Training Needs of Rehabilitation Counselors and Rehabilitation Teachers in State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies Serving Individuals with Visual Disabilities

Article excerpt

People with visual disabilities typically receive services from both rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers within the State-Federal vocational rehabilitation program. Rehabilitation counselors focus on vocational and employment issues and rehabilitation teachers provide independent living training to individuals with visual impairments. Because of the paucity of literature comparing these two groups, state rehabilitation agencies serving individuals with visual disabilities were surveyed to identify the training needs of newly hired rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers working with individuals with visual disabilities. Identification of these training needs could have implications for both pre-service and continuing education designed for these professionals.

Pre-service education, defined by Scalia and Wolfe (1984) as emphasizing "basic theory and general principles of practice" and "directed toward preparation for a profession, not a specific job," is provided by university-affiliated degree programs (p. 36). The knowledge and skills that are to be obtained through pre-service educational programs are usually established by accrediting bodies or professional associations.

For example, the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE), a national accrediting body, accredits rehabilitation counseling programs and sets forth the educational outcomes and courses or study units that must be contained in accredited graduate rehabilitation counseling programs. Rehabilitation teaching programs are approved by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). Not all rehabilitation counseling programs and rehabilitation teaching programs are accredited, nor do all rehabilitation agencies limit their hiring to individuals who have graduated from these programs.

Continuing education, defined as that "set of activities which is geared to increasing skill in one's present job" (Scalia & Wolfe, 1984), is provided via Regional Rehabilitation Continuing Education Programs (RRCEPs) and agency in-service training programs (p.37). In contrast to the more formalized curricula in pre-service education programs, continuing education programs are varied and can respond quickly to a single agency unit's needs or regional-specific needs. The variables related to continuing education are reflected in the research of Szymanski, Linkowski, Leahy, Diamond, and Thoreson (1993), who found that "education, gender, job level, job setting, job title, and years of experience" were related to perceived training needs (p. 179). Because of these variables, Szymanski et al., (1993) recommended settingspecific training needs analyses, which usually represent an important first step in determining the content of continuing education programs.

Training needs, which may be self-identified or identified by program administrators or by professional organizations, are typically of two types: perceived and actual. Actual training needs are based on objective data that identify performance deficiencies or suggest the need for additional competencies in particular areas that can be met through an educational program. Identifying performance deficiencies objectively is difficult, and more individuals tend to participate in training when they view the training as meeting their unique needs. Consequently, individuals' perceived training needs are more frequently used in identifying the content for continuing education programs (Renwick & Mirkopoulos, 1991).

Various approaches have been used to identify perceived training needs of rehabilitation professionals. For example, the training needs of rehabilitation administrators were identified by consolidating the results of several individual studies on the training needs of rehabilitation administrators in state vocational rehabilitation agencies and community rehabilitation programs (Bordieri, Riggar, Crimando, & Matkin, 1988). …