unique and valuable services, each tailored to the specific needs of individuals with disabilities at various stages in their lives. Last year, MRC staff helped nearly 5,000 people with disabilities find or retain employment, another 20,000 to live independently and more than 60,000 to receive the support they needed after incurring a disability. From disability examiners and case managers to investigators and vocational rehabilitation counselors, MRC's professional employees are the focal point of our service delivery system.

It is a source of pride to all of us at the Commission that MRC staff are frequently praised for the respect, sensitivity and caring demeanor they demonstrate toward our customers . commonly referred to as "consumers," or individuals with disabilities. An example of this praise is the outcome of our most recent annual Vocational Rehabilitation Services Consumer Satisfaction Survey. The results reveal that satisfaction with their VR counselor was the most frequently mentioned response when consumers were asked what they liked best about their MRC-VR experience. Overall, satisfaction with agency services was ranked at a whopping 93%.

As you read through this Annual Report, it will become evident that MRC employees are our most valuable resource. We asked several of them to tell the MRC story this year, since staff work on the front lines of the agency . present in your local community, every day, helping people with disabilities move forward to improve their lives . and are best able to describe the positive impact participating in one or more of MRC's programs has for citizens with disabilities in the Commonwealth.

In spite of the difficulties we have recently experienced and the fiscal constraints that lay ahead, I have every confidence in the employees of MRC to rise to the challenge and continue to deliver the top quality services consumers have come to expect from us. It has been an honor to serve the Commonwealth for 21/2 decades in my current capacity. I am grateful to have had an opportunity for a fulfilling and dynamic job and am as committed as ever to ensure that citizens with disabilities in Massachusetts continue to have similar career opportunities as well.

Agency History

The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) was founded in 1955 by state law to administer the Public Vocational Rehabilitation Program, formerly operated under the auspices of the Department of Education. The Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program originated in 1920 when thousands of civilians, injured on the job, found themselves with little or no access to retraining so they could work again. In order to address those needs, Congress passed the Smith-Fess Act and authorized federal funding for a vocational rehabilitation program to be operated by the states.

In 1935, during the Great Depression, Congress enacted the first permanent authorization funding the state-federal partnership to operate the Public Vocational Rehabilitation Program in every state. In 1943, the Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments expanded the VR Program to include individuals with emotional impairments and persons with mental retardation, authorizing the provision of physical restoration services to enable persons with physical disabilities to go to work. In 1954, Congress established research and training grants to ensure that professionally trained staff would be available to provide quality VR services to individuals with disabilities. In 1965, the Rehabilitation Act was amended to encourage individualized comprehensive planning, adding extended evaluation to the eligibility process, enabling persons with significant disabilities to have additional time in determining their eligibility for VR services. Subsequent Amendments to the Act strengthened the Vocational Rehabilitation Program by requiring a Client Assistance Program to provide information and advocacy for individuals with disabilities seeking or receiving VR services.

In 1985, the MRC-VR Division organized a Statewide Employment Services (SES) Department to administer a state-funded Extended Employment Program (EEP) and the federal- and state-funded Community Based Employment Services (CBES) program. The SES department has been designated by the MRC to develop and implement the Title VIc Supported Employment Program required by the Rehabilitation Act in order to assist individuals with the most significant disabilities to get and keep jobs in competitive employment. Today, this department also oversees initiatives such as the Disability Employment Partnership (DEP), a program designed to assist state and municipal governments to improve their effectiveness as an employer of persons with disabilities.

In 1992, Congress undertook a review of the Rehabilitation Act and enacted comprehensive amendments to reauthorize and modernize the VR Program. Finally, in 1998, the Rehabilitation Act was again amended and reauthorized as Title IV of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The inclusion of the reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act in WIA served to further emphasize the fundamental purpose of the Act to assist individuals with disabilities to go to work.

The Social Security Disability Program formally began in the late 1950's, although it had been considered since the original passage of the Social Security Act. When the Disability Program was established, the Federal government decided to contract out the disability determination work to each state, offering them a choice of operational models. In Massachusetts, the decision was made to take advantage of existing relationships the MRC had with the medical profession, as well as the special skills of the staff in making judgments about an individual's functional capacity. Additionally, those claimants who had rehabilitation potential could be referred to the Vocational Rehabilitation Division for additional assistance.

