Employment Options for People with Visual Impairments and Multiple Disabilities

A woman and a visually impaired young man working with an ipad

Are you searching for work opportunities for yourself, a family member, or friend who is blind or visually impaired with multiple disabilities? It’s not easy to uncover, sort through, and review work prospects for people with severe disabilities who require life-long support. I want to provide a brief synopsis of typical work possibilities for this population, and touch on the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Sheltered Workshops: The purpose of a sheltered workshop is to provide employment for individuals with multiple disabilities. The individuals are tasked with specific job duties, almost always repetitive physical labor, such as sanding furniture, assembling items, or sorting objects. All job tasks are completed within the confines of the workshop and all workers are paid sub-minimum wage.

The advantages of employment at a sheltered workshop include involvement in structured activities and responsibilities outside of the home; earning a small amount of money; opportunities to socialize; and the straightforward job tasks tailored to individuals with multiple disabilities. The disadvantages of employment at a sheltered workshop include isolation from the general population and working for sub-minimum wage.

Mobile Crews: The purpose of a mobile crew is to provide employment for small groups of individuals with multiple disabilities. The individuals are given specific job tasks that take place within the community. Tasks may include cleaning offices, landscaping, or hauling trash. The workers are generally paid minimum wage.

The advantages of employment with a mobile crew include involvement in a variety of structured activities and responsibilities within a variety of environments; earning minimum wage; and the opportunity to socialize with the crew members and minimally with folks in the community. The disadvantages of employment within a mobile crew include not working alongside the general population.

Enclaves: An enclave is a workplace with six or fewer individuals with multiple disabilities. People with multiple disabilities will work alongside peers without disabilities and will typically work in assembly and production lines. Payment is generally based on units assembled or produced.

The advantages of employment within an enclave include involvement in structured activities and responsibilities outside of the home; earning a small amount of money; and the opportunity to socialize with peers who have and do not have disabilities. The disadvantages of employment within an enclave may include simply working where people with disabilities are, instead of working in a position that takes advantage of the individual’s strengths and interests.

Supported Employment: Supported employment involves a job coach working with a client to help him find and maintains a job that takes advantage of his strengths and interests. The client may work within an enclave or mobile crew, or independently from home, but more likely works within the general community. After assisting the individual with finding an appropriate job, the job coach will provide job skills training, and will touch base with the individual on an ongoing basis to help him work through any work-related issues or transitions.

The advantages of participating in supported employment include involvement in structured activities and responsibilities outside of the home; earning at least minimum wage, but with opportunities for advancements and raises; opportunities to socialize in the general community; employment tailored to the individual’s unique skills and interests; and support to utilize when needed. Truthfully, I cannot think of a single disadvantage to supported employment. However, it can be tricky to secure a lifetime of funding for the support. Agencies related to the individual’s specific disabilities should collaborate and blend resources.

Since you asked (wink), my vote is for supported employment whenever possible, in an effort to eliminate segregation. For more information on supported employment, read AFB’s “What Parents Need to Know About Supported Employment” and contact your local Vocational Rehabilitation agency.


CareerConnect app icon Take the time to ‘Like’ AFB CareerConnect on Facebook and Download the Free AFB CareerConnect App in the iTunes App Store.