Age-Appropriate Career Education and the Expanded Core Curriculum
What Is Age-Appropriate Career Education?
Career education includes the knowledge and skills that children and youth learn in order to successfully transition from school environments to adult roles including postsecondary education or training, employment or work-related activities, and independent living.
Career education for children and adolescents with visual impairments should begin as early as possible. Topics include career awareness, career exploration, career preparation including developing vocational and job-seeking strategies, and career or job placement.
Finally, career education should also include information on how to keep a job through the use of effective communication at work and learning or adapting to the workplace culture.
In early-childhood and preschool programs, career education focuses on foundational knowledge and skills: learning about the environment, following directions and schedules, and developing early organizational strategies (i.e. sorting, matching, and pairing). In addition, this is the time to start introducing good work habits and personal responsibility, such as putting away one’s belongings. Finally, just like same-age peers who are sighted, preschool children with visual disabilities should explore the roles adults in their lives play. This exploration becomes a foundation for career education and imaginative role-playing.
Elementary school instruction in career education involves more organization and personal responsibility. Children learn to take care of themselves and their possessions, assume responsibilities at home and school (for example, doing chores), learn skills for both independent and group work, master the use of basic tools for home and school assignments, and explore their strengths and challenges (academically, socially, and recreationally). This is a critical time for children to start exploring how their abilities, personality traits, and values translate into career interests.
Middle or junior high school is the time for adolescents to refine their academic, social, and recreational interests and abilities. It is also the time to begin participating in work activities through either volunteer or paid work. At this stage, adolescents are getting feedback from peers and people outside of their own immediate families. Youths with visual impairments need the same realistic feedback from their community (neighbors, extended family, and acquaintances) about how their performance compares to youths without disabilities. Input from supervisors in this early stage of work exploration and experience helps young people evaluate their career options.
High school career education should focus on building work experiences and refining talents and abilities that will be needed in future careers. Just like their peers, youths who are visually impaired should be counseled to apply the technical, social, and self-management skills learned in the classroom to a variety of work situations. In doing so, these students start to recognize their strengths and needs. By developing awareness of their training needs, these students can create a course of study, or action plan, to pursue in postsecondary education or training.
Why Teach Age-Appropriate Career Education as a Specific Area?
If children receive career education and instruction in job seeking skills while they are in school, they increase their likelihood of finding a job once they leave school. This reflects the expected outcome of teaching career education; that students will find employment.
Research also shows that early and repeated work experiences are important predictors of adult employment, especially for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. However, children and adolescents with visual impairments face unique challenges at each stage of the career development process (awareness, exploration, preparation, and placement).
Awareness: Children with visual impairments tend to have limited awareness of themselves and the world around them due to their inability to observe the environment. This casual observation allows children who are fully sighted to model the behavior of other children and adults in everyday activities.
This includes everything from personal grooming to using tools and equipment to perform tasks. Casual observation also allows children with full sight to compare, reflect on, and refine their performance in home, school, and community roles.
Finally, this awareness of the environment is how children without visual disabilities learn about what’s going on in the world through incidental learning.
Exploration is a critical learning activity for all children, especially those with visual impairments. Unfortunately for children with visual disabilities, adults in their lives tend to have heightened concerns for their safety and well-being.
Parents and caregivers, teachers, and the school community often don’t realize that these children have the ability or need to explore the world around them tactually. However, it’s through hands-on exploration that these children gather first-hand information about the world and how things work.
In cases where hands-on exploration is actually dangerous or impossible, these children still need to learn about careers. In these instances, teachers, school staff, and parents can provide clear verbal or signed descriptions and structured activities to teach children about the skills, tasks, challenges, and outcomes of a wide variety of job and career opportunities. Children also need to be aware of and experience the rewards that motivate adults to go to work and contribute to society.
Finally, participating in early employment and volunteer experiences gives young people references from outside the school system that can speak to their competence and ability.
Preparation: Youths with visual impairments need early work-related opportunities to prepare for adult work roles. These experiences include volunteer work, job trials, job shadowing, and even paid part-time work.
Young adults with visual impairments often encounter challenges in finding these opportunities because they can’t see signs advertising job openings, and they may not have sufficient orientation and mobility (O&M) skills to travel to work independently.
In addition, employers may hesitate to hire a young person with a visual disability. Therefore, while high school is a time when students engage in “first job” experiences, many young adults with visual impairments miss out on these crucial early work experiences. This leads to a problematic situation in which their career preparation is passive, theoretical, and based on textbooks and classroom instruction instead of more meaningful authentic employment.
Finally, it is through engaging in real work experiences that young adults learn about which jobs or career activities they like and/or don’t like and how their own interests, strengths, and challenges support those preferences.
Placement: Many students who are blind or visually impaired are guided to do what the adults in their lives think they’d be best at. Unfortunately, many students are encouraged to pursue academic and leisure activities instead of work. This might be due to the adults’ lack of confidence in the youth’s ability to compete with peers who are fully sighted and/or the young person’s lack of knowledge of, or experience with, a variety of work and career options.
It may also be caused by employers who find it hard to believe that someone without sight can be a productive contributor in the workplace. Regardless of barriers, access to early or entry-level work is a crucial step in preparing youth with visual disabilities for jobs after high school.
How Do Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TVIs) Approach Instruction?
TVIs and related services personnel can do a great deal to support work competency by including career education in their lessons. For example, teachers working on braille literacy can ask children to write out their interests, abilities, and values. The students can then take those lists to the library to find books describing careers in areas that match those attributes. Teachers who are working with preschool- and kindergarten-age children can teach them how to organize and take care of their school materials, expect them to follow verbal directions, and encourage them to engage in role-playing activities (parent, teacher, doctor, nurse, police officer, and so forth); thereby helping them develop and learn about work skills.
During O&M lessons, instructors can provide students with concrete descriptions of the travel environment: stores lining the street, window signage describing activities taking place inside buildings, and what people moving through the environment appear to be doing related to their jobs (how they’re dressed, what tools they are carrying, etc). All of these activities help children learn about jobs and careers that they might want to investigate more in the future.
How Can We Support Instruction in Career Education in Schools?
The law identifies transition planning and career education as significant factors in the education of students with disabilities. Therefore, schools and educators must ensure that career education is addressed in each child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Teachers of students with visual impairments should assess each child’s strengths and needs in this area to identify age-appropriate career education activities and skills for each student. Children with visual impairments should be exposed to a wide variety of careers and participate in a variety of work exploration activities, whether through doing research online, volunteering, working, job shadowing, or talking with mentors. Along those same lines, teachers of students with visual impairments and other professionals can promote these opportunities by developing networks of working adults with visual impairments who can serve as role models for these students. Observing successful adults will help these students identify what accommodations can be used on the job and also show them what jobs they might be capable of doing.
Resources for Career Education
AFB CareerConnect provides teachers and parents with free lesson plans to prepare youths with visual impairments for successful employment.