It is the mission of VRA to promote issues that enable persons with disabilities to participate in the mainstream of society, to provide opportunities for professional development for persons in the field of rehabilitation and independent living. VRA is involved in the following activities: Legislative Advocacy, Removal of Architectural Barriers, Professional Development, The VRA Foundation, Inc.
The VRA, a chapter of the National Rehabilitation Association (NRA), was organized on January 30, 1959. The NRA is a private, non-profit association whose members are professional persons in various areas of rehabilitation work, as well as consumers, volunteers, educators, students, and interested citizens.
By 1964, the total membership of VRA was slightly more than 600 persons. Approximately 60% were professional members representing physicians, rehabilitation counselors, vocational evaluators, therapists, social workers, nurses, administrators, and placement specialists. The remaining members included persons interested in the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities. The association was incorporated August 12, 1968.
Accomplishments at the State Level
Pre-ADA (1985), this committee was already addressing consumer concerns. The most recent committee chair was a person with a disability and a VRA activist. He also helped to organize a consumer alliance focused on needs of persons with disabilities. The committee continues to work in bringing consumers and allied interest groups together.
Tidewater Community Alliance
A VRA President and a committee chair were catalysts for assisting a fragmented group of activists to form an alliance in the Tidewater area. This Hampton Roads coalition refocused and still functions today as one of the most powerful consumer groups in Tidewater. Their success sparked enthusiasm for continuation of the Community Alliance Committee.
Housing for the Disabled
In 1990, the Legislative Committee Chair worked with the Virginia Housing Authority to ensure legislation for building codes to include appropriate housing for persons with disabilities.
Virginians with Disabilities Act
House Bill 817 (passed in March 1985) was initiated in the Virginia Rehabilitation Association. Members were involved throughout the process of composing, educating the community, advocacy and passage of the bill.
When rehabilitation issues are proposed for legislative action in Virginia, VRA employs legislative advocates to represent the disability community at the General Assembly as well as activating its own membership network.
Virginia Rehabilitation Association Foundation, Inc.
An educational grant program was established in 1985 with $1,000 and was funded to $10,000 in 1988. At that time, the VRA board mandated the creation of a Foundation to administer the grants and solicit additional funding. The Foundation was incorporated in 1992 and is governed by a Board of Trustees.
The First Miss Wheelchair America pageant was the outcome of a father's concern for his daughter who never expected to be able to participate in a Miss America Pageant. It originated in 1974 as a forum to promote the needs as well as the achievements of women with disabilities. The Miss Wheelchair Virginia Pageant started the same year and became a major annual event sponsored by the VRA.
In 1982, the VRA was proud to have the Pageant become a fully independent, non-profit corporation and continued to provide encouragement and involvement. The Pageant emphasized personal achievement, personality, the competitiveness of women with disabilities, and promoted the elimination of both architectural and attitudinal barriers. In 1993, the Pageant sponsored training in the Americans with Disabilities Act for all former Pageant winners.
Accomplishments at the National Level
Beginning with people like Mary Switzer and Corbett Reedy, the Virginia Chapter has provided strong leadership on state, regional and national levels. This has included Board memberships, Commission and Committee members and chairs, as well as Presidents of the Divisions. A Virginia Chapter member, Bill Brownfield served as national President in 1989 and 1990.
This program is a forerunner of ADA. It is a national project promoting access in the United States for persons with disabilities through the surveying, identification and publication of facilities for meetings and lodging accommodations that met NRA's minimum accessibility guidelines. A guide for surveying facilities was published and each chapter had two surveyors trained by the national programmers to become state chapter "train the trainers." VRA offered site surveyors and information as a public service.
(Signed into law July 26, 1990.) VRA Membership was actively involved in all stages of this legislation. They supported, advocated and participated in the march on Washington. Several VRA members were present for the signing of the law. A VRA member who was serving as NRA President attended and was later invited to the White House by President Bush to receive recognition of VRA and NRA involvement in the creation, and advocacy for its passage.
National Legislative Representation
VRA is represented at the national level by a full time employee at the National Office. A VRA member worked on the Federal committee to write the Rehabilitation Amendment Act of 1992.
Mary Switzer Memorial Bust Fund
The Virginia Chapter served as a conduit for funds raised across the nation to have a bronze bust of Mary Switzer created and mounted at the Mary Switzer Building in Washington.
Historical rosters of VRA Award Recipients can be viewed here:
- R.N. Anderson Award recipients
- Roy M. Hoover Award recipients
- Norman C. Hammond Business Award recipients
- A. Ray Dawson Humanitarian Award recipients
- Don T. Johnston Award recipients
- Corbett Reedy Award for Excellence recipients
- Distinguished Achievement Award recipients
- Franz Stillfried Barrier Free Achievers Honor Roll
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