National Technical Assistance Center on Blindness and Visual Impairment (NTAC-BVI)

NTAC-BVI
Mississippi State University

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Careers in Blindness and Low Vision

Many individuals find satisfying, long-term careers in the field of blindness and visual impairments (B/VI). Professionals in this area assist individuals with B/VI in learning new skills and leading a full, fulfilling life. Many professionals in these field have B/VI themselves.

There is currently a shortage of professionals in the B/VI field, meaning that demand for qualified individuals to fill these positions is high. Universities across the nation offer degrees in these areas.

Possible career paths in the field of B/VI include:

Orientation & Mobility (O&M) Specialist

Teaches safe travel skills to children and adults, including:

  • Street crossings
  • Bus travel
  • Use of a white cane or guide dog
  • Airport and subway navigation
  • Orientation to new locations

Educational Requirements

Most O&M specialists have a master’s degree in Orientation and Mobility. After completing this degree, specialists must pass a certification exam through the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation Professionals (ACVREP) in order to be called Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS).

Employment Opportunities

  • School districts
  • State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies
  • Veterans Administration (VA) blind rehabilitation programs
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Independent contracts

Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (VRT)

Teaches independent living skills for daily living, such as:

  • Labeling and organization
  • Cooking
  • Reading mail
  • Paying bills
  • Use of household appliances
  • Money identification
  • Computer use

Educational Requirements

A VRT master’s degree is available, although many work in this profession with only a bachelor’s degree. Certification is available from ACVREP. Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapists (CVRT) have the most opportunities for employment.

Employment Opportunities

  • State VR agencies
  • VA blind rehabilitation programs
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Schools for the blind
  • Independent contracts

Low Vision Therapist

Helps individuals with B/VI improve their lives through the use of low vision aids by:

  • Assessing magnification needs
  • Instructing in the use of magnifiers
  • Suggesting environmental modifications
  • Demonstrating closed circuit televisions
  • Instructing in use of other low vision technologies

Educational Requirements

A bachelor’s degree is required, and many individuals in this field pursue a master’s degree in low vision or another related area. A certification exam is given by ACVREP.

Employment Opportunities

  • VA blind rehabilitation programs
  • State VR agencies
  • Office of a low vision doctor
  • Nonprofit organizations

Rehabilitation Counselor (RC)

Guides individuals with B/VI toward successfully securing employment by:

  • Advising on career options
  • Providing case management
  • Developing a rehabilitation plan
  • Supervising provision of services
  • Counseling on adjustment to blindness
  • Advising on interviewing/disability disclosure
  • Providing job placement services

Educational Requirements

Most RC’s are required to have a master’s degree. Credentialing as a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) is available through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counseling Certification and requires a written exam. There is no blindness specialty in the certification process. Instead, candidates are required to be knowledgeable in all disability areas.

Employment Opportunities

  • State VR agencies
  • Nonprofit organizations

Teacher of the Vision Impaired (TVI)

Adapts classroom materials and activities to maximize learning for children with visual impairments:

  • Assesses student needs
  • Teaches braille and listening skills
  • Serves as a resource for classroom teachers
  • Writes Individual Education Plan
  • Provides computer accessibility instruction
  • Teaches study skills

Educational Requirements

TVIs are required to have a bachelor's and/or master's degree, as well as all appropriate teaching credentials.

Employment Opportunities

  • School districts
  • Residential schools for the blind
  • Early intervention programs
  • Independent contracts

Deaf-Blind Specialist

Instructs individuals who have dual sensory loss on topics such as:

  • Communication skills
  • Braille
  • Concept development
  • Instructional planning
  • Assistive technology
  • Independent living skills
  • Job skills
  • Orientation and mobility
  • Social and emotional adjustment
  • Recreational activities

Educational Requirements

Deaf-blind specialists usually have a master's degree in rehabilitation, special education, or a related field and are fluent in sign language and various forms of manual communication. Some have educational backgrounds as O&M specialists, VRTs, job placement specialists, TVIs, or other related majors. It is also helpful for deaf-blind specialists to have intervener or interpreter skills or certifications.

Employment Opportunities

Assistive Technology Instructor

Specializes in assisting individuals who are B/VI with assistive software and hardware:

  • Evaluates needs
  • Recommends assistive software and hardware
  • Installs software and sets up specialized devices
  • Instructs in the use of devices
  • Works with team members to incorporate devices
  • Repairs and maintains assistive technology

Educational Requirements

Instructors need a master's or bachelor's degree in Rehabilitation Engineering, Industrial/Educational Technology, Rehabilitation Teaching, or a related area. In addition, familiarity with computer access technology for persons with vision-related needs (e.g., braille, speech access, and large print) is usually required. A certification will soon be available from ACVREP. This new certification will be called Certified Assistive Technology Instruction Specialist (CATIS).

Specialized certifications are offered by several of the companies who program commonly-used accessible software. This certification is only for their software package:

Employment Opportunities

  • State VR agencies
  • VA blind rehabilitation programs
  • Private agencies
  • Independent contracts
  • School districts


Career Advantage for V.I.P.s

Are you blind or visually impaired? Are you making the transition from high school, college, or other training program into the workforce? Or are you an adult seeking to find or change employment? If so, this self-guided program was designed for you! Career Advantage for V.I.P.s: An Employment Preparation Primer for Individuals who are Blind or Visually Impaired offers eight instructional modules which you can explore at your own pace. For access to the Career Advantage for V.I.P.s program, please complete the survey at www.surveymonkey.com. If you have any questions about the program, please contact the NRTC staff at 662-325-2001 or by email at nrtc@colled.msstate.edu.


