Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

The Effect of Career Mentoring on Employment Outcomes for College Students Who Are Legally Blind

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

The Effect of Career Mentoring on Employment Outcomes for College Students Who Are Legally Blind

Article excerpt

Full -time employment is difficult to secure during challenging economic times, and specific barriers faced by individuals with visual impairments (that is, those who are blind or have low vision) are well documented (Coffey, Coufopoulos, & Kinghom, 2014; Crudden & McBroom, 1999; McDonnall, Zhou, & Crudden, 2013). Challenges faced may include lack of early work experience, transportation difficulty, limited exposure to career role models, negative employer attitudes, underdevelopment of "soft skills" and blindness skills, and low self-advocacy and assertiveness.

Despite having the highest rate of postsecondary attendance among students with disabilities, with approximately 78% attending postsecondary school (Newman, Wagner, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009), youths with visual impairments have difficulty securing employment (Burgstahler, 2001; McBroom, 1995; Nagle, 2001; Roessler, Hennessey, & Rumrill, 2007). The current unemployment rate for recent college graduates averages about 7.2% (Davis, Kimball, & Gould, 2015). Given that this rate does not reflect discouraged workers (such as individuals who may have stopped looking for work because of repeated discrimination, lack of necessary supports, and limited job opportunities), that unemployment rate is likely considerably higher for college graduates with visual impairments. Although data are not available on employment rates for this specific population, data from the Community Population Survey indicates that only 53.8% of noninstitutionalized persons with visual disabilities aged 25-34 were employed during 2014 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014).

Many strategies have been used to assist students with disabilities to make the transition from educational settings to employment (Getzel & Briel, 2008; Getzel, Briel, & Kregel, 2000; Roessler et al., 2007). Efforts include job clubs, employability workshops, work experience, and career counseling. Some studies have focused on the use of career mentors who establish relationships through face-to-face meetings, in e-mails, or on the telephone (Burgstahler & Cronheim, 2001; Getzel & Briel, 2008; Knouse, 2001; Powers, Sowers, & Stevens, 1995; Whelley, Radtke, Burgstahler, & Christ, 2003). Career mentors may provide critical experiences for transitional youths with visual impairments by serving as models of success, providing encouragement and expert advice, as well as assisting in the development of self-efficacy, career adaptability, and assertiveness. Research indicates that youths with visual impairments who worked with mentors achieved significant increases in career decision-making efficacy and hope for the future (Bell, 2012; Cavenaugh, McDonnall, & Giesen, 2010).

Although the implementation of mentoring programs varies widely, common elements include career counseling, job shadowing, and job-placement assistance (Briel & Getzel, 2001; Burgstahler & Cronheim, 2001; Getzel & Briel, 2008; Hagner, 2000; Whelley et al., 2003). Multiple strategies have been identified to improve postsecondary outcomes among students with disabilities--for example, knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA), encouraging self-advocacy, and including mentors with disabilities (Burgstahler, 2001; Burgstahler & Crawford, 2007; Roessler et al. 2007; Wilson, 2003). CareerConnect, an online mentoring resource provided by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), includes a searchable database of over 1,000 mentors with visual impairments, and it is currently the only ongoing mentoring program for individuals with visual impairments (AFB, 2015). To date, no studies have systematically evaluated the effectiveness of mentoring programs on employment outcomes for recent college graduates with visual impairments.

Mentors can serve as role models and share experiences that address the unique concerns of students with visual impairments preparing for jobs (for instance, disclosure, requesting accommodations, and self-advocacy). …

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