Each state's DDS makes disability determination decisions regarding the receipt of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The core of DDS operations is Case Processing, where specially trained Vocational Disability Examiners and Medical Consultants actually make each individual's determination of disability. This process has been vastly streamlined and computerized in the last decade or two. All other DDS departments exist in order to support Case Processing.

In the late 1970's, the MRC-VR Division began to receive financial support through federal Innovation and Expansion grants for the purpose of augmenting services and establishing new Independent Living (IL) Centers throughout the Commonwealth.

While consumer involvement had always been an important building block underlying the MRC infrastructure, in 1978 it became a formal program managed in the VR Division. In the early 1980's, an Independent Consumer Consultant (ICC) Registry was developed in order to harness the knowledge of consumers in various MRC programs. Rather than simply volunteering their time to help the agency improve its services, the ICC Registry legitimized the importance of the involvement of persons with disabilities by paying consumers for their time and expertise.

The need for additional IL services continued to grow and in the mid 1980's, with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission already serving more than 100,000 of the state's citizens with disabilities, the MRC Commissioner set out to create a more comprehensive approach to serving the disability community. The Independent Living Division was established in 1985 and its first programs, the Statewide Head Injury Program, Work Personal Care Assistance, and Independent Living Services, were assigned to the new Deputy Commissioner for Independent Living. The Home Care Assistance Program was added in 1986 and in the early 1990's, Protective Services for vulnerable individuals with disabilities became the newest program in the IL Division.

Together, the three program divisions of the MRC provide a comprehensive array of services to individuals with disabilities in the Commonwealth, serving as a stepping stone to a more secure and independent future.

Diversity: Making a Difference

"It is easy to observe the impact diversity has had on employees of the Commonwealth... However, many people are unaware of the tremendous impact it has made in the area of service delivery and upon our consumer base of people with disabilities."

While not everyone who is an employee of the MRC works directly with consumers, everyone has a job that supports the delivery of services to Commission customers. Mr. Albert Jones, Jr., the agency Civil Rights Officer, is one such employee who works at the MRC Administrative Office in South Boston, assisting staff in all three Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission divisions.

Al Jones has been employed with the MRC for more than 27 years and has observed the role diversity has had on the state's workforce. He began his career in 1971, witnessing the evolution of state government from a predominantly white male institution to one which practiced affirmative action as mandated by legislation in the 80's, into one now truly committed to the concept of diversity, striving to manage it effectively. " It is easy to observe the impact diversity has had on employees of the Commonwealth, becoming more inclusive of people from culturally diverse backgrounds, as well as women, people with disabilities and Vietnam era veterans, at all levels of employment," recalls Jones. "However, many people are unaware of the tremendous impact it has made in the area of service delivery and upon our consumer base of people with disabilities."

"This is most evident with regard to the initiatives and accomplishments at the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, an agency whose diversity efforts have been a model for others and whose Agency Head, Commissioner Elmer C. Bartels, serves on the Governor's Advisory Council on Diversity," stated Jones. The Commission also embraces the concept of participatory decision-making in which top-ranking managers solicit recommendations from staff at all levels of the agency. One example of obtaining such input from staff has been through the MRC Diversity Committee (MRC-DC). The MRC-DC consists of representatives from all three agency divisions as well as its specialized Standing Committees. "This Committee has steadily grown into an action-oriented group serving as a resource and a clearinghouse for diversity related projects; now, it even has it's own budget and creates an annual plan and calendar of events," remarked Jones.

"MRC's involvement in diversity issues has raised the agency's consciousness to the fact that even among the various disability groups we serve, there are many separate, distinct cultures. We have taken measures to increase our sensitivity to these differences in order to facilitate and enhance services to individuals in these unique populations," concluded Jones.

An example of this programmatic enhancement is the Statewide Bilingual Employees Standing Committee, consisting of approximately 50 members who meet regularly to identify consumer needs, establish relationships with minority vendors and find more community resources for referral purposes. The group monitors the agency 's provision of services to growing immigrant populations and frequently discusses best practices. Committee members also serve as resource experts to other agency staff and the community at large. One of the Committee's major achievements was the development of a training module entitled Coming Together in the New Millennium. This training was provided by the Committee to MRC staff statewide, as well as to employees of other agencies and private vendors. "Because of the efforts of this Committee," says Jones, " the agency can now provide information and services to specific communities in Spanish, Portuguese, Cape Verde Crioulo, French/Haitian Creole, Cantonese, Mandarin, Cambodian, Laotian, Kmong, Khmer, Taiwanese and a variety of other Asian and Southeast Asian languages and dialects."

