The latest issue of the Journal on Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) is focused on employment and transition. This special issue happens to be edited by a friend and mentor of mine, Dr. Karen Wolffe. It has only been out for a few days, but this issue is already a mainstay in my library, as the topics it covers relate to my everyday work at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). I can’t say that often; there are not a ton of volumes of anything that relate directly to employment, transition, visual impairment, and blindness.
In honor of this awesome issue, I thought I would bring you some insight from my years of working in the world of transition and employment for people with visual impairments in which I have been given the opportunity to work with youngsters, adults, and professionals around the United States in relation to these topics.
When I think of planning for students making the transition from high school to higher education or work or from college to work, I start thinking about assessment and creating an inventory of an individual’s interests, strengths, weaknesses, skills, and values. For adults, in many cases the same type of assessments need to be done, but it all depends on a few factors that we will discuss later. The ultimate goal for youths and adults is to achieve a level of independence that is commensurate with the individuals’ abilities. (If you ask me, the real word should be “interdependence,” since we all are interdependent on others. In fact, our whole societal system and economy are based on interdependence, but that is a topic for another blog.)
Education and Rehabilitation Programs
The similarities are greater than the differences in education and rehabilitation programming. Career planning when a student is in school needs to be related to his or her Individualized Education Program (IEP)—for adults in rehabilitation programs, career planning is tied to the Individual Plan for Employment (IPE)—but establishing a career is much larger than that, and requires additional work. Establishing a career requires individuals to understand what they have to offer and how their assets match career opportunities (career exploration), how they can convince an employer or customer to take what is offered (job-seeking skills), and how they can sustain employment over time (job maintenance and career advancement).
A Goal is Necessary—At Least One!
Multiple goals need to be addressed in the career planning process. The typical goals that come to mind might be employment, behaviors, current education, training (skill training or development), or postsecondary or vocational training. The ultimate goal is employment. Education, however, is very closely related to employment. Ideally, the educational path needs to be congruent with the career goal. Individuals with visual impairments wishing to make the transition to college or gain employment need to also work on factors that could impede their success, such as appropriate self-advocacy skills or appropriate workplace behaviors.
Start with the Big Picture and Set Objectives
When addressing the various goals needed for a successful transition, I like to have my clients start with the big picture and then define the detailed steps that they will need to take to accomplish their goals. For example, a youth’s primary goal could be employment with self-awareness as the subcategory.
As professionals, we need to empower and involve our students and clients in planning for their futures. Therefore, individuals need to be counseled to create their own lists of goals and objectives. When establishing benchmarks for a transition goal, objectives for each accomplishment should be specific and list expected dates of completion, because objectives provide a way to map out the path toward reaching the goal. For example, the objective, “I will have my disability statement developed by one week from today,” uses the phrase “I will” to encourage the student to take responsibility for the objective. It is also important for clients to put objectives in writing and share them with professionals or family members, as this activity provides some accountability.
Students and clients should also be encouraged to conduct as much research as possible over the Internet during career exploration and transition planning. AFB’s CareerConnect and O*Net Online include a wealth of information related to specific careers or jobs. While conducting research, the individual should think about the educational path, necessary skills, employment projections, and the congruence to the individual of a particular transition goal.
Five Strategies for Successful Career Planning
Whether you are working with children or adults, individuals who are considering what they would like to study after high school or individuals who have work experience, individuals exploring careers for the first time (habilitation), as well as those who are interested in re-careering (rehabilitation), the following strategies should help you as you work with students and consumers in setting transition goals.
- Work through activities related to career exploration. These activities include occupational interviews, exploring career clusters, and job shadowing; other examples of such activities are listed online in the CareerConnect Lesson Plans for Teachers and Professionals. Another great resource is the American Printing House for the Blind’s Transition Tote (recently revised and released). As individuals complete career-exploration activities, the path for a successful transition will become better defined for the individual.
- Help guide individuals through the career planning process by asking them questions to help them find their path. However, don’t set goals for them! Individuals need to buy into goals and the steps required in meeting them. Make sure they understand that their path can change and be updated.
- Start with large goals, goal subcategories, and then created more detailed, focused objectives or steps toward reaching these goals. Include dates of completion to help create accountability. Take the example of employment as the large goal with behavior change as the goal subcategory. An objective for this subcategory could be, “I will introduce myself and attempt to create conversation with one new person (not known prior) each day for the next 30 days.” Using the example of self-advocacy as a goal subcategory, an objective could be, “I will meet with my physical education teachers to discuss how I can be included more in my physical education class by one week from today.”
- Help students and clients create career portfolios that include the research and action plan.
- Teach individuals how to present or explain their career plans to their families and other professionals. In order to benefit from such presentations, encourage them to be open to feedback on their plans.
This blog is part of the JVIB Special Issue on Transition and Employment. Readers are encouraged to comment below to discuss any topic related to employment and transition. The individual who leaves the best comment, as judged by the editors of the journal, from today (Nov. 18th) through Friday, Nov. 22nd, will receive a free AFB Press publication of their choice. For more information, write Rebecca Burrichter, senior editor JVIB, at email@example.com.