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

Mississippi State University

More on... Employment

What Predicts Employer Attitudes Toward Blind Employees?

Research Takeaway: Employer attitudes can be one of the most significant barriers to employment for individuals with blindness and visual impairment (BVI). This study took a fresh look at the factors that influence employer attitudes by surveying hiring managers from across the country. Results demonstrated the importance of building and maintaining relationships between Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies and employers and ensuring employers know that accommodations exist that allow individuals with BVI to be effective on the job.

What were we trying to learn?

Employer attitudes are considered one of the major barriers to employment for individuals with BVI, but little is known about the specific factors that influence employers’ attitudes towards people who are BVI. This study sought to shed light on the relationships between employer attitudes, employer knowledge of how individuals with BVI function on the job, employer relationships with VR agencies, and employment decisions.

What are the most important things we learned?

Employer attitudes towards individuals with BVI as employees were found to be significantly impacted by five main factors:

  1. Past hiring decisions: Having hired an individual with BVI in the past was the strongest predictor of current employer attitudes.
  2. Employer knowledge: Another important predictor of employer attitudes was employer knowledge about how individuals with BVI accomplish workplace tasks.
  3. Belief in knowledge: Employer attitudes were also associated with the employer’s general confidence that there is a way for an individual with BVI to perform a given workplace task (even without specific knowledge of exactly how a task could be accomplished).
  4. Relationship with a VR agency: Nearly 90% of employers who reported an ongoing relationship with VR that included talking specifically about BVI indicated that they had hired an individual with BVI in the past.
  5. Being female: Women in hiring positions had significantly more positive attitudes toward individuals with BVI as employees.
Interestingly, in contrast to findings from another study, communication with VR agencies was not found to have a direct connection to employer attitudes. Instead, communication had an indirect relationship with employer attitudes: Communication with VR agencies made employers more likely to hire an individual with BVI, and having hired someone with BVI made the hiring manager more likely to have a positive attitude toward individuals with BVI as employees.

How Can I Incorporate These Findings Into Practice?

  1. Specific knowledge among employers about on-the-job accommodations for individuals with BVI is important, but basic knowledge that effective accommodations exist is also important. Employers knew very little about on-the-job accommodations, with over 80% unable to name a single way that individuals with BVI complete workplace tasks. Both employer knowledge about specific accommodations and general knowledge that accommodations are available were associated with more positive employer attitudes towards individuals with BVI as employees. In their communications with employers, VR professionals should realize that detailed descriptions of workplace accommodations may not be as important as building a relationship with an employer and reassuring them that accommodations are available and VR will be there to provide ongoing support.
  2. Communication between VR agencies and employers remains essential. Although communication with a VR agency was not found to be directly associated with employer attitudes, employers who had not communicated with a VR agency rarely reported having hired an individual with BVI. Communication is strongly associated with hiring decisions, and hiring decisions in turn predict employer attitudes. Therefore, VR professionals should interact with employers as much as possible and seek to develop trusting, ongoing relationships. When VR agencies experience employee turnover, they should take particular care to safeguard and sustain employer relationships by providing as much consistency as possible.

How was this project carried out?

Online surveys from 379 hiring managers from across the nation were analyzed to identify predictors of employer attitudes towards individuals with BVI as employees.

Learn More

Findings taken from the following article:

McDonnall, M. C., & Crudden, A. (in press). Predictors of employer attitudes toward blind employees, revisited. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation.

For more information about this project, including links to a practice guide, online short courses, and other publications, visit the project overview page: Effectiveness of VR Agency-Employer Interaction Practices.

Provide Feedback

College Graduates with Visual Impairments: Seeking and Finding Employment

Research Takeaway: The employment landscape for college graduates with blindness or visual impairments (BVI) is full of difficulties, as they face challenges unique to individuals with BVI. Matching young people with BVI with mentors who also have BVI and who can provide career coaching and advice may help improve employment outcomes for this population of youth.

What Were We Trying to Learn?

