This story appears in the Summer 2018 issue of In Focus.
For teenagers around the country, a summer job is a rite of passage on the way to adulthood. The same can be said for young people who are blind, but the barriers to landing those jobs are often much higher.
That’s why Perkins School for the Blind is hosting World of Work, a five-week vocational program in July that matches high school students with visual impairment with entry-level jobs in the Boston area. The program gives students the opportunity to build out their resumes with real experience while learning skills – such as interviewing, budgeting and networking – that will be critical to both their personal and professional success.
“Everybody needs a first job where they can make mistakes and learn what it’s like to work with a team,” said Karen McCormack, job developer at Perkins. “If you don’t have those experiences as a young person, you’re not in the game later in life.”
In previous summers, students have practiced customer service skills by greeting tourists and ferry passengers on Spectacle Island, gained hospitality experience stocking utensils and delivering food at Boston’s Faulkner Hospital and learned the ins and outs of mortgages while answering calls and scanning checks at Brookline Bank.
This year, they’ll commute from their Perkins dorms to jobs at organizations like Boston University, the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Mosesian Center for the Arts. In each setting, they’ll have a chance to sharpen their communication and social skills, practice advocating for accommodations and begin building their professional networks.
“One of the biggest benefits is developing relationships with employers that can serve as a reference and help them make connections later in life,” added McCormack.
World of Work also gives students a crash course in self-reliance. While living on campus, participants learn how to budget their income, take care of errands and housekeeping chores independently and manage their own social calendars. The goal is to prepare the teenagers for the juggling every working adult faces.
“Think about what it was like to leave home for the first time,” said McCormack. “All of a sudden you’re responsible for your job, how you’re going to get there and how to budget, all while trying to balance a fulfilling social life. We’re teaching all of it – because it’s all important.”