Careers in Non-Medical Blindness Related Professions
Blindness is a unique low incidence disability, and those who are blind or severely visually impaired need to acquire special compensatory skills in order to best achieve productive and meaningful lives. The development of these skills is best accomplished when the individual is given the opportunity to receive education and vocational rehabilitation services provided by qualified specialists. There is a national shortage of such specialists. However, graduate level fellowships and stipends are available to assist in the recruitment and training of such professionals.
This is a listing of major non-medical blindness related professions and the qualifications and job outlook of those professions. A listing of Colleges and Universities which provide training is available to supplement this list and a list of current job openings can be found on the Spedex Webpage and the National Rehabilitation Recruitment Center. Certification requirements for Orientation and Mobility specialist, Low Vision Therapist, and Vision Rehabilitation Therapist can be obtained from the Academy for Certification of Rehabilitation and Education Professionals. Information is available from The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) and will be updated as it becomes available.
- Assistive Technology (AT) Specialist or Computer Access Technology (CAT) Specialist
- DeafBlind Specialist
- Low Vision Therapist
- Orientation and Mobility (O & M) Specialist
- Rehabilitation Counselor for the Blind (RCB)
- Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (VRT)
- Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI)
- Vocational Evaluator
Assistive Technology (AT) Specialist or Computer Access Technology (CAT) Specialist
Basic Job Description: Assistive Technology is defined as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities." [20 U.S.C. Chapter 33, Section 1401 (25)]. Assistive Technology services provided by an AT specialist include:
- Evaluating the needs of an individual with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the individual in the individual's customary environment; purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by individuals with disabilities;
- selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing of assistive technology services;
- coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs;
- training or technical assistance for individuals with disabilities, or, where appropriate, the family of an individual with a disability; and
- training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing educational and rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of individuals with disabilities.
Educational Requirements: 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, specifically braille, speech, and large print, is usually required.
Certification Requirements: Currently there is a certification procedure through the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America to certify persons as AT providers or AT Specialists. The certification is cross-disability and has very little information related to vision needs. For this reason, the field of blindness is exploring methods of assuring quality AT services.
Employment Outlook: This is a popular career area for persons with low vision. There is tremendous need of instructors and persons who can prescribe the proper technology for an individual's needs. Again, familiarity with computer access technology for persons with low vision-related needs, specifically braille, speech, and large print, is usually required.
Salary Ranges: Salary ranges for AT Specialists vary tremendously depending upon geographic location and educational credentials. Rehabilitation engineers are usually employed at the upper end. Salaries range from $25,000 to $55,000.
Basic Job Description: A Deafblind Specialist may specialize in working with either children or adults. The major barriers for persons who are deafblind are communication and orientation and mobility so employment would focus on knowledge in those specific areas. Those who work with children are responsible for assessment, instructional planning, teaching communication and orientation and mobility skills, as well as language and concept acquisition. Those working with adults concentrate on communication skills, activities of daily living, job skills, supportive employment, and leisure activities. Some of those working with persons who are deafblind are Vision Rehabilitation Therapists, Rehabilitation Counselors, and O&M Instructors who have enhanced their skills to include knowledge of manual communication and deafblindness.
Educational Requirements: Deafblind 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. Currently there are a few programs that have majors in deafblindness, in education, or a certificate in adult services although many students will double major in sensory disabilities or take interpreter training in addition to their educational program. Some have educational backgrounds in O&M, Vision Rehabilitation Therapy, Job Placement, Teacher of the Visually Handicapped, Multi-Handicapped Children, Sensory Disabilities, Rehabilitation Counseling, or a related major. One additional area of expertise is that of an Intervener or Interpreter which is an educational Interpreter specializing in deafblindness. Most Interveners have a bachelor's degree in a related field.
Employment Settings: Deafblind Specialists working with children may be employed in Early Intervention Programs that require working with families in their home or in preschool settings. Those working with school age children may work as Itinerant Teachers or in a centralized school setting. Those working with transition age students may have an emphasis on supportive employment and community based instructional programs. Those working with adults may be employed with state agencies, private agencies, Development Disabilities Councils, or the Helen Keller National Center for DeafBlind Youth and Adults.
Certification Requirements: Depending upon the particular position, Deafblind Specialists are required to have fluency in sign language or certification as teachers, or have a related area of knowledge. There are currently few certification requirements apart from a few State Departments of Education. Interpreters and Intervenors, and some instructional staff may be required to be certified through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) or a State Screening Board.
Employment Outlook: The outlook for supportive employment coaches and teachers is good. However, employment is concentrated within specific geographical areas when working with adults.
Salary Ranges: Rates of pay vary from Interpreters at $25.00 per hour to $75.00 per hour for persons with experience and related credentials. The entry range for Specialists is from $32,000 to $50,000, depending on geographical location and credentials.