Relatively little data exists on the job-search process and employment outcomes of college-educated youth with BVI. This project attempted to provide insight into the employment experiences of this population by looking at whether working with a career mentor could improve the job-search process and/or employment outcomes for youth with BVI.

What Are The Most Important Things We Learned?

Young people with BVI in our study faced a tough job market. All the youth reported spending lots of time seeking jobs and submitting a large number of job applications, but they participated in relatively few job interviews.

Young people with BVI reported challenges that had to be overcome during their job search, such as a competitive job market with few available jobs, negative employer attitudes toward individuals with BVI as employees, lack of accommodations or assistive technology, and transportation barriers. When asked about the most challenging parts of their job search, participants mentioned securing interviews and overcoming stereotypes by proving themselves to be competent employees.

On a bright note, the young people who did secure employment reported being generally satisfied with their jobs. The students in our study worked in a variety of fields, often in professional or skilled positions that were full-time, paid competitive salaries, and came with benefits. The majority of employed students in our study did not work in a blindness-related field, which a common career choice for youth with BVI.

Although having a career mentor was not found to significantly increase the odds of finding a job, the young people with mentors in our study seemed to have a more efficient job-search experience. Youth with BVI who were paired with mentors:

  • Spent less time and effort on their job search and submitted fewer job applications while maintaining similar employment rates as young people in the comparison group.
  • Were more likely to find jobs by searching on their own, rather than using employment agencies or recruiters.
  • Demonstrated increased assertiveness in their job hunt.
  • Were still in contact with their mentor one year after completing the program, indicating the long-term value these young people found in working with a career mentor. (This finding was reported by more than half of the youth with mentors.)

In comparison, the students without mentors reported spending substantially more time on career preparatino and job-seeking activities.

How Can I Use the Findings Into Practice?

  1. Proactively plan for the challenges you may encounter during your job search. In order to successfully find a career, youth with BVI may require a more intensive job search than their sighted peers. Youth, parents, mentors, and service providers should work proactively to address common barriers to employment. Be prepared to put in significant time and effort before obtaining a job, and do not become discouraged if the job search lasts more than a year. As the results of our study indicate, for those who successfully find jobs, a satisfying, financially stable career is within reach.
  2. Consider connecting with a mentor in your desired career field. Experienced mentors can provide guidance that may help you conduct a more efficient job search. Mentees in our study said they valued the contributions and support provided by their mentors and said they benefitted from working with an experienced person from their career field. Think about individuals you may know who could either serve as a mentor or help connect you with one. Once you’ve found your mentor, take a look at our Mentoring Manual for further guidance on mentoring relationships.

How Was This Project Carried Out?

College students with BVI who were close to graduation were randomly assigned to intervention and comparison groups. Youth in the intervention group (26 total) were assigned a mentor who was legally blind and working in the youth’s career field of interest; youth in the comparison group (25 total) received standard career planning resources but no mentor. The participating young people either worked with their mentor or conducted their job search without a mentor for one year. All participants completed surveys at multiple times over the course of the year, which included providing information about their job-search experience.

Learn More

Findings taken from the following article:
Antonelli, K. Steverson, A., & O'Mally, J. (in press). College graduates with visual impairment: A report on seeking and finding employment. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

For more information about this project, including resources to start your own mentoring program, visit the project overview page: An Employment Mentoring Project for College Students who are Blind

Provide Feedback

Building Relationships with Businesses

Research Takeaway: Increasingly, vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies are recognizing the importance of working closely with businesses in order to more effectively secure employment for consumers with blindness and visual impairments (B/VI). In this study, employers were asked about the best ways for VR counselors to build and maintain relationships with businesses. Employers reported that they appreciated one-on-one relationships with VR counselors who were available, easy to talk to, and who provided regular follow-up. When asked how VR counselors can develop relationships with new business partners, employers recommended more community outreach and attending business meetings or conferences to make them aware of the services VR has to offer.

What questions were we trying to answer?

