In this webcast Dorinda Rife, CLVT, COMS, describes the importance of long-term planning and instruction to prepare students with visual impairments for the future by beginning in the early years and providing children with responsibilities. Dorinda challenges teachers and parents to look for opportunities that are in the child’s everyday environments — school, home and community — and to engage them in activities that will develop early work skills.
Formerly the Superintendent of Programs and Services at Perkins School for the Blind, Dorinda Rife has extensive experience in working with students with visual impairments both as a Principal, a Teacher and as a Orientation and Mobility Specialist. She particularly enjoys interacting with students and encouraging independence among them.
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Length of time to complete: approximately 30 minutes
CHAPTER 1: — Introduction
RIFE: So everybody knows in our field that the unemployment rate is very high for people who are blind or visually impaired, and so we tend to treat it like an event starting at age 14 that we start teaching kids to be ready for the world of work.
But we know that visually impaired kids and people with deafblindness need to learn that very early on — from birth, in fact. So I want to talk about how to integrate the employment practice work experience into the whole career of the child rather than just starting at age 14.
There’s that saying, “Begin with the end in mind,” and if you’re always thinking about what the child is going to be doing as an adult, or assuming that the child is going to be doing something successfully as an adult, that helps you plan the steps along the way to get to that point.
And I think it’s less surprising when you get to that point and maybe feel like you haven’t done enough to prepare the child if you’re moving through the child’s whole life. But everything is a transition — moving from infant-toddler services in the home to being in a preschool with other children; stepping on a school bus for the first time is a transition into the next step.
Moving from middle school to high school, which is often a pretty scary time for parents to think about their children moving on to, that’s a transition that we’re preparing for very early on by teaching kids good mobility skills, good daily living skills, good social skills.
It never ends. It begins at the beginning and it’s a process that we never end.
CHAPTER 2: Starting the Transition Process
RIFE: I think that when you’re thinking about what your child is going to do as a grownup, it’s a hook into the normal world because normal kids, or kids without disabilities, grow up to have some kind of work.
So kids who have disabilities need to have that opportunity as well. So parents know a lot about jobs. Parents know about when they visited the fire station when they were in kindergarten or first grade. They know about how they got into the working world waiting tables or collecting tickets at the movie theater or delivering papers or any of those kinds of things.
And so I think it’s actually easier for parents to start thinking about that normal, everyday life early on with their children, to start sharing what they know, but also develop confidence so that they know their child is going to be a productive part of society when they leave school.
NARRATOR: In a photograph, a group of young students who are visually impaired are visiting with local firefighters to learn about their work.
One of the children joins a firefighter holding a hose, and together, they spray the water.
RIFE: Children who have sensory loss do not learn incidentally. So I’m sitting here and I know where I am and what’s around me and I’m taking in all kinds of information, but someone who is blind or visually impaired or deafblind has a limited view of the world.
So parents of very young children need to be thinking about what children can learn about their surroundings, even just really shortly after birth. When they go places, describing what’s there, even into kindergarten, talking about what people in the grocery store are doing for jobs, what people at the gas station are doing for jobs, if there’s someone on television, what that person might have had to learn to do that job, those kinds of things.
That needs to start very, very early on with parents, really, and often parents have a limited view of what their child is capable of when he or she becomes an adult because of the disability. So it’s important not only for the child to have those experiences, but for the parent to be thinking about those things, too.
It includes having adult role models who also have disabilities, seeing what they’re doing at work, what kinds of jobs that they’re doing, what kind of training they’re doing in school to learn about jobs so that the parent can start visualizing what that will look like for their own child as he or she gets older.
CHAPTER 3: Goals and Opportunities in an Education Plan
RIFE: One of the biggest hazards that we face as special educators is sort of putting a box around all of the topics that we need to teach kids with visual impairment. For instance, “I’m the orientation and mobility specialist, so I’m going to teach bus travel and street crossings and grocery shopping, period. That’s my job.”
Same thing with the teachers of the visually impaired. “I do all my work within a school setting. “That’s what I was taught, that’s what I do. I teach Braille, I teach math skills, those kinds of things.”
Getting people out of those comfort zones of “This is what I teach” and helping people to all take parts of that expanded core is really to me the only way that we will have a successful result with our kids in the education world.
NARRATOR: In a photograph, a child who is visually impaired is approaching a cab that is parked in the driveway. The child had been given the task of calling the cab company and requesting a pickup.
