Headed to Work as a Teen with Blindness or Low Vision

If your child isn’t planning to go to college, they may want to work full- or part-time or get some vocational training after high school. When considering a specialized training program, it’s important to find out if the school or program has a job placement program for graduates and, if so, what their placement rate is.

Check the course requirements before starting. Learn about needed tools and materials. See if they are accessible. Ask if the teacher has worked with students who are blind or have low vision. Find out if materials come in formats other than print. Check if there’s assistive tech in libraries and classrooms. Your child might need to explain their needs. This includes accommodations for active participation. Preparing this explanation is key. They can use it for future training or job applications.

Acquiring Necessary Skills

If your teen wants a job after high school, they need certain skills. They must find a job, interview for it, and keep it. Early work is key. Jobs in school, after school, or in summer build skills and experience. At school, they might volunteer. This could be office work, helping in the cafeteria, selling tickets, or in the mailroom. Vocational classes offer more options. These include food service, gardening, and maintenance. After training, students often get part-time jobs. Some places have special programs. These provide paid summer jobs for young people with blindness or low vision.

Whenever possible, teens should seek jobs or experiences in areas they are interested in for a career. For example, if your child is interested in being a sound engineer, a job at a music store or a radio station might give her some related experience. At many high schools, guidance counselors can help teens narrow down the careers that interest them and for which they have a strong skill set.

Finding a Job

Some blind or low vision youth find jobs on their own. But many, including sighted ones, need adult help for their first job. Your child should still learn job-hunting skills. They must know about job interviews and work commitments. Make sure your child learns job search skills in school. This helps them find work after graduation.

  • Find job openings?
  • Apply for jobs?
  • Interview successfully?
  • Dress appropriately for the kind of work they want to do?

Getting Hired

We all know that one of the hardest parts of working is getting hired for a job. Employers are often reluctant to hire someone with blindness or low vision because they have concerns about how the individual will do the job, stay safe, and be perceived by other employees and customers. During high school your child’s educational team may want to consider devoting some time to helping your child:

  • Develop strategies for locating potential jobs
  • Create a resume
  • Learn effective interviewing techniques

Opportunities to role-play, job shadow—or follow and observe individuals with and without blindness or low vision doing the kind of job your child is considering—and get work experiences can better prepare your teen for future employment. Attending a summer program for young people that focuses on job skill development or work may also benefit your child.

Discussing these issues with the other members of your child’s educational team can help plan activities that will support skills your child will need as a job seeker and employee.

What Kind of Help Can You Expect?

State agencies help people with disabilities find jobs. But their support is limited. It’s not like the daily help from teachers in high school. To know what’s available, invite an agency rep to Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. Talk about transition there. You can ask for career exploration in the IEP. This includes job skills classes and job placement programs. In these programs, school staff (and sometimes rehab staff) help students find jobs.

If Your Child Has Multiple Disabilities

For youngsters with multiple disabilities, summer and after-school jobs can be successful with the support of a job coach. Job coaches are on-the-job trainers who work with students at a job site to help them learn the job duties and develop skills for interacting effectively with employers and coworkers. Ideally, the job coach works with the student’s coworkers to help them understand how to support the student. In this way, coworkers are a source of what is known as “natural supports” once the job coach is no longer at the job site.

“Supported employment” means working with a job coach. Your child’s school may provide this service for special education students. Later, rehab or disability agencies can help. If your child has multiple disabilities, an agency expert can help. They should attend IEP meetings. They know about supported employment services. Your child’s lead teacher or school counselor can guide you. They know about these agency resources.

Unless your child has physical or developmental disabilities in addition to being blind or low vision, they may not need “supported” or “sheltered” employment services and would probably not be eligible for them.

Advocating for Special Needs

f your child uses braille, large print, or special tools at school, they’ll need them for work too. Employers don’t always provide these like schools do. Your teen must advocate for what they need at work. They should show they know their needs and how to meet them. They must prove they can work as fast as others. Your state’s vocational rehabilitation department might help. They can provide tools and training. Your teen should learn how to register for these services from their teacher of students with visual impairments.