Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Maine's Employability Skills Program

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Maine's Employability Skills Program

Article excerpt

The most current data available on the employment rate of individuals with visual disabilities in the United States is from the 2011 American Community Survey (ACS). ACS data indicate that nearly 37% of people with self-reported visual disabilities are working, albeit only approximately 24% are working full-time year-round. Only 13% of those who reported being unemployed were actively seeking employment (Erickson, Lee, & von Schrader, 2013). Some clients of the vocational rehabilitation program at the Maine Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBVI) are likewise stuck in prolonged periods of unemployment, and some clients' cases have remained open for five or more years before they secure employment or stop looking for work altogether.

While attending the 2010 international conference of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, the director of the Maine DBVI attended a session that described an employment program being implemented in the United Kingdom by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). The RNIB program was designed to serve chronically unemployed individuals. It served 400 people over a two-year period and moved 93 individuals into employment and 79 into training--a 43% conversion rate (Wolffe, 2010). A description of the training approach, Pre-Employment Programme Overviews (Wolffe & Cheddie, 2010), was shared with conference attendees. Maine DBVI leadership decided to create a similarly structured program to hone consumers' job-seeking strategies and ideally help them to secure employment or participate in career-enhancing training.

The purpose of this Practice Report is to describe the development and implementation approaches used in Maine's employability skills program and the outcomes participants achieved.


Working in tandem with the primary author of the Pre-Employment Programme Trainer's Manual (Wolffe, 2011), a core team of DBVI staff members developed a one-week intensive course, the Maine Employability Skills Program. The program was designed to support the efforts of chronically unemployed or underemployed consumers (that is, those who were out of work for more than a year or more or unable to adapt to changes in their current job that would enable them to continue working at their desired level). These consumers were "job ready" (that is, they reported they were ready to go to work in their desired profession) and "not job ready" (that is, they recognized they did not have the necessary skills to begin working at their desired jobs). The outcome goal for consumers who enrolled in and completed the program was to explore career options, refine job-seeking skills, and write action plans to achieve their career goals. The consumers' action plans defined how they would obtain the necessary skills to engage fully in job-seeking activities and ultimately obtain and maintain meaningful and self-sustaining employment.

Once the structure for the employability skills program was created, all the adult blindness system staff members at the Maine DBVI, which consisted of approximately 70 professional and support staff members, gathered for two days of training to learn what roles they could play in helping to deliver this new program. All attendees became familiar with the program's components so they could integrate their specific discipline's perspective into it.


Vocational rehabilitation counselors, vision rehabilitation therapists, orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists, and assistive technology specialists took part in specific segments during the implementation of the week-long employability skills program. Members of the core development team were available throughout the duration of the program and took turns either facilitating or co-facilitating components of the program. Blindness professionals from across the state presented on specific topics such as building a personal transportation network and efficient labeling and other organizational systems for the work environment, and to demonstrate a variety of assistive technology devices to increase speed and efficiency. …

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