The Sycuan Inter-Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation Program (SITVR)

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Abilities not disABILITIES.

The Sycuan Inter-Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation Program (SITVR) provides culturally oriented vocational rehabilitation services to the consortia of Kumeyaay tribes and other enrolled Native Americans with disabilities living on or near the 12 Kumeyaay reservations in San Diego County. The SITVR program is designed to assist adults and transition-aged youth with disabilities prepare for, engage in, or retain gainful employment including self-employment. SITVR has assisted hundreds of Native Americans with disabilities access vocational rehabilitation (VR) services to obtain meaningful employment. 


SITVR has been a major source of employment-related training and job placement services for Native Americans with disabilities in the San Diego area. By offering a broad range of VR services, SITVR is able to work each eligible applicant to develop an individualized plan for employment to meet each person’s unique needs. Marc Espino, SITVR Program Director, explains that each tribal member regardless of disability or physical limitations has a desire to contribute to their family and community. He states Creator has gifted each person with a set of skills, abilities, strengths, interests, and knowledge and it is the goal of SITVR is to recognize and honor these attributes in order to obtain employment. SITVR acknowledges the need to integrate culture into the VR process. Cultural and traditional practices such as participation in traditional ceremonies, traditional healing, attending Wellbriety meetings to address substance abuse and enhance recovery supports are integrated into a consumer’s individualized plan for employment.


Historically, individuals with disabilities were naturally integrated in the community. In many tribal languages there is no word for disability. Western ideals have influenced society’s views where today emphasis is placed on performance, monetary gain, and individualism. The struggles of equality tribal members with disabilities face in the work place are evidenced by high rates of unemployment, poverty, and continual health disparities. Employment opportunities are limited in the outlying areas of San Diego County. Mr. Espino explains “it is no coincidence we see higher rates of substance abuse and mental health issues in areas where jobs are scarce.” Economic development and workforce development programs are essential in order to help tribal governments and tribal members develop employment opportunities and succeed in the work place.

SITVR is following the national trend in vocational rehabilitation which is now focused on working with transition-aged youth with disabilities. SITVR aims to identify those students with disabilities early on to assist with job readiness and preparation with the goal having the student obtain employment, enter into a vocational training or higher education institution during or after high school graduation. SITVR also provides support to the parents or guardians providing support and advocacy to the family by attending the individualized education plan meetings. This is the first time SITVR staff are working in high schools and SITVR is seeing a substantial rise in the number of youth diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder, and other cognitive or learning disabilities.

Cameron W. is a junior in high school and is a transition-aged student participating in the SITVR program. This semester he has been attending driving school working towards obtaining his driver’s license, learning sign language, and aspires to become a teacher’s assistant working in elementary special education. His mother, Amanda, states the services offered by SITVR have been life-changing for Cameron and the family. SITVR attends Cameron’s IEP Meetings as his advocate and has assisted in directing the school and student towards employment goals early on, i.e. making sure he is placed in classes where he can participate as an intern on and off campus for the job he desires. According to Cameron’s parents, “it is difficult to know what direction your special needs child requires during the transition period. We have little knowledge of where he should be placed, either diploma bound, transition bound, college bound, etc. Having assistance from SITVR is invaluable due to their experience and education in the field.” The VR services Cameron receives are helping him develop the skills to become independent and self-sufficient. 


The SITVR staff is composed of the Program Director, Mr. Espino, 2 Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors, Sarah Hernandez and Diana Gomez, and Administrative Assistant Sandy Knight. SITVR services are currently being offered at satellite offices located at Indian Health Council Santa Ysabel and Rincon. SITVR is developing plans to offer services on the Kumeyaay reservations in the far East County of San Diego. Please contact SITVR at (619) 722-6235 to inquire into the program or to obtain an application. You can visit for more information or visit the office at 5475 Sycuan Road, El Cajon CA 92108. 


Obtaining competitive integrated employment will empower the individual to become independent and self-sufficient in their

daily lives.