Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

The Relationship between Perceived Computer Competence and the Employment Outcomes of Transition-Aged Youths with Visual Impairments

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

The Relationship between Perceived Computer Competence and the Employment Outcomes of Transition-Aged Youths with Visual Impairments

Article excerpt

In almost any culture, employment is not only an important indicator of an adult's success; it is necessary to ensuring one's survival. However, individuals with visual impairments perpetually experience unemployment in much higher rates than those with typical visual functioning. For example, in 2009, among individuals aged 21-64 with a visual disability, 38.7% were employed compared with 76.8% without disabilities (Erickson, Lee, & von Schrader, 2011). Such a low employment rate seems to begin even as soon as the youths leave school. According to the Wave 5 data of the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) (U.S. Department of Education, 2010), in 2009, only 47.2% of youths with visual impairments had been competitively employed in the prior two years. When the data were drawn from this particular sample, it had been up to eight years since the youths had left high school. This percentage was much lower than the average level of NLTS2 youths in all disability categories (70.1%).

Although there are many skills that individuals with visual impairments need to obtain competitive employment, using computers has become one of the most desirable skills for at least two reasons. First, computers are commonly used as an assistive device and provide unique benefits, such as increasing access to information and expanding social networks (Gerber, 2003; Presley & D'Andrea, 2009). Second, computers are used as a powerful tool in general. The ability to use them effectively, even at a basic level, has already become a prerequisite skill for employment (Green, Felstead, Gallie, & Zhou, 2007).

The importance of computer skills for employment is recognized by many individuals with visual impairments. Qualitative studies have documented that most participants with visual impairments who were successfully employed use computers in their daily work, emphasize the importance of their possession of computer skills, and show that computer use has had a profound positive impact on their lives (Crudden, 2002; Gerber, 2003; Hutto & Hare, 1997). However, the small samples of participants in these studies limited the generalizability of their findings to other individuals with visual impairments.

In considering the relationship between job performance and computer skills, one may predict that individuals with higher-level computer skills would outperform those with lower-level computer skills in their overall job performance. However, large-scale quantitative studies have not supported this prediction. In 1999, Leonard, D'Allura, and Horowitz conducted a follow-up study with 167 persons with visual impairments who had received Lighthouse vocational placement services during 1989 to 1994 to determine their employment status and identify predictive factors of employment, level of employment positions, and perceived underemployment. They found that although computer skill was a significant factor for both employment and level of employment during bivariate analyses, its effect was not significant during multivariate analyses. Specifically, when many other factors, such as school placement, technology training, low vision services, satisfaction with social contact, self-efficacy, and motivation to work were controlled, good computer skills did not predict employment success. This finding points to the complexity of factors that lead to successful job performance, which clearly involves other aspects, such as workers' preparation, individual disposition, and the ability to work with coworkers (McDonnall, 2011). Similarly, the sample used in the study limited the generalizability of its results to a larger population.

Some recent studies have investigated the relationship between the use of assistive technology and the employment outcomes of people with visual impairments (McDonnall, 2011; McDonnall & Crud den, 2009). For example, McDonnall (2011) examined factors that may be related to employment using the NLTS2 database and found that the use of technology was not a significant predictor of youths' employment performance. …

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