Lifestyles of Students with Visual Impairments: Preliminary Studies of Social Networks

Article excerpt

In recent years significant programs have been initiated to expand and improve employment and independent living opportunities for students with disabilities as they transition from school environments into adult life. Success for many students was highly dependent upon the nature and scope of services they received during their secondary and postsecondary school programs. The infusion of community-based vocational education experiences and supported employment opportunities enabled them to achieve greater integration into the adult world. However, recent research has advanced the notion that ecosocial factors such as strong support from family and friends, level of interaction with nondisabled persons, level of integration into the community, satisfaction with residence and community services, level of environmental control, and level of leisure activity within the community may influence the potential success of persons with disabilities in securing employment and maintaining independent living options (Heal & Chadsey-Rusch, 1985; Hill, Rotegard, & Bruininks, 1984; Inge, Banks, Wehman, Hill, & Shafer, 1988; Shalock & Lilley, 1986).

Although students with visual impairments have reaped the benefits of integrated service delivery models, opportunities for on-going transition experiences have been limited or inconsistent. While trying to achieve academic competence by keeping up with sighted agemates, many adolescents who are visually impaired have not had opportunities to participate in a range of career experiences (Graves & Lyon, 1985; Graves, Lyon, Marmion, & Boyet, 1986; Miller, 1993; Wolffe, 1985), independent living activities (Sacks & Reardon, 1992), or positive social encounters that lead to successful peer or colleague relationships (Bishop, 1986; Eagelstein, 1975; Hoben & Lindstrom, 1980; Sacks & Gaylord-Ross, 1989; Sacks & Wolffe, 1992; Wolffe & Sacks, 1995). Recent data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NETS) indicated that while 42% of the visually impaired sample was involved in postsecondary education, only 11% had been engaged in paid part-time employment during their secondary school years and a mere 24% were engaged in paid employment after high school (Wagner, D'Amico, Marder, Newman, & Blackorby, 1992). Miller cautioned that these data are significant since there is a high correlation between involvement of students with disabilities in part-time employment during their high school years and later success in competitive employment as adults.

Further, the NLTS data show that while 50% of the visually impaired sample were perceived by their parents to be able to independently care for themselves, 78% of the parents believed that their children would be unable to live independently. The greatest limitations observed by the parents centered on independent travel to destinations outside the home and financial management. Data regarding social relationships from the NLTS were inconclusive. Although 80% of the students with visual impairments sampled reportedly were active in a school club or community organization and were engaged in social contacts with peers at least once a week, these data seem to contradict empirical findings that suggest greater levels of social isolation and inappropriate use of social behaviors among youth with visual impairments (Sacks & Pruett, 1992; Sacks & Wolffe, 1992; Wagner et al., 1992; Wolffe & Sacks, 1995).

Recently, researchers examined the use of time and money as indices to measure the quality of life among successfully employed adults with visual impairments (Kirchner, McBroom, Nelson, & Graves, 1992). Their research provided the impetus for this investigation, which is the first to closely examine the lifestyles and social networks of adolescents with visual impairments to determine those factors that may impact successful employment and independent living outcomes. …