RIFE: Most of these children have a teacher, what we call a teacher of the visually impaired, sometimes an orientation and mobility specialist as well, and those folks are sitting around the table at the IEP meeting and can actually put goals into the IEP that says the student will visit three places of work during lessons and create a notebook that describes those activities.
NARRATOR: In a video clip, a young boy who is visually impaired and uses a mobility cane is shown approaching the counter in a convenience store to purchase a newspaper.
RIFE: As an orientation and mobility teacher, somebody who taught travel to kids, I would employ people in the community all the time as part of my lessons.
So crossing streets over and over again is pretty uninteresting when you’re in sixth grade, but crossing streets to get to the ice cream store that makes their own ice cream on the premises is much more motivating, and so why not extend the lesson to meet with the owner of that store and learn what’s involved in making ice cream and having a business, and then maybe at the end getting to taste two or three of those flavors of ice cream.
And so as a teacher, I’ve picked out sites and different places that I’ve worked to take kids to where I’ve developed a rapport with the owners of businesses to give kids those experiences.
CHAPTER 4: Developing Social Skills
RIFE: There are definitely skills that students need to learn along the way to do well in employment, and one of the most important ones is what we call soft skills. So the ability to engage other people in conversation, the ability to know how far away from someone to stand or sit when you’re engaging in something, knowing how to dress appropriately for a job interview or any kind of work, really, or any public situation that the students won’t get cues from the people around them to know, “Oh, I should have worn a dress, I should have worn a tie,” or, “Gosh, everybody here wears close-toed shoes “instead of sandals or flip-flops. I should have done those things.” Those really have to be taught.
NARRATOR: In a video clip, a young woman who is multiply disabled enters a classroom and asks the teacher for a hug. The teacher reminds the girl about personal space and suggests a side hug.
TEACHER: So nice to see you!
RIFE: Soft skills have to be taught from the very start: what is appropriate in different settings, how to be socially engaging with other people, how to play in the sandbox together. You know, we say that sometimes adults don’t play in the sandbox together very well.
We need to teach those skills as well all the way from the start. And also, calling people on their behavior when it’s not appropriate in a kind and teaching kind of way is very helpful, and frankly, that’s one of the things that’s really hard for parents to do.
I don’t know about you, but my own children didn’t listen to me very much when I suggested that they keep their elbows off the table. And even more important is for people who have disabilities to be able to share that information with people, with kids who are blind or visually impaired.
I’ve had students through the years who I feel like I’ve said a million times to not do X, and then they come to me on Monday, they’ve met a blind person over the weekend and it’s just a big revelation that you should really do this and not do that, because this person who is blind or visually impaired had shared that, and that’s really valid. So we need to provide adult role models as often as possible to kids to understand what it is that they need to do to be successful.
CHAPTER 5: Transition Takes Teamwork
RIFE: Well, I think that the number of things that somebody who’s blind or visually impaired or deaf-blind needs to learn is huge, and when parents are getting kids ready to get out the door and a teacher is saying, “You need to teach that child how to put on his coat independently and how to organize his backpack, and please ask him to get his own cane” and all those things, that can be very overwhelming for a parent or anybody else in the child’s life, and I think there are many people who could share those experiences of feeling like they’ve been told that they’re supposed to do all these different things with their child.
Picking one or two things and making them part of a fun setting is really more beneficial for parents to try. It might be just the “Let’s keep your cane on a hook by the door so that you know where it is all the time when you’re in the house” that a parent can pick out as the, you know, skill of the month or whatever it is to help enforce with their child.
We know that it takes lots of repetition for people to really internalize an activity, and so keeping it simple like that I think helps. And also knowing that you’re part of a team that’s also going to be reinforcing the same things — I think that’s one of the most critical things.
NARRATOR: In a video clip, a group of students who are deaf-blind are being supervised as they prepare a lunch of pasta, salad and garlic bread.
The tasks, such as cutting the bread or vegetables to add to the salad, are inclusive activities that can be reinforced at home.
RIFE: As I said, the orientation and mobility specialist, the teacher of the visually impaired, but also people who are providing other services. If the child has some fine motor or gross motor issues, the physical therapist, the occupational therapist can be part of it as well.
The point is for everybody to be focused on the same thing and to consider it a priority. It’s just so important to be building the skills in very early rather than, as I’ve said, wait until the last minute to start practicing these skills.