With the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), it is more important than ever for VR agencies to develop long-term partnerships with businesses to increase employment for individuals with B/VI. Such partnerships can help overcome one of the biggest barriers to employment for these individuals: negative employer attitudes.

This project explored the VR-business relationship from the employer’s point of view. A group of employers, identified by a VR agency as currently employing at least one previous agency consumer with B/VI, were asked to describe their relationships with the agency. They were also asked about the ingredients that go into a strong VR agency-employer relationship and to make recommendations on how VR agencies can develop new relationships with employers.

What were the most important things we learned?

Overall, employers reported very positive experiences with VR. However, the extent of the relationship varied considerably among employers, with half reporting an ongoing relationship with the VR agency. Employers who said they had a more limited relationship with VR agencies indicated that the primary relationship was between the employee with B/VI and the agency. Although they were happy with the services provided by VR, they did not consider themselves to have a relationship with the VR agency.

Only one of the employers reported having a negative experience with VR. When asked to describe their complaint, this employer said she placed several calls to the VR representative she’d worked with and never received a response. When the employer finally called the VR main line, she was told that the person had retired, and the agency had failed to inform the employer of this fact.

When asked specifically about the factors that facilitate strong employer-VR relationships, employers gave a variety of responses that could be sorted into themes. Employers appreciated working with VR counselors who:

  • Developed a personal, one-on-one relationship with the employer
  • Were supportive and responsive to the employer’s needs
  • Provided assistance with assistive technology (AT)
  • Fostered candid conversations with employers when questions and concerns arose
  • Provided regular follow-up services to ensure employees were doing well
  • Referred job candidates who were qualified and truly ready to work
  • Understood the business perspective and were aware of the employer’s needs

Employers were also asked how VR agencies could provide additional support that would enable businesses to hire and retain individuals with B/VI. Employers recommended that VR agencies provide more assistance with transportation, updated AT for employees, and more education to employers about blindness and available accommodations.

When asked how VR counselors could develop new relationships with businesses, employers recommended counselors provide community outreach and attend large gatherings of employers, such as Chamber of Commerce meetings or Society of Human Resources Management conferences. The employers indicated the belief that most businesses don’t know about VR and the services they can provide, and that if more employers knew about these services, they would be interested in using them. By attending employer gatherings, VR counselors can make large numbers of businesses aware of their services and also demonstrate for them the workplace capabilities of individuals with B/VI.

When approaching a business about hiring someone with B/VI, employers recommended VR counselors provide education about accommodations and discuss how the job candidate could perform the job. Several employers suggested that counselors make HR their first point of contact and that, whenever possible, the first contact should be face-to-face (rather than through cold calls or email).

How can I incorporate these findings into my practice?

  • The importance of a strong personal connection between VR agencies and employers suggests VR personnel should approach businesses from the perspective of getting to know them and understanding their needs, rather than from the perspective of trying to sell them something.
  • Employers appreciate having a strong relationship with a VR counselor that lasts beyond the initial placement process. Counselors should make a point of following up on the consumers they’ve placed. Such follow-up builds trust with employers and could potentially lead to additional job placements for future consumers.
  • In order to develop new relationships with businesses, VR counselors should network as much as possible. Attending meetings of employers and/or human resources officers can be highly beneficial. When possible, counselors can give presentations that highlight VR services and the workplace potential of individuals with B/VI.
  • When a counselor retires or leaves the agency, the agency should be sure to notify their employer contacts of this change. Better still, before the counselor leaves, he or she should introduce employers to the VR counselor who will serve as their new point of contact. VR agencies should ensure that the employer contacts of staff who retire or leave their positions are not forgotten.

How was this study conducted?

Three state VR agencies were asked to provide contact information for employers with whom they have a positive relationship. These employers were contacted to participate in semi-structured interviews. A total of 12 interviews were used for this study.

Learn more

McDonnall, M. C., & Crudden, A. (2015). Building relationships with businesses: Recommendations from employers concerning persons who are blind/visually impaired. Journal of Rehabilitation, 81(3), 43-50.

