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


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Employment Outcomes and Job Quality of Vocational Rehabilitation Consumers With Deaf-Blindness

Research Takeaway: For many people who are deaf-blind, finding a high-quality job is a challenge. We found a number of factors that are linked to better employment outcomes for these individuals.

What Were We Trying to Learn?

To date, no research exists on the employment outcomes of vocational rehabilitation (VR) consumers who are deaf-blind. Our study is the first to look at both the factors that make it more likely that deaf-blind VR consumers will find jobs and the factors that are linked to higher quality jobs for these individuals. To determine job quality, we considered whether the job provided medical insurance and a living wage as well as how the pay compared to median hourly wages in the individual’s state.

What Are The Most Important Things We Learned?

Our study focused on both employment outcomes and job quality among individuals who are deaf-blind. We looked at individual factors (such as age or gender) and VR-related factors (such as the VR services a person received and the type of VR agency in which they were served).

Among the people in our study’s sample, more than half had a job at the time their VR case was closed. About a quarter of these individuals (26.0%) received medical insurance through their jobs. On average, those with jobs earned 96% of the living wage in their state.

Employment outcomes: We found a number of factors that were positively linked to finding employment:

  1. Higher levels of education
  2. Self as the primary source of support at the time the individual applied to VR
  3. Being competitively employed at the time the individual applied to VR (if the person did not have a cognitive disability)
  4. Getting and educational degree or certificate while receiving VR services
  5. Receiving job-placement assistance from VR
  6. Receiving job-search assistance from VR
  7. Receiving on-the-job supports - short term from VR
  8. Receiving on-the-job supports - supported employment from VR
  9. Receiving counseling and guidance from VR

Three factors were associated with lower odds of finding a job:

  1. Female gender
  2. Physical disability in addition to being deaf-blind
  3. Receiving VR services from a combined agency that serves people of all disability types (as compared to a seperate agency that serves only those with blindness or visual impairment or a general agency that serves people with all disabilities other than blindness or visual impairment)

Job quality: Similarly, a number of factors in our study were linked to higher job quality:

  1. Higher levels of education
  2. Older age
  3. Self as the primary source of support at the time the individual applied to VR

Five factors were found to be related to lower job quality:

  1. Female gender
  2. Receiving Supplemental Security Income benefits
  3. Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits
  4. Receiving on-the-job supports - short term from VR
  5. Receiving on-the-job supports - supported employment from VR

How Do These Findings Relate to Me?

  1. Pursue your education. Receiving a degree or certificate while in VR significantly improved the odds of employment. Higher levels of education were linked with higher quality jobs. For these reasons, it is a good idea to advance your own education. Ask your VR counselor to help you connect with the disability support services at your educational institution and get the assistive technology you need. While completing a degree or certificate may take time, this investment is worthwhile.
  2. Know the risk factors for poor employment outcomes. If you are a woman or if you have physical disabilities, you may wish to ask for extra help to reach your employment goals. Do not give up on work as an option for you and set ambitious career goals. Ask your VR counselor to connect you with a deaf-blind individual who is currently employed and who can serve as a career mentor for you.
  3. Ask to receive VR services that are linked to positive employment outcomes. Job- related services, such as job-placement assistance and job-search assistance, were associated in our study with higher odds of finding employment. Ask your VR counselor about receiving these services.
  4. Ask your VR counselor for counseling and guidance. Counseling and guidance from VR counselors was linked in our study to higher odds of finding employment. Be sure that you can communicate with your counselor using your preferred mode of communication. If you receive disability benefits, you can also benefit from counseling and guidance. Ask your VR counselor about work incentives that can help you earn at your full potential.

How Was This Project Carried Out?

We used data from the Rehabilitation Services Administration Case Service Report (RSA-911) database. Our sample included 1,382 deaf-blind VR consumers whose cases were closed during fiscal years 2013, 2014, or 2015. All members of the sample were between ages 18 and 67.

Learn More?

Findings taken from the following article: McDonnall, M.C., & Cmar, J. (2018).Employment outcomes and job quality of vocational rehabilitation consumers with deaf-blindness.Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/003455218769461.

For more information about this project, visit the project overview page: Exploration of Secondary Data to Increase our Knowledge About Subpopulations of Individuals who are Blind or Visually Impaired and WIOA Impacts. For additional deaf-blindness resources, visit our products page.

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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.

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 If you have any questions about the program, please contact the NRTC staff at 662-325-2001 or by email at

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.

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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 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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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 was the Reason for This Study?

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 Results From This Study?

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 preparation and job-seeking activities.

How Can I Use the Findings From This Study?

  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. (2018). College graduates with visual impairments: A report on seeking and finding employment. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 112(1), 33-45.

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

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