Perkins School for the Blind has launched a groundbreaking new program to give young adults with visual impairments the skills and confidence they need to navigate the job-search process and find meaningful employment.
The Pre-Employment Program (PEP), which begins in January 2016, is tailored to young adults between the ages of 15 and 22 who want to strengthen their job readiness skills and break through the barriers that have traditionally kept many people who are blind from getting hired.
“Work, whether paid or voluntary, is a great equalizer in society,” said Karen Wolffe, an international expert on career counseling for people who are blind or visually impaired who helped design the PEP course. “For youth with visual impairments to be fully integrated, they must learn how they can contribute and help support themselves and their families.”
Every Saturday for 10 weeks, participants will immerse themselves in a different aspect of employment – from identifying their career interests and goals to searching for jobs online and preparing for interviews. They’ll also learn how to disclose and discuss their disability to potential employers, a common stumbling point for candidates who are visually impaired.
“We’re going to be teaching them about advocacy and self-determination,” said Kate Katulak, a Perkins teacher and co-facilitator of the program. “It’s important that they’re able to communicate their disability and, more importantly, explain how they can overcome their disability to get things done.”
During the program, Katulak and other Perkins educators will be joined by hiring professionals and disability specialists from leading Boston corporations like Wells Fargo and Tufts Health Plan. They’ve also invited a panel of young adults and professionals who are blind to share stories of their own employment journeys and lessons learned.
“One thing that research shows and that we’ve heard from parents and families is that students really need role models who are visually impaired who have gone through the process,” said Katulak. “I think they’re going to gain a lot of perspective from this.”
In addition to career education, the program stresses skills like assistive technology and social interaction, which often aren’t formally taught in public schools. For students who are visually impaired, these skills, which are part of the Expanded Core Curriculum taught at Perkins School for the Blind, are crucial for workplace success.
“Something as simple as smiling when you walk in the office and nodding to someone to say hello is an important way to establish yourself in the workplace,” said Katulak. “We’re going to be teaching students things like body language and facial expressions and providing opportunities for them to practice.”
By the end of the 10-week program, students will be armed with hiring portfolios stuffed with references, cover letters and a polished resume. They’ll know how to fill out a job application and put their best foot forward at an interview.
“Looking for work is often harder than working,” said Wolffe. “But knowing how to find jobs and convince employers that you’re able to do the work tasks they need doing can make the job search process manageable. The Pre-Employment Program gives youth with visual impairments those skills in a structured and supportive environment.”
The Pre-Employment Program is open to students and young adults ages 15-22. Learn more at Perkins.org/gotowork.