Giving teens with visual impairments their first summer jobs

Perkins' summer vocational program puts students with visual impairment on the payroll at local workplaces

A woman smiling while working behind a jewelry counter

For teenagers around the country, a summer job is a rite of passage on the way to adulthood. The same can be said for young people who are blind, but the barriers to landing those jobs are often much higher.

That’s why Perkins School for the Blind hosts World of Work, a five-week vocational program in July that matches high school students with visual impairment with entry-level jobs in the Boston area. The program gives students the opportunity to build out their resumes with real experience while learning skills – such as interviewing, budgeting and networking – that will be critical to both their personal and professional success.

“Everybody needs a first job where they can make mistakes and learn what it’s like to work with a team,” sa Karen McCormack, job developer at Perkins. “If you don’t have those experiences as a young person, you’re not in the game later in life.”

Participating students might practice customer service skills by greeting tourists and ferry passengers on Spectacle Island, gain hospitality experience stocking utensils and delivering food at Boston’s Faulkner Hospital or learn the ins and outs of mortgages while answering calls and scanning checks at Brookline Bank.

They also commute from their Perkins dorms to jobs at organizations like Boston University, the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Mosesian Center for the Arts. In each setting, they have a chance to sharpen their communication and social skills, practice advocating for accommodations and begin building their professional networks.

One of the biggest benefits is developing relationships with employers that can serve as a reference and help them make connections later in life,” adds McCormack.

World of Work also gives students a crash course in self-reliance. While living on campus, participants learn how to budget their income, take care of errands and housekeeping chores independently and manage their own social calendars. The goal is to prepare the teenagers for the juggling every working adult does.

“Think about what it was like to leave home for the first time,” says McCormack. “All of a sudden you’re responsible for your job, how you’re going to get there and how to budget, all while trying to balance a fulfilling social life. We’re teaching all of it – because it’s all important.”

What You Can Do

Learn more about Perkins’ Public School Programs, which offer unique learning opportunities for students with visual impairment in their public schools and on the Perkins campus during weekends and summer vacations. Read more about: In the CommunityProfessional DevelopmentTransition