Headed to Work as a Teen with Blindness or Low Vision
If your child isn’t planning to go to college, she may want to work full- or part-time or get some vocational training after high school. When considering a specialized training program, it’s important to find out if the school or program has a job placement program for graduates and, if so, what their placement rate is. It would also be a good idea to explore ahead of time what coursework is required, what tools are required, and what instructional materials will need to be accessed. It’s useful to find out whether the instructor has ever worked with a person who has blindness or low vision. Questions such as whether materials are available in alternate formats other than print and whether assistive technology is used in libraries or classrooms are important too. Your child may have to explain the accommodations and modifications she needs to participate actively in the program. Preparing this explanation is an important activity in itself, and the information can be updated and used whenever your child applies for training programs or jobs in the future.
Acquiring Necessary Skills
If your teen intends to get a job after high school, she’ll need the skills to seek out a job, interview for and obtain the job, and keep the job. In-school, after-school, and summer jobs are important for building the skills and experience that will prepare her for successful work experiences as an adult. In school, she may be able to work as a student volunteer assisting with office and clerical tasks, helping in the school cafeteria, selling tickets for athletic events, or lending a hand in the mailroom. Students in vocational classes studying occupations in industries such as food service, horticulture, and building maintenance can often get paid part-time jobs after a period of training in which they acquired the necessary basic skills to perform the jobs. In some states, collaborative agreements between educational and rehabilitation agencies provide paid summer work experiences for youngsters with blindness or low vision.
Whenever possible, teens should seek jobs or experiences in areas they are interested in for a career. For example, if your child is interested in being a sound engineer, a job at a music store or a radio station might give her some related experience. At many high schools, guidance counselors can help teens in narrowing down the types of careers that interest them and for which they have a strong skill set.
Finding a Job
Although some young people who are blind or low vision are able to get work experience on their own, many youngsters—including many sighted students—need help from parents or other adults to get their first jobs. It will still be important, however, for your child to understand the process of how to look for and be hired for a job and to recognize that she’ll be expected to make a commitment to follow through on work responsibilities. You’ll want to see that your child learns about the activities and skills involved in looking for a job while in school so that she can find employment after graduation. For example, does your child know how to:
- Find job openings?
- Apply for jobs?
- Interview successfully?
- Dress appropriately for the kind of work she wants to do?
We all know that one of the hardest parts of working is getting hired for a job. Employers are often reluctant to hire someone with blindness or low vision because they have concerns about how the individual will do the job, stay safe, and be perceived by other employees and customers. During high school your child’s educational team may want to consider devoting some time to helping your child:
- Develop strategies for locating potential jobs
- Create a resume
- Learn effective interviewing techniques
Opportunities to role play, job shadow—or follow and observe individuals with and without blindness or low vision doing the kind of job your child is considering—and get work experiences can better prepare your teen for future employment. Attending a summer program for young people that focuses on job skill development or work may also be beneficial for your child.
Discussing these issues with the other members of your child’s educational team can help in the planning of activities that will support skills your child will need as a job seeker and employee.
What Kind of Help Can You Expect?
State rehabilitation agencies provide training and assistance in job placement for people with disabilities, but the help and individualized attention available is limited. It’s not the same as the daily contact with teachers that a student receives while she’s still in high school. To determine the level of support available through your state or local rehabilitation agency, you can request that a representative of the agency be present whenever possible at Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings at which transition is being discussed. You can also request through the IEP process that your child be included in career exploration activities and job-seeking skills classes and be engaged in actual job placement programs in which school (and sometimes rehabilitation) personnel help students find jobs.
If Your Child Has Multiple Disabilities
For youngsters with multiple disabilities, summer and after-school jobs can be successful with the support of a job coach. Job coaches are on-the-job trainers who work with students at a job site to help them learn the duties of a job and develop skills for interacting effectively with employers and coworkers. Ideally, the job coach works with the student’s coworkers as well to help them understand how to provide support to the student. In this way, coworkers are a source of what is known as “natural supports” once the job coach is no longer at the job site.
Working with a job coach is referred to as “supported employment.” Job coaches may be provided by your child’s school while she is entitled to special education services and then later by either rehabilitation or developmental disabilities agencies. If your child has multiple disabilities or is developmentally delayed, having an agency representative who has knowledge of supported employment services present at an IEP meeting can be extremely helpful. Your child’s lead teacher or the school counselor should be able to help you identify agency resources.
Unless your child has physical or developmental disabilities in addition to being blind or low vision, they may not need “supported” or “sheltered” employment services and would probably not be eligible for them.
Advocating for Special Needs
If your child uses braille, large print, assistive technology, optical devices, or other tools to assist her in completing her school work, she’ll more than likely need these tools for her job. Employers don’t automatically provide these accommodations the way schools do. Your teen is going to need to advocate with her employer to get what she needs in order to do her job. She needs to demonstrate to a future employer that she knows what she needs and has strategies she can use to get the work done in the same amount of time as any other employee. She may be able to get some of the necessary tools and training she needs through your state’s vocational rehabilitation department. During high school, she should find out from the teacher of students with visual impairments how to register for these services.