Provide Feedback

Working with Business: Counselor Expectations, Actions, and Challenges

Research Takeaway: An important part of a vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor’s job is to work with businesses to provide employment assistance to individuals who are blind or visually impaired (BVI). Employment outcomes are improved when VR counselors establish long-term relationships and treat businesses as customers, and expectations for VR agency and business interactions continue to grow. Many VR counselors, however, are unprepared to effectively work with businesses and need additional training.

What Were We Trying to Learn?

The demand for VR agencies to work more closely with businesses has been increasing for years, and the recent passing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 requires that services provided to businesses expand even more. This project explored what is happening within agencies regarding interactions with business. Agency administrators and counselors who work with consumers who are BVI participated in surveys and interviews to help us learn about:

  • VR agency expectations for VR counselor engagement with businesses
  • VR counselor activities related to interacting with businesses
  • VR counselor challenges experienced when working with businesses

The results of this study give us a personal perspective of the issues facing VR agencies and counselors and the impact those issues have on building business relationships.

What are the most important things we learned?

Almost all agencies (91.5%) reported that VR counselors interact with businesses as part of their jobs. Networking and building relationships with businesses are important to a VR counselor’s job, but the guidelines for these business contacts are not the same across agencies.

Even though the majority of agencies (79.1%) report that business contacts should be ongoing and should not depend on having a consumer ready for employment, most agencies do not require a minimum number of contacts:

  • Only 34.9% of agencies require a specific number of monthly business contacts, with an average of 4.4 business contacts required per counselor.
  • Only 23.8% of agencies require participation in a specific number of community outreach events, such as job fairs and civic club meetings, with an average of 2.8 events required per counselor.

VR agency expectations for counselors vary, and VR counselor activities also vary across agencies. Counselors in this study spend on average 21% of their time working with businesses, with the majority of counselors spending 5% to 20%. The counselors indicated that they do participate in community outreach events, but only 32.5% participate on a regular basis (monthly or more frequently). Regarding services provided:

  • A majority of counselors (68.1%) provide one or more services to businesses on a regular basis.
  • The most commonly provided services were: education about blindness/visual impairment, referral of qualified applicants, and identifying and implementing accommodations.

VR counselors are expected to interact with businesses, but they face three major challenges: lack of comfort, lack of preparation/knowledge, and lack of time. Previous research has noted these challenges, but this study looked at how lack of preparation impacts business relationships. A majority of administrators (83.3%) indicated that their newly hired counselors are typically not prepared to work with businesses. Many agree that rehabilitation counseling degree programs are not preparing graduates well enough for this important role of a VR counselor.

Implications for Practice

  1. VR counselors should have regular contact with businesses. The more contact counselors have with employers, the more comfortable they will be become with this activity. The best way to build an ongoing relationship with a business is through regular contact. These relationships are important for improving consumer employment outcomes.
  2. Training is needed to ensure that VR counselors are prepared to effectively connect with businesses. Updates are needed to graduate programs to better prepare future counselors to interact with businesses. For now, agencies need to make sure that their counselors are prepared to handle the required business relations tasks. Counselors need training on how and when to communicate with businesses, the importance of attending community events, and guidelines for tracking their outreach activities.

How was this study conducted?

Surveys were conducted in 2011 with 47 VR agency administrators and in 2012 with 121 counselors. Interviews were conducted in 2013 with 6 administrators and 19 counselors.

Learn more

McDonnall, M. (2017). Working with business: Counselor expectations, actions, and challenges. Rehabilitation Research, Policy and Education, 31(2), 135-145. DOI: 10.1891/2168-6653.31.2.135.

For more information about the VR Agency-Employer project, including links to online short courses and a practice guide, see the project overview page: Effectiveness of VR Agency-Employer Interaction Practices.

Provide Feedback

How Do VR Services Received by Consumers who are SSDI Recipients Impact Their Employment Outcomes?