The agency's commitment to diversity became official when Commissioner Bartels enacted the MRC Managing Diversity Policy on July 1, 1992. This policy reflects the willingness of managers to be more innovative in their outreach efforts to serve consumers from culturally diverse backgrounds. The most recent example of such an action was taken by Debra Kamen , Director o f the Statewide Head Injury Program. Upon review of her 1999 program statistics, she realized the African-American, Latino, and Asian communities were seriously underrepresented and underserved and took steps to remedy it. (Read the related TBI Grant story in the IL Division.)

"As such," said Jones, "our policy of managing diversity is not something we do only for moral reasons, because it is the right thing to do. It is also consistent with the current mission and goals of our agency and necessary for our success in the future."

Rehabilitation Council

The mission of the statewide Rehabilitation Council (R/C) is to advise the Vocational Rehabilitation Services Division in the delivery of effective rehabilitation services which lead to employment for people with disabilities, and to advance the use of resources necessary to promote the independence of citizens with disabilities in Massachusetts.Members are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the Governor. The membership reflects representation of persons with disabilities and disability advocacy groups, current and former consumers of vocational rehabilitation and independent living services, business and industry, the medical profession, education, and community rehabilitation programs. Members of the Rehabilitation Council are volunteers who donate their time to fulfill the mission of the R/C.


  • Andrea Bader, Boston, MA
  • Dr. Michael Biber, Brookline, MA
  • Janet Dale, Milford, MA
  • Yvonne Dunkle, Boston, MA
  • Manuel Gross, Florence, MA
  • Marcia Hammond, Rutland, MA
  • Brooke Heraty, Belmont, MA
  • David Kaiser, Northboro, MA
  • Betty J. King, Boston, MA
  • Deborah Larson, Milton, MA
  • Barbara Lybarger, Boston, MA
  • James Moulton, Newtonville, MA
  • Mark Murphy, Dartmouth, MA
  • Angelica Sawyer, Cambridge, MA
  • Patricia Sheely, Pittsfield, MA
  • Antonia Torres, Holyoke, MA
  • Cindy Williams, Roxbury, MA
  • Paul Winske, Amherst, MA (deceased)
  • Douglas Wray, Springfield, MA
  • Sabrina Yao, Somerville, MA


The MRC has a full-time Ombudsperson available as a customer liaison, primarily to address consumer concerns. The Ombudsperson is an MRC staff member who works in the Customer Relations Department providing additional support to people with disabilities who are receiving services from the MRC. The Ombudsperson may be contacted by a consumer, family member, advocate or MRC staff person, and will review the complaint, working with consumers and MRC staff to find a solution. If this type of intervention does not bring about resolution, then a formal appeal and/or mediation process is also available to consumers. The Ombudsman assists consumers in the VR, IL and DDS Divisions. The Ombudsperson may be contacted by telephone at (617) 204-3600 or 1-800-245-6543 (voice and TTY), or by writing the MRC Administrative Office in Boston.

In Memoriam

Jean Turner spent a pivotal ten years working with the MRC, devoting herself to building bridges between MRC staff, consumers and their families. As a consumer consultant who experienced two traumatic brain injuries, Jean was involved in many MRC groups, including serving as a SHIP Advisory Council Member, on a number of Rehabilitation Council committees and as Chairperson of the DDS Advisory Council. She served as a consultant for the MRC Cerebral Palsy Task Force and was the recipient of the Moro Fleming Award for Outstanding Achievement in Advocacy and Policy in 1996. Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 1999, Jean maintained her positive and selfless outlook, participating in experimental treatments and research in which it was not clear if it would benefit her directly. Jean will be remembered for smiling in the face of adversity and for her ability to make friends.

Paul Winske joined the State Rehabilitation Council in 2000 and served as Secretary of the Council until 2001. He was highly instrumental in moving the VR program agenda through the state VR plan. Before becoming a member of the MRC family, Paul was active in the IL movement and worked as a systems advocate and peer counselor at the Stavros Center for Independent Living in Amherst. There, Paul facilitated educational workshops for consumers and community members regarding disability rights and provided skills training services to persons with disabilities. He will be remembered fondly by MRC staff.

This information is provided by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.