DOR Newsletter, Spring Edition 2023, Volume 2

DOR logo. Blue and white with black text that reads: Employment. Independence and Equality. hit
Professional photo of DOR Director Joe Xavier seated and dressed in business attire,  smiling and facing the camera.


As the nation’s largest vocational rehabilitation (VR) program, California has been diligently working to respond to the multiple crises that the national VR program has been facing: ensuring VR funding is fully expended, increasing the number of individuals with disabilities who are meaningfully employed, and reimagining VR for our collective future.

Through the engagements and contributions of DOR staff, stakeholders, and business and community partners, California is developing the innovative practices, methods, and models to modernize the way the nation approaches disabilities in the workplace. Expedited eligibility is one such effort. This innovative system allows individuals with disabilities to be determined eligible for DOR services on the day of their application, as opposed to waiting weeks or even months to be medically determined to have a disability.

California’s VR program is the first in the nation to adopt the expedited eligibility process. This is in recognition of the fact that at least 97% of those consumers that apply for DOR services are ultimately determined eligible. This serves as evidence that those who apply for services truly have disabilities that affect their ability to obtain employment. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities remains at 70 percent 33 years post ADA, and it is largely up to VR agencies to change that.

Creating a system that allows individuals to be determined eligible for VR employment services as soon as they meet their counselor for the first time removes an additional barrier to employment that can delay service delivery. As VR continues to reimagine itself across the country, California will continue contributing to the effort by sharing our innovations and best practices with other state VR programs and the Rehabilitation Services Administration.

Expedited enrollment reflects DOR’s intent to vigorously advance the vision of the Newsom administration and the California Health and Human Services Agency for a Healthy California for All. California DOR is proud to lead in this space, and I thank all of our staff and partners who help us continue to innovate to improve the lives of all people with disabilities.

In partnership,

Joe Xavier



Two women comforting each other.

In 2022, DOR received

$4 million from the Opioid Settlements Fund to create Integrating Employment in Recovery (IER), a three-year project that includes embedding vocational rehabilitation staff into four treatment centers across the state to provide direct employment services to individuals receiving substance use treatment.

The treatment centers will be selected with an emphasis on diverse demographics, including unserved and underserved populations and geographic locations. In addition, DOR will also develop and provide training to the substance use treatment workforce on the benefits of employment as a component of the recovery process.

Recognizing substance use disorder as a disability is tied to removing the stigma associated with addiction and that substance use is a "choice". Providing services to individuals who have a substance use disorder while they are in treatment increases the success rate of their managing their disability once they are out of treatment.

IER is just one of several statewide initiatives to reduce substance use overdoses, support recovery efforts, and educate the public. The Department of Health Care Services has launched Unshame California, a science-driven and content-based campaign that promotes anti-stigma messaging through stories of Californians impacted by substance use disorders. Earlier this year, Governor Newsom released his Master Plan for Tackling the Fentanyl and Opioid Crisis, an outline of aggressive steps to support overdose prevention efforts, hold the opioid pharmaceutical industry accountable, crack down on drug trafficking, and raise awareness about the dangers of opioids, including fentanyl.


Picture of Victor Duron. He is standing and smiling at the camera. He is dressed in business attire and standing in front of a gray background.


The DOR's new Chief Deputy Director Victor Duron is no stranger to the department. He spent more than six years working in various roles within DOR before leaving in 2021 to become the Grants Director for the California Interagency Council on Homelessness. Though Duron says he valued his time away, he is thrilled to return "home" to DOR.

"The culture at DOR is second to none," said Duron. "The unwavering commitment and personal connection at all levels that everyone has to our mission is extraordinary."

Duron's work with the disability community spans over two decades. After graduating from San Francisco State University with a bachelor's degree in English, Duron worked at a suicide treatment and prevention center and said that is where he was informally introduced to navigating the culture, resources, and language defining disability, especially for those with behavioral health and other invisible disabilities.

"We were the tiniest of band-aids at best to get people through their day," he said. "There were many people calling who had untreated or undertreated chronic behavioral health disabilities. They were not necessarily in crisis, but they did not have the proper supports and treatment for their behavioral health condition. We did not see ourselves as working with the disability community at that time, and it has been gratifying to me to see the way invisible disabilities have been understood and embraced over the last 20 years."

In addition to Duron's professional work with the disability community, he has a personal connection as well.

"I have many members of my family with significant disabilities," Duron said. "As an immigrant from Mexico, there is still a lot of stigma in my culture and community around discussing disability and accessing services."

In his new role as Chief Deputy Director, Duron has many initiatives and priorities that he wants to implement, including Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility strategies and looking at ways to align systems statewide. However, his first order of business in his new role is to listen.

"The first thing a good leader with appropriate humility should do is listen and learn and understand the issues before jumping in to make changes," he said.

With 20 years of experience in advocacy and administration both in the private and public sector, there is one aspect of his job and working in the disability space that Duron loves the most.

"The people," said Duron. "The people I get to work with, the people I get to serve, the people in the communities I get to partner with, that's what I love most about my work."


Michelle Padilla

Picture of Michelle Padilla standing with Governor Newsom posing for a photo outdoors.

Michelle Padilla always wanted a fulfilling career. A year ago, she moved to Sacramento with her family and was grappling with medical complications tied to her disability. She wanted economic stability in her life.

"People are struggling to get SSI and keep SSI. But I wanted to get off SSI," Michelle said. "I have medical issues, and Medi-Cal wasn't enough. I wanted a job with benefits and a future."

Working with DOR counselor Tara Calderon in the Northern Sierra District, Michelle set an employment goal of working for the state. In June 2022, Michelle was hired as an Office Technician with the California Department of Conservation and loves her job.

