Brian Dennis believes every Iowan has the capacity and the ability to work – those with disabilities may just need a little help to achieve it.

“Employment is possible for every person, but that journey will look different for everyone,” Dennis said. “The best way to assist someone on that journey is to provide as much support as possible.”

Dennis, IWD’s Bureau Chief for Disability Services and an adjunct instructor at Drake University’s counseling master’s degree program, now will play a much larger role in providing that support. On Monday, June 19, he was named Interim Administrator of Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS), Iowa’s lead agency for helping individuals with disabilities find, retain, and/or advance in employment.

IVRS is slated to become a division within IWD as part of a statewide government reorganization that takes effect July 1.

Dennis sees his role going forward as two-fold – empowering Iowans with disabilities to achieve their own goals and “making sure our employer partners understand the great deal of untapped potential that is out there.”

Dennis has been aware of that potential since childhood, when he first noticed that the students with disabilities who attended the preschool in Georgia where his mother taught were excluded from many of his later classrooms. That, combined with his parents’ own experiences with mental health concerns, prompted an interest in psychology. “I saw them both deal with things on a daily basis – sometimes well, sometimes not so well.”

He graduated from Georgia Southern University with a psychology degree in 1998, moved to Iowa (“just for the summer”), and quickly began helping others. He worked first in HCBS residential services, then case management services for Iowans with chronic mental health concerns, then in low-income housing programs. Dennis began dealing with education, employment, and training in 2013 – first for Des Moines Area Community College, then with the state of Iowa. He joined Iowa Workforce Development in 2020 as Disability Services Program Coordinator.

Along the way, Dennis picked up a master’s degree clinical rehabilitation counseling in 2013. Roughly 2½ years later, on Christmas Day 2015, he began his lived experience with disability when a spinal cord injury placed him in a wheelchair.

“I’ve gotten to experience disability services from both sides of the table,” Dennis said.

As IVRS prepares to move into IWD and the agencies learn to work together more efficiently, he is excited about the possibility of providing a wider variety of workplace services. It will be a chance to help even more Iowans achieve their goals.

“Our mission statement is ‘Serving Iowans,’” Dennis said. “There’s no caveat – it doesn’t say ‘Iowans without a disability,’ or ‘Those in Des Moines instead of Creston.’

“If we’re going to live up to that statement, we need to make sure that we’re including everyone. Every Iowan matters.”

For more on Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services, visit the IVRS website.