Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Transition-Age Youths with Visual Impairments in Vocational Rehabilitation: A New Look at Competitive Outcomes and Services

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Transition-Age Youths with Visual Impairments in Vocational Rehabilitation: A New Look at Competitive Outcomes and Services

Article excerpt

Structured abstract: Introduction: Given the low rate of closure of cases for employment, the study presented here analyzed the characteristics of consumers and services that predict competitive employment for youths with visual impairments who are making the transition from secondary education to employment in the vocation rehabilitation program. Methods: Using data from the Rehabilitation Services Administration on 2,282 consumers aged 22 or younger whose cases were closed after they received services, we conducted descriptive and logistic regression analyses to determine which client and service factors predicted competitive employment. Results: Gender; race; education; disability; the severity of visual impairment, receipt of Supplemental Security Income, earnings at the time of application, which are indicative of early work experiences; and four of five service clusters were significantly related to employment outcomes. Discussion: This research provided new knowledge regarding influences, "risk factors," and predictors of competitive employment--what works--for youths with visual impairments. Implications for practitioners: We make recommendations for the provision of vocational rehabilitation services, transition programs, policy regarding groups "at-risk" for poor employment outcomes, and future research.

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The state-federal vocational rehabilitation program, administered by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), is the largest employment program for adolescents and young adults with visual impairments (that is, those who are legally blind or have low vision) in the United States. All states and territories receive federal grants to implement comprehensive vocational rehabilitation programs that provide individuals with disabilities, including those with visual impairments, with a wide range of services to prepare them to engage in employment. The cases of approximately 2,000 transition-age youths (those who are making the transition from secondary education to work who apply for services before age 22) are closed annually from the vocational rehabilitation program nationwide after the youths receive services. Unfortunately, less than half are employed, that is, are working full- or part-time in integrated settings making at least the minimum wage at the time that their cases are closed (Cavenaugh, 2011).

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, authorized under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, emphasizes the importance of good-quality transition services by requiting state vocational rehabilitation agencies to enter into formal interagency agreements with state education agencies to plan and deliver transition services to students with disabilities. Vocational rehabilitation agencies are required to use information from educational officials in developing a consumer's individualized plan for employment (IPE). The IPE must be developed and approved before the student leaves secondary school. In a recent assessment of the impact of the Rehabilitation Act on employment outcomes, the National Council on Disability (2008) reported the lack of empirical research supporting the efficacy of vocational rehabilitation services in enhancing employment outcomes of transition-age youths. Given nationwide access to the vocational rehabilitation program and the large number of young adults with visual impairments who exit the program nationally without being employed, it is crucial to identify factors that influence outcomes--including "risk" factors--and identify "what works" for the successful employment of transition-age consumers in order to inform policy and to improve the effectiveness of the program. This was the main purpose of our study.

National data on all consumers whose cases are closed annually by vocational rehabilitation agencies are available from the RSA as the RSA-911 databases. We found only one empirical study that used this source to investigate the outcomes of transition-age youths with visual impairments. …

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