Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

The Relationship between Employer Contact with Vocational Rehabilitation and Hiring Decisions about Individuals Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

The Relationship between Employer Contact with Vocational Rehabilitation and Hiring Decisions about Individuals Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the relationship between Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) professionals' interactions with employers and those employers' hiring decisions regarding individuals who are blind or visually impaired. A national sample of 382 employers responded to an online survey that included questions about their interactions with VR, their history of hiring and intent to hire people who are blind/visually impaired in the future, and their attitudes towards this population as employees. A strong relationship between VR contact/level of relationship with VR and having hired, intent to hire, and attitudes was found. Much has been written about the importance of VR agencies developing relationships with businesses, but this is one of the first studies to provide empirical evidence of its benefits.

Employment rates for people with disabilities have historically been low. The most recent data on the labor force status of the U.S. population between the ages of 16 and 64 that report a visual difficulty indicate that only 32.3% are employed, 10.7% are unemployed, and 63.8% are not in the labor force at all (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016). These percentages do not compare favorably to the general population's labor statistics - fewer than half are employed and more than twice as many are unemployed. The high unemployment rate for people with visual difficulties indicates a significant problem with obtaining employment, even when actively seeking it. The low participation rate in the labor force may indicate a large percentage of discouraged workers with visual difficulties, who have given up on finding a job. State-federal Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies are tasked with helping people with disabilities obtain employment, and direct contact with employers has always been one avenue VR agencies have used to assist their consumers with locating a job.

Although demand-side job development and employer partnerships began receiving attention in the 1990s (e.g., Frye, 1997; Gilbride & Stensrud, 1992), the emphasis on employer engagement and the additional focus on developing long-term relationships with business has increased in the past decade. This is referred to as the dual customer approach, or the business relations model, and VR agencies are being encouraged to utilize this approach in their interactions with business at the local, state, and national level (Anderson et al, 2006; CSAVR Business, 2016). The Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR) has taken a lead role in promoting use of the dual customer approach among VR agencies by establishing a Business Relations department that has formed the National Employment Team (NET), which includes a representative from all 80 state VR agencies. Working with business may be particularly important for counselors and agencies that serve consumers who are blind or visually impaired, as negative employer attitudes are considered the major barrier to employment for this population (Coffey, Coufopoulos, & Kinghom, 2014; Crudden & McBroom, 1999; Crudden, Williams, McBroom, & Moore, 2002; Kirchner, Johnson, & Harkins, 1997; McDonnall, Zhou, & Crudden, 2013; Salomone & Paige, 1984). VR professionals' direct communication with employers provides an opportunity to educate employers about the population and potentially change their attitudes.

The emphasis on engaging with employers will continue to expand with the reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act--the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA, P. L. 113-128). WIOA involves substantial changes to the VR program, including an increased emphasis on business engagement and providing services to business (U.S. Department of Education, 2014). After a decade of increasing focus on business engagement by the VR system, WIOA sends the message that this activity is here to stay and can only be expected to increase in the future. …

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