Research Takeaway: The vocational rehabilitation (VR) services received by Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients with blindness or visual impairments (BVI) can have a significant impact on the likelihood that these individuals will secure competitive employment. Receipt of some VR services increases the odds of finding employment, while others are associated with decreased odds. The services needed and received by an individual may serve as a signal to their VR counselors about where they are in the process of becoming job-ready and the level of effort that may be required to help that consumer successfully re-enter the workforce.

What were we trying to learn?

One-third of the individuals with BVI who enter the VR system are SSDI recipients. SSDI payments are provided to individuals with disabilities who are unable to work; in order to qualify, an individual must have substantial work experience. Traditionally, SSDI recipients have been viewed as less likely to become employed, due to the assumption that individuals who are receiving government benefits will be reluctant to give those up by taking a job.

This study sought to better understand the employment outcomes of individuals who are (a) BVI, (b) in the VR system, and (c) SSDI recipients by exploring whether the services received from VR are linked to whether an individual is more or less likely to find employment. Both the SSDI and VR programs face budgetary constraints, and these findings can be valuable for VR agencies helping individuals leave the benefit rolls to re-enter the workforce.

What are the most important things we learned?

Our analysis showed that VR services tend to be provided in four clusters or groupings:

  • Special and remedial services : Receiving services in this cluster was associated with lower odds of employment. Receiving more services in this category indicates that anindividual may be facing a substantial barrier to employment which requires intensive efforts to overcome.
    Services in this cluster include reader, personal attendant, and interpreter services; basic academic remedial or literacy training (“remedial services”); and college or university training.
  • Job-related services : Receiving more services in this cluster was associated with higher odds of employment, especially in states with high unemployment rates. These services are generally given to those who have demonstrated that they are “job-ready.” As a result, it is not surprising that receipt of these services strongly predicts employment success. Services in this cluster include job placement assistance, job search assistance, on-the-job supports, job readiness training, and on-the-job training.
  • Evaluation : Receiving more services in this cluster was not associated with employment, one way or another. Services in this cluster include information and referral services, VR counseling and guidance, technical assistance services, and assessment.
  • Training and supports : Receiving more services in this cluster was associated with greater odds of employment. This category of services may be used to provide job-seekers with the technology and extra assistance they need to secure a job, thus linking it to positive employment outcomes. Services in this cluster include rehabilitation technology, other services, transportation services, maintenance, occupational/vocational training, miscellaneous training, and disability-related augmentative skills training.

Our analysis also showed that some specific VR services within the four clusters are positively related to employment outcomes for SSDI recipients who are BVI. The following VR services were shown to indicate improved odds of securing competitive employment:

  • Job placement, such as a referral for a job interview
  • Job search assistance, such as identifying jobs or resume preparation
  • On-the-job supports, which are usually services to help an individual already on the job
  • On-the-job training, such as paid training in specific job skills
  • Counseling and guidance
  • Rehabilitation technology, such as assistive technology that can be used on the job
  • Other services, which could include a wide range of supports or medical care not included in other categories
  • Maintenance, such as monetary support for items related to job-seeking (e.g., clothing, relocation costs).

In the same way, other individual services within the clusters were shown to indicate decreased odds an individual will find competitive employment:

  • Reader services, such as reading aloud or transcription into braille
  • Interpreter services, which are usually received by individuals who are deaf-blind
  • Job readiness training, including basic training on appropriate work behavior, timeliness, and dress and grooming
  • Augmentative skills training, including orientation and mobility, braille, and use of low vision aids
  • Assessment, which includes determination of eligibility for VR services and/or determining details of which services are needed.

How can I incorporate these findings into practice?

The services that were shown to decrease the odds of employment for SSDI recipients who are BVI can serve as “red flags” for VR service providers. If a consumer requires one or more of these services, it may be an indication that they will need extra time and effort to find employment. However, although receipt of these services may signal a consumer who is “at risk,” they can still achieve success. For example, an analysis of consumers who received job-readiness training found that consumers who were younger or had more work experience were still able to achieve employment at normal rates.

