For 19-year-old Jon, finding his dream job starts with honest answers.
He’s taking a Vocational Planning class and his teacher, school psychologist Linde D’Andrea, is asking questions to help him figure out what career is right for him: What are your skills? What are your interests? What do you like to do?
“I’m good at social skills – speaking to people,” Jon says. “I’m good at getting things organized.”
Jon attended public high school in Vermont and is now at Perkins School for the Blind to enhance his job-search and workplace skills. Career education is one of nine blindness-specific Expanded Core Curriculum skills taught at Perkins.
Finding a job can be a challenge for students who are blind. Unlike their sighted peers, they can’t casually observe a wide range of people at work – police officers, cashiers, landscapers and so on – to learn about those occupations. It’s also tougher to get “starter” jobs like babysitting or mowing lawns that offer early vocational experience.
As a result, D’Andrea says, teens who are blind can have unrealistic career goals – like becoming a commercial pilot. She doesn’t want to be pessimistic, because most jobs can be adapted for people who are blind, but says it’s important for students to balance ambition with reality.
“It’s realistically looking at what’s feasible, and having that match up with what’s available in the real world,” she says. “At the same time, challenging the students – there are things they can do that maybe they don’t think they can do.”
Jon says his dream job is to work in radio or television broadcasting. But he knows he’ll have to work up to that goal. “If you have a dream job,” he says, “sometimes you can’t get into your dream job right out of high school.”
To get on-the-job experience, Jon has worked at several different jobs at Perkins – receptionist at the front desk and behind the counter in the student store. He’s signed up for a five-week vocational program this summer at a local company.
“The goal is for him to figure out what parts of the jobs he likes, and what he doesn’t like,” D’Andrea says. “It’s letting the student go through their own process to understand who they are; weaknesses, skills, interests.”
Jon is also working on his self-advocacy skills. On his to-do list today is calling a Vermont agency that promised to forward his resume to prospective employers. The person he needs to speak to isn’t in so he leaves a friendly but businesslike message.
Next, he researches College Steps, a program that helps students with disabilities attend college. To see if it’s right for him, he browses the program’s website, reading the text on his Apex notetaker’s refreshable braille display.
At Perkins, students take an active role in planning their future, says D’Andrea.
“They’re getting the self-determination, the self-advocacy, the self-awareness – and just the confidence and readiness to move on,” she says.
The Expanded Core Curriculum is designed specifically for students with visual impairment. It covers everything from using technology to independent living to socializing with peers – knowledge most sighted children acquire by observing everyday life. The ECC gives students who are blind a toolbox of crucial skills they need to succeed at school, in social situations, at home and on the job.