Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Employment-Related Experiences of Youths Who Are Visually Impaired: How Are These Youths Faring?

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Employment-Related Experiences of Youths Who Are Visually Impaired: How Are These Youths Faring?

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article describes the results in the employment domain of a larger study of the lifestyles of 328 Canadian youths, aged 15-21 and 22-30, 131 of whom were blind and 197 of whom had low vision. The youths completed a survey on their work-related experiences, including their current employment status and job-search strategies. In addition to characterizing the overall employment-related experiences of the youths, the study explored differences by visual status, gender, and age group.


The employment status of youths is a major concern to practitioners and scholars in the fields of vocational rehabilitation and education of people with visual impairments because only 32% of individuals aged 18-69 who are legally blind are employed (American Foundation for the Blind [AFB], 2006) and many more are underemployed (Rumrill & Scheff, 1997). Not working or not working in a job for which one is qualified can affect one's self-esteem and personality, increase one's feelings of hostility, and induce dependent relationships (Tuttle, 1984).

Although there is not a large body of literature on the employment experiences of young adults who are blind or have low vision, a few critical studies are reviewed here. Since the mid- 1980s, the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, has underwritten a series of longitudinal studies of the postschool outcomes of youths with disabilities, including those who are visually impaired. The two major studies have been the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) and the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS-2).

The NLTS (), conducted between 1983 and 1993, included more than 8,000 high school students, of whom 875 were visually impaired, in special education in the 1985-86 school year. NLTS found that in 1987, 51.7% of the visually impaired youths studied were unemployed, 13.8% were doing volunteer work, 12.4% were doing work-study, 3.8% were performing sheltered work, 10.9% were doing part-time competitive work, and 7.5% were doing full-time competitive work (Valdes, Williamson, & Wagner, 1990).

By the end of NLTS (Wagner, D'Amico, Marder, Newman, & Blackorby, 1992), 23.4% of the young adults who were visually impaired who had been out of school less than two years were competitively employed (12.9% part time and 10.4% full time), and 29.4% who had been out of school for three to five years were competitively employed (12.4% part time and 17% full time). These young adults were either blind or had low vision and had no additional disabilities. They had graduated with grades that were comparable to their classmates without disabilities and attended college in similar numbers. The greatest difference between the visually impaired, employed young adults and their peers without disabilities was the likelihood of obtaining full-time employment as adults. The only groups of young adults with disabilities who were less likely to report competitive employment outcomes were those with multiple disabilities, deaf-blindness, and orthopedic impairments (Wagner et al., 1992).

NLTS-2 (), which began in 2000 and will continue through 2009; analyses of the study are expected to be completed in 2010. The preliminary data indicated that the percentage of youths with visual impairment who had worked for pay since they left high school had increased 36.6% for Cohort 1 (1987), and 62.4% for Cohort 2 (2003). This 25.8% increase is a strong, positive change that indicates that these young adults are acquiring some work experience following school. Unfortunately, when the cohorts were asked if they were currently working for pay, the percentages dropped dramatically for both years: 29.9% for Cohort 1 (1987), and 27.6% for Cohort 2 (2003) (Cameto & Levine, 2005).

Youths who are visually impaired may face a number of barriers in their efforts to make the transition from school to employment and community life. …

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