Working with a Mentor

One effective strategy for improving the employment success of graduates is to consider connecting with a successful mentor who is blind in your field of study.

Read More

A mentor can help you develop skills, knowledge, and motivation as you transition from college to employment.

If you are a college student or plan to go to college, you are not alone. Approximately 40% of high school students who are blind or visually impaired attend a 4-year college—the highest rate of post-secondary school attendance among students with disabilities.* Unfortunately, a college degree does not always lead to a rewarding career in your chosen profession. As a busy college student you may not have time to engage in activities that will help with your transition from college to employment, such as holding a work-study job or other part-time position. Part-time employment helps you gain valuable insight into how your vision impairment could impact job seeking activities and on-the-job performance.

As part of a recent project which looked at ways to help students in their final semester of college and the months following graduation, we developed resources to help you with your journey to employment. Please explore the resources below to learn more.

Download and read our Mentoring Manual to learn:

  • About the mentoring relationship
  • How you can benefit from a mentoring relationship
  • How to find or become a mentor
  • Tips for making a mentoring relationship successful

In addition, download our Job Seeker’s Resource Sheet which provides links to such information as:

  • Information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, disclosing your disability, and asking for an accommodation at work
  • Websites that connect you with local job openings and job search tools
  • Self-paced classes to improve soft skills and knowledge of job seeking activities

*Newman, L., Wagner, M., Cameto, R., & Knokey, A. (2009). The post-high school outcomes of youth with disabilities up to 4 years after high school: A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.


Business Enterprise Program

To see if this unique program is right for you, check out the informational brochure (Word or PDF) and video.


Study of Employment Outcomes for SSDI Beneficiaries Reveals Importance of Work Experience in Obtaining a Job


Research Takeaway- Employment outcomes were similar across all races and ethnicities for individuals with blindness or low vision who also receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. This suggests that prior work experience (which an individual must have in order to receive SSDI benefits) has a positive influence on finding a job and helps level the employment playing field across different races and ethnicities. In addition, some individuals from specific groups were more likely to have successful employment outcomes when they were served by a blind (rather than a combined) Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency. This suggests that services targeted specifically to individuals who are blind are most effective in helping those individuals achieve employment goals.

Research Question

What are the factors affecting successful employment outcomes for individuals with blindness and low vision who also receive SSDI benefits?

Project Description

This project used 2010 data from the Rehabilitation Services Administration to track employment outcomes for 4,478 individuals with blindness or low vision who were receiving both vocational rehabilitation services and SSDI benefits.

Major Research Findings

  1. Across diverse backgrounds, having prior work experience increases your chances of finding competitive employment. In contrast to typical findings of race differences in employment outcomes, this study found that SSDI recipients who are African American, Hispanic, white, or multirace had almost identical levels of successful employment after receiving VR services. This surprising finding suggests that no matter an individual’s race or ethnicity, prior work experience can help level the playing field and help overcome barriers to employment.
  2. Higher amounts of SSDI benefits are associated with finding a job. Researchers found that individuals receiving higher amounts of SSDI benefits at the time they applied for VR services had a greater likelihood of finding a job than applicants who were receiving lower amounts of benefits. Because SSDI benefit amounts are based on an individual’s previous earnings, this means that individuals with significant past work experience had better employment outcomes than their peers with lower levels of experience on the job.
  3. Some individuals served in blind agencies had a better chance of finding employment than their peers served in combined agencies. Individuals who are blind tend to see a decline in employment levels as their age increases. However, researchers found this decline in employment was much less dramatic and mostly eliminated for individuals who are older and SSDI-recipients when they were served by a blind agency that focuses specifically on serving individuals with blindness and low vision. Female and Asian Americans individuals who are blind also had better employment outcomes when served by blind agencies. Blind agencies provide services targeted specifically to individuals who are visually impaired, and these services are provided by counselors who are experienced and focused on serving those who are visually impaired. Thus we expect that services targeted specifically to individuals who are blind- even when they are provided by agencies that serve a wide range of disabilities- will be most beneficial to blind consumers receiving SSDI and probably to blind consumers in general.

How does this relate to me?

  1. Seek out work experience whenever and wherever you can. Work experience can take many forms. Even if you are unable to immediately find a job, internships (both paid and unpaid), apprenticeships, and job shadowing are just some of the other options that allow you to gain experience in the workplace.
  2. If you receive SSDI, there are financial supports in place to help you get back to work! Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/work or call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 (V) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) to receive more information about working while receiving SSDI benefits. Your VR counselor may also be able to provide help as you walk through the process of returning to work. All SSDI beneficiaries receive a trial work period of up to nine months where benefits are not affected. In addition to this, there are a number of other supports in place, such as the Medicaid buy-in program, to help you return to work without suffering a large financial blow. Make sure you are taking advantage of all the programs that can help you achieve your employment goals!
  3. Whenever possible, seek out services at your agency that focuses specifically on blindness. Working with counselors and experts in the field of blindness can lead to better outcomes. Even VR agencies that serve individuals from a wide range of disabilities may have agency divisions or individual counselors that specialize in providing blindness services. Do everything you can to work with counselors experienced in working with individuals who are blind.

Learn More

Findings taken from the following article:

Giesen, J. M., & Cavenaugh, B. S. (2013). Disability insurance beneficiaries with visual impairments in vocational rehabilitation: Socio-demographic influences on employment. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 107(6), 453-467.

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NRTC

Funded by:
Funded by the United States Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) Grant #H133B10022.
GRANT 90RT5040-01-00