Occupational Outcomes for Vocational Rehabilitation Consumers with Hearing Impairments

Article excerpt

Career development theories are helpful to understanding career behavior including how individuals choose their careers (Herr, Cramer, & Niles, 2004). The trait-and-factor approach to career development is one of the oldest explanations of occupational choice (Parsons, 1909). In this approach, individuals possess measurable characteristics in areas such as physical capabilities, interests, aptitudes, achievements, and personalities. From a trait-and-factor perspective, these characteristics also apply to the occupational demands of work (Herr et al., 2004). For example, successful work performance as an accountant requires a person to have the ability to listen to spoken words, an interest in working with data, numerical aptitude, knowledge of laws, and a creative personality (National Center for O'NET Development, 2009a). An individual is said to have a good fit with an occupation when the demands of work match this person's characteristics (Herr et al., 2004).

A review of large amounts of vocational information can yield interesting occupational patterns for people with disabilities. After analyzing data from the federal vocational rehabilitation (VR) program over a 20-year period, Walls, Misra, and Majumder (2002) reported occupational trends that shed light onto where VR consumers were obtaining employment at the culmination of their rehabilitation plans. Consumers seem to have a consistent representation in service occupations, clerical and sales occupations, and professional, technical, and managerial occupations. More recently, Boutin (in press) found very similar results as the highest percentage of employed VR consumers whose cases were closed during fiscal year (FY) 2007 were working in service occupations, sales and office occupations, and management, professional, and related occupations. What makes this similarity more impressive is that the occupational classification structure used by the VR program was different for the Boutin study than the one in place during the Walls et al. study. Most VR consumers secure work in three general classifications of occupations.

Despite the occupational trends for all VR consumers, slightly different employment patterns have been identified for people specifically with hearing impairments. Although individuals with hearing loss were once reported working across all United States industries (Schein & Delk, 1974), other evidence suggests most who are employed tend to work in food, office, janitorial, and handling jobs (Schildroth, Rawlings, & Allen, 1991). Still, more recent evidence suggests the jobs obtained by VR consumers with hearing impairments differ from consumers with other disabilities. For example, a greater percentage of consumers with hearing loss work in clerical and administrative support jobs and a lower percentage work in service jobs than consumers without hearing loss (Capella, 2003). Therefore, any occupational trend identified for all consumers may not be equally applied to people from disability-specific groups.

Other evidence suggests that degree of hearing loss is related to the occupational classification of jobs secured by people with hearing impairments. Boutin and Wilson (2009) analyzed FY 2004 data from the VR program on more than 20,000 consumers who were deaf and hard of hearing and who obtained employment in either professional, technical, and managerial occupations or in all other classifications of occupations. Consumers who are hard of hearing were found to secure the professional, technical, and managerial jobs over those who are deaf. In addition, consumers who are deaf tended to secure the non-professional, technical, and managerial jobs over those who are hard of hearing (Boutin & Wilson, 2009). Possibly related to this phenomenon are the approximate 57% of people with deafness who, one year beyond the completion of their secondary education, work in food preparation, secretarial and office, janitorial, and freight handling jobs (Schildroth et al. …