Our analysis found that job-related services are especially meaningful when unemployment (and thus competition for jobs) is high. Service providers in states with tight economies may want to consider boosting provision of job-related services to provide their clients with the extra edge they need to compete successfully in the workforce.

The results of this study also reinforce that idea that, rather than SSDI recipients being unpromising job candidates, they can experience great success on the job market. In our study, SSDI recipients with BVI had an employment rate of 45%, compared to a 52% employment rate for non-SSDI recipients. This demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, SSDI recipients are able to achieve employment success at rates close to those of their non-recipient peers. Service providers serving clients who are SSDI-recipients should maintain high expectations for their employment success. Staff interactions with employers proved to be far more important for employment outcomes than agency policy or practice. This drives home the point that regular, positive contact with employers is the best way to improve employment outcomes for consumers who are BVI. VR counselors in particular should be encouraged to consider interacting with employers to be an essential part of their job, and VR agency administrators should ensure that counselors have the resources, training, and time they need to make this happen.

How was this project carried out?

We studied 3,610 SSDI recipients with BVI who were closed by a VR agency in FY 2011. Our data came from case service records in the RSA-911 data set. Various analysis techniques were used to determine patterns in service delivery and which services predict employment.

Learn More

Giesen, J. M., & Hierholzer, A. (in press). Vocational rehabilitation services and employment for SSDI beneficiaries with visual impairments. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation

Provide Feedback

Study of Employment Outcomes for SSDI Beneficiaries Reveals Better Employment Outcomes for Consumers Served in Blind Agencies, 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 the chances of getting a job. In addition, some individuals from specific groups were more likely to have competitive employment outcomes when they were served by a blind (rather than a combined) Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency. Thus, services oriented specifically for consumers who are blind or visually impaired seem to be most effective for this population.

Research Question

What are the factors affecting competitive employment outcomes for individuals with blindness and low vision who 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 consumers’ 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 competitive sector employment after receiving VR services. This surprising finding suggests that no matter an individual’s race or ethnicity, prior work experience can 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 previous experience on the job.
  3. Some consumers served in blind agencies had a better chance of a competitive employment outcome than their peers served in combined agencies. Consumers tend to see a decline in competitive employment as they age. However, this study found the decline in employment was much less dramatic and mostly eliminated for older, SSDI recipient consumers who were served by a blind agency. Female and Asian Americans individuals who are blind also had better employment outcomes when served by blind agencies. Blind agencies provide categorical services that are oriented specifically for consumers who are visually impaired, and these services are provided by counselors experienced with and focused on serving consumers who are visually impaired. Thus we expect that categorical blindness services wherever provided—even those provided in agencies other than blind agencies—will be most beneficial to blind consumers receiving SSDI and probably to blind consumers in general.

Implications for Practice

  1. Encourage work experience for consumers whenever and wherever you can. Even work experiences such as internships (both paid and unpaid), apprenticeships, and job shadowing can allow individuals to gain some experience in the workplace. A focus on work experience opportunities for transition-age consumers as they enter the VR system, perhaps through partnerships with education agencies or through summer transition programs that include work components, could be particularly beneficial.
  2. Consumers who receive SSDI make excellent job candidates due to their previous employment experience, but they may need help understanding how returning to work impacts their benefits. Although SSDI benefits may be lost due to employment, there are a number of supports (e.g., Medicaid buy-in programs) in place to help individuals return to work without suffering a large financial blow. When working with a consumer who receives SSDI, try offering benefits planning services to help reduce their uncertainty and fear about returning to work. The many resources available at are a great place to start.

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.

Provide Feedback

Exploring the Most Effective Strategies for Working with Employers to Improve Employment for Consumers with Blindness and Low Vision

Research Takeaway: The way Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselors and business relations (BR) staff interact with employers matters. Employment outcomes for individuals who are blind or visually impaired (BVI) are improved when VR counselors treat employers like customers and when BR staff use blindness-specific techniques when working with employers.

What were we trying to learn?

