OVR joins celebration of US program’s 100th anniversary

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

THE Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, which is under the governor’s office, is joining the rest of the nation in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first federally funded program that assists people with disabilities.

On June 2, 1920, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Smith-Fess Act of 1920, also known as the Industrial Rehabilitation Act or the National Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act.

“Over the years, the program has reinvented itself numerous times to meet the ever changing employment needs and challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and the demands of public policy,” said Maryann Borja-Arriola, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation CNMI director.

While the basic program has remained constant since its inception, it now makes use of new and more effective methods to empower individuals with disabilities, particularly those with significant disabilities, to achieve high-quality employment outcomes, Borja-Arriola said.

OVR in the CNMI is assisting youth and adults with disabilities to obtain, maintain or advance in employment, she said.

The OVR services are “designed to help consumers succeed in jobs that enable them to live as independently as possible, reduce or eliminate their need for publicly funded benefits, and be fully contributing members of their local communities,” she added.  

She said the most common categories of disability among OVR consumers are cognitive impairment, psychosocial, physical, mental, and orthopedic impairments. 

OVR also has specialized services that help clients be as self-sufficient as possible, and these are provided through the CNMI Center for Independent Living, she added.

“We work in partnership with community organizations and businesses to develop employment opportunities for people with disabilities,” she said, adding that these include job fair events, outreach, and referrals.

Borja-Arriola said OVR offers business services that include consultations with employers about diversifying their workforce by hiring people with disabilities, and prescreening services to match employers with clients who are qualified, reliable job candidates.

OVR secretary and fiscal officer Lourdes C. Atalig has been with the office since 1979 when it was still known as the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. It was established in 1975.

“I did come across some obstacles, but I managed to do the things that I had to do,” she said, adding that her first day of work was stressful and confusing.

“I didn’t have anyone to ask for help and guidance about,” she said.

As office secretary, she was also the finance person and caseworker who had to do errands.

But she said she tried to manage her time and prioritize her tasks.

Atalig said at the time, the office had one used typewriter and 20 consumer caseloads.

She said the office started recruiting counselors when the number of caseloads increased.

In 2017, OVR served 224 individuals; in 2018, 267; and in 2019, 264.

For more information, go to

previous arrow
next arrow

Read more articles

Visit our Facebook Page

previous arrow
next arrow