There’s also a professional rehabilitation teacher who has expertise in teaching skills that are related to blindness, and that’s a great person to have on your team to help you with the independent living skills and some of the other things that are also part of the world of work.
CHAPTER 6: Accommodations, Expectations, and Options
RIFE: The mantra that I teach parents and educators to follow early on is anytime you’re looking at a job, you need to be looking for three things.
One, what can the child do independently in that job? So just walking right in, being introduced to the job, being able to do it comfortably.
The second one is, what can the child do with modifications? Lots of times, people don’t know what those modifications are. It could just be… At Trader Joe’s, if you’re supposed to change out the “past freshness” date things, if you’ve got a magnifier to read the labels and be able to sort through that yourself, it’s a very easy adaptation.
It’s a simple job that many people can do. And then also helping the family and the child weed out what really the child can’t do, to have realistic expectations.
NARRATOR: In a video clip, a young man who is visually impaired and wears a hearing aid is shown at his job in a local grocery store.
He is loading containers of nuts and candies that have been weighed and labeled and then placing them into a grocery cart. He will then place them on the appropriate shelves.
RIFE: Often with people with sensory impairment, their choice in careers or jobs feels very limited. Often, you will ask a student in high school what they want to do when they graduate, and they’ll say, “I want to be a teacher of the visually impaired,” or, “I want to work with…” something that they’ve been very familiar with.
And those are wonderful careers — I happen to have had one of those careers — but there are also so many other things that the person can participate in, and without exposure to those things, you won’t have those choices.
I think that’s one of the most important concepts here, is that you have to know what’s out there before you can make a good decision. Otherwise, you’re so limited in your thinking and you may not hit the one thing that brings passion out in you and that makes you really want to go to work every day.
I started out as an optometry major and then worked for an optometrist and realized that I didn’t want to do that. Teaching was something that came naturally to me, but I had to go through a few things to realize that that was true.
CHAPTER 7: Strategies for Success
RIFE: What I have found from not only students but other people in my life is that doing internships, paid or unpaid internships with businesses, is a really great way to move forward into the world of work because you’re getting experience in that line of work, but you’re also teaching the people around you to become more comfortable with you as a person with a disability.
We can’t expect people in every line of work to meet somebody who’s blind or visually impaired or deaf-blind and say, “Oh, I’m completely comfortable” with everything about you. “Come on in, and I’d like you to do this highly complex job starting now.”
Really taking baby steps, going into the business with support, so people who can help you learn to travel to that place, people who can provide you with adaptive equipment if you need it, having some support makes it much more likely for the employer to want to continue to work with you after your internship is done. So we try to reach out as much as possible to employers, not necessarily just handing them candidates for jobs, but to teach the employers what it’s like to make adaptations so that a person who has a disability can come into their workplace and be successful.
NARRATOR: In a video clip, a young woman who is visually impaired is shown sitting at a postage meter with a stack of envelopes that she has recently stuffed. She runs the envelopes through the meter and checks to make sure the postage has been printed.
RIFE: Arriving in the world of work and feeling like what you’re doing is meaningful is a right that every individual has, whether disabled or not, and by providing children with options and opportunities to learn what they might do, they are more likely to land in a job that is to their liking, that they find joy in, and they then become positive contributors to society and feel that much better about themselves.
By being gainfully employed, you are less isolated, you have friends — many of us make friends with the people that we’re with every day at work. If you don’t have that opportunity, you won’t make friends as easily. And just to be able to grow through your life, that’s something that you do through work.
NARRATOR: If you wish to find more information and resources about this important topic, here are some suggestions.
Transition for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: this includes many online resources on all aspects of transition from the Scout Information Clearinghouse on the Perkins website at www.perkins.org.
Transition: online resources for youth who are deaf-blind from the National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness, www.nationaldb.org.
Suggestions for Creating Successful Transitions from School to Adulthood: a two-page fact sheet also available in Spanish offers a list of steps to successful transitions for youth who are deaf-blind. From the California Deaf-Blind Services website at www.sfsu.edu.
Creating Vocational Portfolios for Adolescents with Significant Disabilities: a webcast presented by Dr. Mary Zatta describing the purpose and components of a vocational portfolio. It includes full transcription, and the video is captioned. You can find this in the webcast section of the Perkins website at www.perkins.org.