Employment rates for individuals who are BVI are currently, and have been historically, much lower than the employment rate for the general population. Therefore, it is essential to understand what people who work with the BVI population can do to more effectively help them find jobs.

A big part a VR counselor’s job is to work with employers, and there is an increased focus on emphasizing employer engagement within the VR system. We wanted to know if the way counselors interact with employers makes a difference in employment rates for VR consumers who are BVI. This study focused on the Business Relations Model (BRM), which posits that counselors should treat employers as customers and consider their unique needs. Although the BRM approach is anecdotally considered to be effective, there is very little research to back up this claim.

We were also interested in the way BR staff work with employers. Some VR agencies employ BR staff to serve as the primary liaisons with local employers. However, many BR staff don’t have specific training in BVI, so we wanted to see how effective they were at helping individuals who are BVI secure employment. We looked to see if employment rates for consumers who are BVI were affected by BR staff use of three blindness-specific techniques:

  • Providing education about how individuals who are BVI function on the job
  • Exposing businesses to people who are BVI
  • Providing referrals to other businesses that employ someone who is BVI

What are the most important things we learned?

  1. The approach VR counselors use when working with employers does indeed influence employment rates for consumers who are BVI. Consumers had better employment outcomes when their VR counselors used the BRM approach when working with employers.
  2. Consumers who are BVI also had better employment outcomes when BR staff used blindness-specific techniques, such as talking about how workers who are BVI complete workplace tasks.
  3. Agencies that reported creating BRM-inspired policies did not necessarily have better employment outcomes for their consumers. This indicates that the way individual VR counselors and BR staff interact with employers is more important than overall agency policy.

What does this mean for me?

  1. Many VR counselors report feeling uncomfortable and unsure of themselves when interacting with employers. However, this is one of the most important aspects of their job. Using the BRM approach and treating employers like customers can create positive outcomes for consumers. Counselors may wish to receive training in using BRM from BR staff or from more experienced counselors.
  2. BR staff might be experts in BRM, but they may not know much about blindness and low vision. Blindness is a unique disability that requires alternative techniques and technology to accommodate it. In order to help them be more effective at creating successful placements for consumers who are BVI, BR staff need training in issues related to blindness, such as blindness-specific technology and the ways employees who are BVI complete workplace tasks. BR staff can then pass this information along to employers, thus improving employment outcomes for BVI individuals.
  3. This study demonstrated the effectiveness of the BRM approach, and VR agency administrators should strongly consider emphasizing this technique. However, administrators should keep in mind that real change has to happen with individual counselors. Simply setting agency policy or creating new guidelines won’t be enough to boost employment outcomes for consumers who are BVI. Individual counselors need to buy into the changes and modify their approaches to employers.
  4. In VR agencies that serve consumers with a broad range of disabilities, it may be worthwhile to track employment outcomes for BVI consumers separately. This would allow agencies to determine which counselors and BR staff are most effective at working with this unique population.
  5. Staff interactions with employers proved to be far more important for employment outcomes than agency policy or practice. This drives home the point that regular, positive contact with employers is the best way to improve employment outcomes for consumers who are BVI. VR counselors in particular should be encouraged to consider interacting with employers to be an essential part of their job, and VR agency administrators should ensure that counselors have the resources, training, and time they need to make this happen.

How was this project carried out?

We surveyed over 200 VR counselors and BR staff across the country about their approaches to interacting with employers. The surveys focused on the BRM approach and blindness-specific approaches. We then linked this data with outcome data (RSA-911 case service) for consumers who are BVI in the VR system in order to determine how approaches to working with employers impacted employment outcomes.

Learn More

McDonnall, M.C. (2015). The relationship between vocational rehabilitation professionals' interactions with businesses and employment outcomes for consumers who are blind or visually impaired. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1177/0034355215586389

Provide Feedback

Improving Employment Outcomes by Connecting With Businesses

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies are increasingly focused on building and maintaining employer relationships in order to support employment of individuals with disabilities. Employers were surveyed about their interactions with VR and their hiring of people who are blind or visually impaired (BVI). Employers who reported contact with VR agencies were more likely to have hired an individual with BVI and to intend to hire from among this population in the future. These results provide empirical support for the importance of VR professionals making and maintaining relationships with employers.

