The Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies (BLVS) at Salus University recently hosted a panel discussion, in partnership with Penn State Abington Rehabilitation and Human Services (RHS) Program, called “Employment and Vocational Rehabilitation of Individuals Who are Visually Impaired” to educate current students and practitioners who are employed or seeking employment.

This concludes a three-part Q and A series featuring:

Kerry S. Lueders, MS, COMS, TVI, CLVT
Director, Low Vision Rehabilitation Program, Programs for Teachers and Children with Visual and Multiple Disabilities, and Assistant Professor, College of Health Sciences, Education and Rehabilitation (CHER), Salus University

Abby Akande, PhD, CRC
Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation and Human Services, Penn State Abington

Jamie Marks, CVRT
Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, Assistive Technology Specialist, Educational Consultant and independent contractor through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), iCanConnect and the Visually Impaired Foundation of Georgia; Certificate program in Vision Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) ’14, Salus University

Lisa Andrews
Customer, The Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR)

Luis Fontanez, MEd
Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Altoona Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS)

Karen Wolffe, PhD
Owner, Career Counseling and Consultation, LLC, of Austin, Texas

Q: From a VRT specialist perspective, how do you address and manage monetary liability concerns, specifically misconceptions about high cost, of a potential employer?

Marks:
There is no extra cautionary insurance companies need to purchase or have, because somebody with a disability is working for them. It’s exactly the same for everybody. You have worker's compensation whether you're sighted or visually impaired in a wheelchair. It's the same. In fact, there's actually a lot of tax perks and a lot of other incentives that we could talk about for an hour. But, most importantly, is the efficiency that most people who are visually impaired possess. They're reliable. For example, because they know that transportation is an issue, they don't have one, they have two, they have three ways of getting to the job.
Jamie MarksWolffe:
When an employer takes on employees, it's about group liability. It doesn't change the group makeup. It's just one more person in the insurance pool. I think the other elephant in the room, however, is this notion about how much is it going to cost to adapt the workplace? What are the accommodations going to cost? I think that is what you must teach young people who are blind or visually impaired, is that they need to know what it is they must have, and what that would cost. They need exact figures. You can't go into an employer and say, "I'm going to need A, B, C, D, E.” It has to be one or two things that you absolutely need so young people need to know the tools they require.

It’s also important to understand the difference between large employers, who don't typically hire young people with disabilities, and small employers, who do hire young people with disabilities. Small employers are less likely to be able to afford expensive adaptive equipment.

Fontanez:
That's where my agency can take some of that burden off of the employer. Because a lot of the equipment and gizmos and gadgets that blind agencies provide for people are purchased for the specific purpose of work. When we send our clients out into the workforce, they have the ability to accommodate themselves.

Q: Do any of the panelists ever use an “elevator speech” to attract a potential employer?

Wolffe:
I think lots of people use “elevator speeches” to attract employers. It's called networking. I think we teach kids how to use “elevator speeches” with their personal and professional networks to be able to mix and mingle and talk to people about what they want, where they want to work and what they offer. The network of people around them can help them look for work but the “elevator speech” is part of the networking approach.
Karen WolffeQ: When is an ideal time for our students to disclose their vision impairment to an employer? I've had students who don't disclose in their CV get an interview and when the employer notices the person is visually impaired, they don't get the job.

Andrews:
The one time that I did not disclose my impairment in advance, I did myself a disservice, as well as the employer. It was a disaster, because they weren't prepared. It was a situation where I was working on a very small laptop that had no software loaded. I couldn't even see what I was doing. So, I learned from that, but I frame it in a way that it's not much of a burden. In my experience, the sooner, the better.

Wolffe:
I would concur with that. I think the sooner you bring it up, the better. I think most of your students are already being taught how to disclose to prospective teachers, counselors and coaches. They've been practicing for years. It’s important to stay focused on the positive, what you can do, how you make accommodations, not what you want or need, but to focus on what you can do, how you're going to compliment the team, how you're going to work well with other people. Self-disclosure is a part of what everyone does in an interview or in an introductory letter. It's how you disclose that makes the difference. Stay positive.

Marks:
Focus on your skills. I've heard a lot of people who feel like their vision was the reason they didn't get the job and that wasn't it. It just comes back to those soft skills and abilities, interpersonal skills, sensitivity to others, knowing what to ask for, when to ask for it, and knowing what not to ask for. Know how to self-advocate, accept help when you need it, but don't be too needy. It's a balancing act.

Q: Is it true that one has to be dually certified to work at the VA?

Marks:
Being dually certified is definitely helpful. I am an independent contractor, so I'm on contract with the VA. My certification is a certified vision rehabilitation therapist. I think it just depends on what the need is. It definitely doesn't hurt. But you'd have to talk to somebody in the VA specifically to really get the details.

Q: What are your thoughts on building brands like Apple into an individual's routines to the point that they are entirely reliant upon proprietary technology that will not likely become open-sourced. That being the case, if Apple goes away, so does the technology. Are we doing a disservice by promoting these products so heavily?

Wolffe:
I think there's a really simple answer. You are making a mistake if you only teach one tool, or one set of tools. The more tools that young people have in their toolbox, the more marketable they are. They need that diversity. A lot of kids come to me who think they can get by with just a smartphone and they don't need a laptop or a tablet. I tell them it’s not going to be enough.

Andrews:
I agree. I'm very fortunate. I do have quite a few ways to work. I was taught how to use the built-in commands in Windows. I'm fairly proficient with JAWS® (Job Access With Speech) and I use ZoomText screen magnification. I also have an iPhone and I use VoiceOver screen reader for that as well as magnification. Everyone is a big proponent of the iPad. But I wouldn't want that to be my only way to work.
Lisa AndrewsMarks:
This is a great opportunity right now with everyone going virtual to learn to type, learn how to get your hands away from that mouse, and learn how to use the built-in features, so if you have to survive for an hour or two on a regular computer, you can learn how to use the ease of access areas and modify it as much as you can. Learn how to have at least two to three different backup methods so you can access anything. But keyboarding is an essential skill, especially key commands.

Fontanez:
Not every organization is going to subscribe to your preferred method of accessibility. If you have spent your whole entire life working with Mac products, then you take a job that provides Windows products, you will be lost.
Luis Fontanez