"I get along with everyone, and I love to help," she said. "I do administrative tasks for the different divisions, pick up mail and documents, and I help out with events. People also know me as the candy lady because I always have candy on my desk."

In addition to working with her counselor, Michelle also has a job coach to support her state service career. Michelle received job preparation and training that included mock interviews and help with her resume. Michelle's job coach comes to her work site twice a week to see how she is doing.

"I know what it feels like to be rejected and not being hired because of my disability," Michelle said. "I am so thankful that DOR provided this opportunity to get job coaching, which helped me get to where I am now."

Michelle was familiar with DOR, having received services when she was a student at Los Angeles Harbor College and then at California State University, Dominguez Hills, where she graduated with a BA degree in Human Services. 

During her early life, Michelle was thought to have a learning disability. However, at 17, she was diagnosed with an intellectual disability. When she was 30, it was discovered that she has DiGeorge syndrome, or 22q11, which mirrors Down syndrome.

"I was bullied and picked on a lot growing up, but my parents --especially my dad -- were my biggest cheerleaders and always told me to go for the things I want," said Michelle.

When Michelle wanted to start a podcast to increase awareness about 22q11, it was her dad that encouraged her to do it, even though she had never produced a podcast before.

"I started The Awareness Show in the basement at Cal State Dominguez Hills by myself 12 years ago, and now I have a production team that helps me, and a co-host," Michelle said. "We even have an international audience."

Although Michelle knew that she had skills to offer, it was hard to find an employer that could see past her disability. Unable to find consistent employment or keep a job, Michelle spent years dependent on SSI. When Michelle and her parents decided to move to Sacramento from Southern California, she was in her 40s and knew that she needed to find a job that would provide security. By reconnecting with DOR, Michelle was able to reach her employment goal and finally feels like she has the career that she has always wanted.

"People with disabilities have skills, talent, and abilities," said Michelle. "People just need to give them a chance and allow them to show what they can do. That’s all we ask". 

You can listen to Michelle's podcast, The Awareness Show, on iTunes, iHeart Radio, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Podomatic and Spotify. 


Image of the DOR logo. It is blue and white with black writing that reads, employment, independence and equality.


On October 1, 2023, DOR officially turns 60! To celebrate the Department's six decades of providing employment and independent living services to Californians with disabilities, the DOR is planning a celebration this October that honors our past, present and future, and everyone is invited!

To receive more information about our 60th anniversary plans, please email and provide your name, your connection to DOR, and the years you were involved with the department. Please also include a phone number so that members of the DOR Anniversary Committee can reach out to you for additional information. Please put DOR 60 in the subject line. We look forward to celebrating with you in October!

Picture of former Governor Gray Davis when he was governor, sitting at a desk signing papers.


On Friday, July 14, please join DOR staff and community partners at the Orientation Center for the Blind in Albany to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Blind Field Services.

On September 29, 2002, Governor Gray Davis signed Senate Bill (SB) 105, which created the Specialized Services Division (SSD) within the California Department of Rehabilitation. This new Division officially began in July 2003, and for the past 20 years has provided job placement opportunities and other services to DOR consumers who are blind and visually impaired or deaf and hard of hearing by counselors and staff with specialized training in those fields. The Blind Field Services District and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Program were established as part of SB 105 to address these specialized needs.  

To commemorate this special milestone anniversary, the DOR is planning a community day and open house. DOR staff, community partners, and members of the public are invited to attend the celebration. Following a brief program, attendees can tour the Orientation Center for the Blind and check out the latest in assistive technology products and services from industry vendors. This free open house starts at 9 a.m., with a brief program at 10 a.m., at the Orientation Center for the Blind, 400 Adams St., in Albany. All are welcome to attend. We hope to see you there!


Picture of Lois Curtis smiling holding two of her illustrations.


June 22 is the 24th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's groundbreaking ruling, Olmstead v. LC, which found the unjustified segregation of people with disabilities is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The landmark civil rights case gave older adults and people with disabilities a right to seek long-term care services in their own home, instead of in an institution like a nursing home or a psychiatric hospital.

Lois Curtis, who had intellectual and mental health disabilities, spent most of her teen years and early 20s in mental hospitals, but wanted to live in her community with the proper supports. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of Curtis and co-plaintiff Elaine Wilson.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Curtis was able to live in her own home with assistance from personal care attendants. She blossomed into an artist, and in 2011 she was invited the White House by President Obama on the anniversary of the Olmstead decision and presented Obama with one of her drawings.

On Nov. 5, 2022, Lois Curtis died at the age of 55 in her Atlanta home. Although Curtis and Wilson have now passed, their fight to live in their community of choice impacted the lives of millions of individuals with disabilities and created a legacy that will live on in their honor.

Illustrated image of a clock and a calendar.



The quarterly meeting takes place on

Wednesday, June 7 and Thursday, June 8 from

9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For the meeting agenda, location details and Zoom link, visit the State Rehabilitation Council page on the DOR website.

Visit the DOR website to find meeting schedules for the following advisory committees:

California Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities

Blind Advisory Committee

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Advisory Committee

Assistive Technology Advisory Committee

California Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Board

California Vendors Policy Committee

Disability Advisory Committee

Image of a diverse group of men and women standing. One of the women is in a wheelchair.


The California Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (CCEPD) is actively recruiting for two member positions: member with a disability and member within the business community.

The CCEPD makes policy recommendations to state agencies regarding employment, programs, services, and cross-system coordination needs for people with disabilities. The CCEPD also influences policy and program development affecting people with disabilities. Candidates will be interviewed by the Executive Officer and CCEPD Members.

If you are interested in becoming a member, please submit an application and resume. Applications must received by June 23.

For more information or to apply, visit the DOR CCEPD website.


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