What were we trying to learn?

This study sought to determine whether contact with VR agencies was associated with employers’ attitudes towards individuals with BVI and employers’ hiring history or intent to hire such individuals in the future. Although thought to be important, no studies have empirically documented the impact of VR agency engagement with employers.

What are the most important things we learned?

Relationships between VR agencies and employers were found to positively affect employment outcomes for and attitudes toward individuals with BVI in a number of ways:

  1. Previous Hires – Employers who had contact with VR were more likely to have previously hired someone with BVI.
  2. Intent to Hire – Employers who had contact with VR, and especially those who reported an ongoing relationship with a VR agency, were more likely to plan to hire someone with BVI in the future.
  3. Employer Attitudes – Employers who had contact with VR that included specific discussions of BVI were more likely to have a positive attitude about people with BVI as employees, with employers who reported ongoing relationships having the most positive attitudes.
  4. Decision to Hire – Employers gave a number of reasons for hiring employees with BVI. By far the most commonly reported reason was that the person was qualified for the job or the best candidate. Other reasons were that the employer had empathy or compassion for the person and the employer wanted to provide equal opportunity.
The results of this study provide strong evidence for the importance of building relationships with businesses. Building and maintaining ongoing relationships with businesses may improve employers’ attitudes towards, and hiring behaviors associated with, individuals with BVI.

How Can I Incorporate These Findings Into Practice?

  1. Cultivate connections with employers. Contact between VR and employers is important, and the impact of a strong, ongoing relationship may be even more beneficial. VR professionals who build and maintain connections with employers can help hiring managers develop a more positive outlook toward hiring individuals with BVI.
  2. Talk to employers about BVI. VR professionals should specifically discuss individuals who are BVI with employers, especially if their VR agency serves consumers with a variety of disabilities. Hiring managers need specific information about how a person who is BVI can thrive in the workplace, and VR professionals should be prepared to answer employers’ questions. Providing BVI-specific information may improve employers’ attitudes toward this population.

How was this project carried out?

We conducted an online survey with 382 employers, including hiring managers, executives, and human resources personnel, from across the country. We asked about their interactions with VR, their history of hiring and intent to hire people with BVI, and their attitudes towards these individuals as employees.

Learn More

McDonnall, M.C. (2017).The relationship between employer contact with vocational rehabilitation and hiring decisions about individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Journal of Rehabilitation, 83(1), 50-58.

For more information about this project, including links to a practice guide, online short courses, and other publications, visit the project overview page: Effectiveness of VR Agency-Employer Interaction Practices.

Provide Feedback

Utilizing Mentors in the Job Placement Process

One strategy for improving the employment success of graduates is connecting them with successful mentors who are blind in their profession of interest.

Read More

Mentors can help students with visual impairments develop skills, knowledge, and motivation as they transition from college to employment.

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 for many of these students, a college degree does not always lead to a rewarding career in their chosen profession. College students with visual impairments may lack a clear understanding of what specific careers require on a day-to-day basis. Students may also lack understanding about how their blindness could impact job seeking activities and on-the-job performance. Students will often graduate from college without having had the chance to get on-the-job experiences. Graduates may have difficulty finding employment or be underemployed.

Learn how to assist consumers transitioning to employment by exploring our resources below.

Download and read our Mentoring Manual to learn:

  • About the mentoring relationship
  • How job seekers can benefit from a mentoring relationship
  • How to set up a mentoring relationship
  • Tips for making a mentoring relationship successful

If you’re working with a consumer with blindness or low vision who is looking for employment, our Job Seeker’s Resource Sheet can provide them with information such as:

  • Information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, disclosing a disability, and asking for an accommodation at work
  • Websites to connect 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.

For other NRTC publications on employment:


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