By Courtney Tabor-Abbott
As we progress from childhood into adulthood, each of us becomes educated in the world of work. We learn how to write a resume or how to master a job interview. We learn about what kinds of jobs are out there, what our options are, and just how that Italian major we chose in college might help or hurt our chances at employment. We learn how to keep a job, when it’s okay to wear jeans to the office, and how to respond appropriately if our supervisor isn’t so thrilled with our choice of attire. All of this is career education, most of which we learn through observation and experience.
Career education is especially important for those who are blind or visually impaired. While the process of career education often occurs naturally for those who are sighted, it is essential that students with vision impairments receive targeted instruction about skills needed in the world of work. Because students with vision impairments are often unable to visually assess their environments, this means they do not naturally pick up on information in the environment about what kinds of jobs exist. They may talk to the cashier at the supermarket but be completely unaware of the stockers, custodians, and other employees milling about. Career education can also help give students with vision impairments in understanding of the social cues of professionalism that they may otherwise not pick up on visually. This can include things like work culture, dress code, and body language during an interview. Finally, career education is necessary for students who are blind and visually impaired because these students generally have fewer opportunities to learn these skills than their sighted peers. While many teenagers easily find summer jobs at local coffee shops or fast food restaurants, these entry-level positions are not always easily adaptable for students needing accommodations. When students have a lack of work experience on a resume, it makes it far more difficult or them to secure a job as they grow. With fewer opportunities to learn important work skills, it is crucial that students with vision impairments, with or without additional disabilities, receive intentional career education through instruction, community involvement, and work experiences..
There are a number of components of career education, all of which are equally important in helping a student prepare to enter the world of work.
This involves helping a student learn about what kinds of jobs exist in the world, what types of jobs there are in different environments/industries, and what typical duties various jobs might entail. What kinds of jobs are there in a school, a restaurant, a hospital? What are some entry-level jobs that the student could explore or apply for in his or her own community?
Career exploration involves students exploring their interests, skills, and values as they pertain to job and career options. Career exploration also involves learning about what different jobs entail, the type of training required to perform the job, and the skills needed for the work.
Work skills refers to the skills needed to secure a job (i.e. resume writing, interview skills). It also includes skills used while on the job (i.e. performing work-related tasks, productivity, work behavior with coworkers and supervisors).
It is essential for students who are blind or visually impaired, with or without additional disabilities, to learn many of these skills through actual work experiences. Work experiences can be different dependent on a student’s needs. One student might do a regular shift at his school store, another might work with a job coach to do laundry in a hotel, and still another might do a summer internship at her local library. The key element is that a student receives career education through hands-on experience, that she builds her work skills and her understanding of the world of work by participating in it and by actively engaging in her community. A student who participates in work experiences while in school will be able to take these skills into adult life. Work experience and career education will help guide a student toward her career goals and help her to be well-prepared every step along the way. Students with vision impairments, both with and without additional disabilities, are capable of contributing to their communities through work and in many other ways. Career education can maximize a student’s productivity, confidence, and sense of self-worth—all of which are key components of success and happiness in adult life.
By Courtney Tabor-Abbott