The Work-Experience Ladder: Youth Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Can Start Climbing

I’m thinking back to my first paid work at Tex-Mex Restaurant. I was 15 years old, scared out of my mind, and was hired for the summer as a counter attendant. I had two days of job training and proceeded to work the counter by myself, my anxiety and me. I had heard, “fake it ’til you make it,” and so I did. I put on my smile, took orders—painfully slow the first weeks—received cash and provided change, brought food to seated customers, and tidied the front of the restaurant.

At the completion of day one, my feet ached. At the completion of week one, I wondered if I could ever memorize the menu or provide accurate driving directions to lost customers who called. At the completion of month one, I realized I didn’t have reason to be so anxious. I rather liked serving guests. I rather liked a paycheck—a good wardrobe has always been of particular importance to this gal.

For better or worse, the summer ended…as did my incoming money.

Fast-forward a few summers. I was determined to earn more than minimum wage. I had a work experience under my belt and a great reference, giving me the confidence and skills to interview for and accept a summer waitressing job at a busy seafood restaurant. The pace was faster, the money was better, and the anxiety returned. This time, however, I knew I had done it before. I had learned from prior mistakes and I had grown from prior successes. Day by day my confidence soared as I focused on daily successes, rather than dwelling on any mistakes.

I think of work experiences as a ladder. Skills, work habits, personal networks, and confidence grow and develop on each rung. Each rung is preparation for the next, even if the job is not in a desired career field. What job or volunteer experience can you pursue now in order to develop into the individual prepared for rung five?

Youth who are blind or visually impaired also need to have experience climbing the ladder of work. The experiences you gain will be beneficial for a lifetime. If you have work or volunteer experience, think about the lessons, work habits, and skills you have learned that will transfer to a different job or task. I learned to provide quality customer service, I learned the importance of punctuality, and I learned the necessity to work diligently. What did you learn? Remember that first jobs are rarely careers. All of these jobs create our work history and help us develop transferable skills, preparing us for the next rung on the work-experience ladder.

If you are a professional working with transition-age youth who are blind or visually impaired, read and work through the Journey to a Successful Work Experience lesson series within the Lesson Plans for Teachers and Professionals section. Check out the Succeed at Work section, and you will find Aaron’s Adventures in Employment and other multimedia content.