Development and Adaptation of an Employment-Integration Program for People Who Are Visually Impaired in Quebec, Canada

By Wittich, Walter; Watanabe, Donald H. et al. | Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, November-December 2013 | Go to article overview

Development and Adaptation of an Employment-Integration Program for People Who Are Visually Impaired in Quebec, Canada


Wittich, Walter, Watanabe, Donald H., Scully, Lizabeth, Bergevin, Martin, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness


In spite of all the efforts of vision rehabilitation centers, government agencies and other organizations dedicated to persons with visual impairments, there still remains a high rate of unemployment and inactivity among working-age individuals, 15 to 64 years of age. For example, Camirand et al. (2010) determined that the percentage of visually impaired individuals who were inactive in the Quebec labor force in 2006 was 62.5%. This was over three times the inactivity rate of the general Quebec population in that same year, which stood at 20.3%. Although the inactivity rate for all individuals with disabilities decreased from 63% to 52% between 1986 and 2006, it remains high. No information appears to be available regarding unemployment or inactivity rates as a function of degree or type of visual impairment in this region of Canada (Camirand et al., 2010).

In a 2008 report commissioned by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, the Access Economics organization calculated that in 2007 the lack of participation of visually impaired persons in the labor force resulted in a loss of 4.06 billion dollars to the Canadian economy (Access Economics, 2008). Given these findings, the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre (MMRC, formerly the Montreal Association for the Blind and the Mackay Rehabilitation Centre) decided to develop and pilot-test an innovative approach in program design with the goal of improving employment outcomes and to supplement existing services at MMRC. The present article reports on the development of this program as well as on the outcome of the first pilot cohort of individuals who have completed it.

Not only is there a low percentage of visually impaired persons active in the workforce (LaGrow, 2004; Wolffe & Spungin, 2002), but, of those who are, they are less likely to be employed at levels consistent with their education and skills (Leonard, D'Allura, & Horowitz, 1999). Furthermore, working people with visual impairments tend to be underpaid and have fewer opportunities for promotion (Roy, Storrow, & Spinks, 1996). Given these trends, it is not surprising that many people who are inactive in the workforce have simply become discouraged over time (Leonard, 2002). Despite these findings, other researchers have shown that many employers make a concerted effort to recruit visually impaired workers and integrate them into their workforces (Golub, 2003; Wolffe & Candela, 2002; Zamora, 2002).

Factors of employment success

In the investigation of factors related to successful employment in the workforce, employed people with vision loss stated that motivation, support of family and friends, a positive attitude about life, and a match between qualifications and job requirements were key factors to employment success (Shaw & Gold, 2007). In addition, Leonard et al. (1999), Shaw and Gold (2007), and Shaw, Gold, and Wolffe (2007) showed that education level and knowledge and use of technology, as well as the way in which a child is raised, all contribute to successful employment. For example, children who are raised to be more independent despite their disability are more likely to develop skills that are valued by employers (Shaw et al., 2007).

In their investigation into successful employment in Canada, Shaw and Gold (2007) noted that results showed that people with vision loss in Quebec were better prepared for the labor market than were those in Ontario. Their explanation for this finding was that Quebec has more extensive support for people with disabilities, namely through the presence of a network of services specialises de main d'oeuvre pour les personnes handicapees (specialized employment services for the disabled or SSMO) that were implemented some 30 years ago. These public services, which are funded by Emploi-Quebec (the official government agency for employment resources), are almost all independent nonprofit organizations with a specific mandate to service French-speaking disabled clients at the regional level. …

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