This story appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of In Focus.
An estimated six of every 10 enrolled college students with visual impairment never obtain a college degree. Studies show only one-third of working-age adults who are blind or visually impaired are employed. Clearly more needs to be done to ensure Perkins’ students—and their peers from other learning environments—go on to lead productive and fulfilling lives.
As educators, we know the roots of the problem are significant and widespread, and require ongoing thought leadership from Perkins and other organizations to resolve. While we work towards that larger goal, Perkins is helping students reach their personal goals, be those college or career.
Smart, ambitious students who are blind or visually impaired are going to college without having been taught the technological literacy, resilience, self-advocacy, academic skills and self-awareness they need to successfully navigate the demands of college life.
Young adults who are blind or visually impaired may go into job interviews without knowing what to wear, or even the essential skills required for a job, such as how to how to take notes on a phone call, what is meant by a qualified sales lead, or how to defuse a tense situation with a customer. If they do get hired, they’re often unable to self-advocate for the accommodations they need to be successful.
Our College Success and Career Launch programs work to address these challenges. They support young adults transitioning to the next phase of their lives through targeted instruction, peer interaction, exposure to college and work environments, and the chance to develop additional skills and self-awareness.
College Success is a nine-month residential program where young adults who are blind or visually impaired learn skills necessary for independence in college and beyond, including technology skills, orientation and mobility, independent living, as well as essential academic skills such as time management, critical reading and note taking, while living with peers working on the same skills. Students take college classes and job shadow as they employ these skills.
Career Launch trains high school or college graduates who are vision-impaired or blind in the skills necessary to land their first career-oriented job. The program focuses on customer engagement roles, which are in demand across all sectors of the economy in both rural and urban locales. Participants learn business skills such as problem-solving, end-to-end ownership of tasks and making personal connections with customers, as well as essential technical skills: Microsoft Office, customer relationship management software and assistive technology. The two-month training program is followed by a two month internship, and 12 months of career services support.
Throughout its history, Perkins has prided itself on anticipating the needs of the students we serve. Our ultimate objective is to enable our graduates and other young adults who are blind or visually impaired to live fulfilled lives on whatever path they choose.
Leslie Thatcher is the director of College Success@Perkins. Nicole Gardner is the director of Career Launch@Perkins.