Low Vision Therapist
Career Area: Low Vision Therapist
Basic Job Description: A Low Vision Therapist (LVT) works closely with eye care professionals to assist persons with vision loss in the proper acquisition and use of low vision aids. Persons with some residual vision are often able to benefit from the use of prescriptive magnification aids. Low Vision Therapists help them maximize the use of such aids. LVTs also act as liaisons with the manufacturers of low vision aids. Much of their work is with older persons.
Employment Settings: Low Vision Therapists are usually affiliated with a Low Vision Clinic under the supervision of either an Ophthalmologist or an Optometrist. They sometimes travel to the homes or employment of individuals to provide training, and they are sometimes located in rehabilitation centers. Some Vision Rehabilitation Therapists and O&M Specialists will also have certification in Low Vision and use those skills to enhance their area of instruction.
Educational Requirements: A bachelor's degree is required with some experience with persons with low vision. For this reason, many blindness professionals will add the required certification on to their credentials. There are often Occupational Therapists who add on certification. Low Vision programs exist at Salus University and at the University of Alabama at Birmingham for OTs.
Certification Requirements: Certification is usually essential to be employed as a Low Vision Therapist. Although some Low Vision Clinics have trained their own staff, the certification process is through the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals.
Employment Outlook: As the population ages, the need for qualified professionals who can provide low vision training and service will also grow.
Salary Ranges: The salary range depends on geographic location and experience. Entry level positions range from $25,000 to $35,000.
Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist
Basic Job Description: An O&M Specialist works with blind and visually impaired persons of all ages to assist them in learning to travel safely and gracefully through the environment. They provide assessments, develop instructional programs and provide basic instruction, as well as assist people in learning community transportation systems. The primary emphasis is on techniques of safe travel which may involve teaching the proper use of a white cane, community orientation in the use of guide dogs, or safety techniques for moving around in familiar areas. A new area of emphasis is bioptic driving training for persons with low vision.
Employment Settings: O&M Specialists work in schools, agencies for the blind, and sometimes as freelance instructors. Instruction is almost always one-on-one and involves walking and traveling in the out of doors in all weather conditions. Some instructors are employed in school systems as dual O&M Specialists/Teachers of the Visually Impaired.
Educational Requirements: An O&M Specialist is usually required to have a bachelor's or master's degree in Orientation and Mobility from an accredited college or approved program.
Certification Requirements: Certification is critical for O&M Specialists because of the liability in teaching someone to travel safely. In order to be protected with liability insurance, O&M Specialists are required to be certified. Some O&M Specialists are dually certified as Teachers of the Visually Impaired. The certification requirements are available from the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals and The National Blindness Professional Certification Board
Employment Outlook: There is a critical national shortage of qualified O&M Specialist, especially in the school system. The employment outlook is excellent.
Salary Ranges: Certified O&M Specialists can expect salaries between $35,000 and $60,000 depending on experience. Those within the school system are often employed for 9 months. Those employed by agencies serving adults are typically on 12 month contracts.
Rehabilitation Counselor for the Blind (RCB)
Career Area: Rehabilitation Counselor for the Blind (RCB).
Basic Job Description: A Rehabilitation Counselor for the Blind works with adults with vision-related needs who are seeking vocational advice, training, and job placement services. Responsibilities of the RCB include the provision of case management services including evaluation of vocational goals, counseling in adjustment to blindness and career counseling, development of rehabilitation plans, supervising the financial provision of services, and job placement.
Employment Settings: Rehabilitation Counselors (RC) are primarily employed in three settings. As part of the state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Programs, they are responsible for providing services that culminate in the employment of persons who are blind. Although actual counseling is often a minor part of the job, RCs are involved in helping individuals with disabilities return to active and productive lives. Some states have separate VR services for persons who are blind, other states integrate services for persons who are blind into services for persons with other disabilities. Within these programs, RCs may have caseloads made up only of individuals with vision loss, or they may have cross-disability caseloads. The second setting for employing RCs is private insurance programs or for-profit agencies. The third setting is non-profit rehabilitation agencies for the blind. In that setting, counselors are usually more involved in adjustment counseling for persons with vision loss.
Educational Requirements: Rehabilitation Counseling requires counseling skills, and most employers prefer someone with a master's in Rehabilitation Counseling or a related field. Occasionally, some agencies will hire persons with a bachelor's degree in Counseling or Psychology. However, recent legislative mandates have emphasized the importance of qualified professionals working as Rehabilitation Counselors. Thus, some of the position requirements are being upgraded to reflect the change.
Certification Requirements: Credentialing as a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) is available through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counseling Certification and requires a written exam, and a master's degree in Rehabilitation Counseling or a related major. There is no blindness specialty in the certification process. However, candidates are required to be knowledgeable of all disability areas.
Employment Outlook: The number of Rehabilitation Counselors will likely maintain the current level. However, employment settings may be more varied in future years. The credentialing process (CRC) is becoming more important to obtaining and maintaining employment. Current positions are listed at the Rehabilitation Recruitment Center in Oklahoma.
Salary Ranges: There is a tremendous range in salary level depending on geographical area of the country, educational credentials, and whether or not the person has a CRC. The entry level salaries range from $28,000 to $45,000.
Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (VRT)
Basic Job Description: A Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (VRT) is a person who teaches adults who are blind or visually impaired the compensatory life skills to compensate for vision loss. The VRT is responsible for evaluation of training needs, the development of training needs, teaching in individual and/or group settings, and community education about blindness and low vision. VRTs work with newly blinded individuals and those who have grown up with vision-related needs. The majority of persons with vision loss are older persons. Unless VRTs are employed to work with a specific age group, they frequently work with older persons.
Specific areas of instruction taught by VRTs include Communication (braille, handwriting, operation of Assistive Technology and Computer Access Technology, etc.); Personal Management (grooming, hygiene, clothing organization, and identification, etc.); Activities of Daily Living (cooking, cleaning, shopping, safety, money organization and management, etc.); Leisure and Recreation (hobbies, woodworking, crafts, sports, etc.); and Adjustment to Blindness Counseling.
Employment Settings: VRTs can be employed in rehabilitation centers where they usually teach in one specific area such as braille or Assistive Technology. They may also be employed as Itinerant Vision Rehabilitation Therapists where they teach primarily in homes or community settings of their students. Itinerant VRTs usually teach one-on-one and cover all areas of instruction. Sometimes they are involved in training people in new work settings or in working with college students on study skills. Most VRTs are employed in public or private agencies serving adults who are blind or visually impaired. There are specific programs in each state, and a listing of state agencies for the blind is available on this website. Some VRTs are employed by Centers for Independent Living and specialize in working with older adults. There are special programs for older persons with vision loss that are available in all 50 states. A listing of these programs is obtained by checking the website for Independent Living Programs.
Educational Requirements: There are colleges and universities that provide both bachelor's and master's degrees in Rehabilitation Teaching / Vision Rehabilitation Therapy. These programs are only able to meet a small percentage of the need, so many VRTs are employed who majored in related professions such as Education, Home Economics, Psychology, Sociology, and Food Science. Employment usually requires that VRTs are college graduates. Many persons with vision loss find this a rewarding career area.
Certification Requirements: Certification criteria are currently undergoing changes. Less than 40% of Vision Rehabilitation Therapists are currently certified. This has been an on-going issue in the field. In the future, there will likely be more emphasis on certification for Vision Rehabilitation Therapists. To receive more information about certification, refer to the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professions.
Employment Outlook: Blindness is age related, and over 65% of those who are blind are over 55 years of age. As America ages, this profession is expanding and the need for qualified professions is growing. There is a current trend to train workers in existing agencies, and the professional standards are expected to become more of a concern. Funding sources are beginning to link funding of programs to the expertise of program staff.
Salary Ranges: A certified VRT with a master's degree can expect a starting salary in the range of $25,000 to $35,000 per year. Salaries vary with experience and training.
Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI)
Basic Job Description: Most TVIs work as itinerant teachers serving children who are blind or visually impaired in mainstreamed school settings. TVIs also work with infants and preschool children in home and/or school settings. The primary focus of instruction is on teaching compensatory skills including pre-braille and braille instruction, communication skills, and study skills. In addition, TVIs consult with regular classroom teachers on methods that enhance the acquisition of knowledge usually acquired from visual means. TVIs provide functional vision evaluations and other educational assessments, write educational plans, work with families and insure the acquisition of educational materials in accessible media. There is a growing trend for TVIs to also be certified in Orientation and Mobility, Severely Multi-handicapped, Low Vision, or Assistive Technology.
Educational Requirements: TVIs are required to have a bachelor's and/or master's degree and appropriate teaching credentials.
Employment Settings: Most itinerant teachers are employed by public school systems and serve students placed in a variety of schools placements. Some TVIs are employed as early intervention specialists and work with families in their own homes or preschool settings. In addition, some are employed by state residential schools for the blind where there would be a concentration of students in one geographical area. Those with Orientation and Mobility certification may also do some private contract work during the summer.
Certification Requirements: TVIs are certified through state Departments of Education in the state in which they are located. Information on certification can be obtained through the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Certification includes a test and educational requirements.
Employment Outlook: The employment outlook for teachers of the visually handicapped is excellent in almost every state. There is a growing number of students with vision loss, especially those with multiple disabilities. Thus, the need for teachers with specific knowledge is also growing. Job listings are available through Spedex.
Salary Ranges: Most TVIs are employed on a 9-month basis and salary levels may vary contingent on additional certifications such as Low Vision Clinician, Orientation and Mobility, braille, etc. The salary ranges from $25,000 to $65,000 depending upon geographic location, certifications, length of contract and experience.
Basic Job Description: A Vocational Evaluator is responsible for the assessment of knowledge, skills and aptitude of persons who are blind or visually impaired, and for working with individuals to determine vocational goals. This is usually done through the administration of a variety of tests, and coordinated with a Rehabilitation Counselor. Most Vocational Evaluators are knowledgeable in all areas of disability and can specialize in vision-related areas. However, there is no degree specifically in vision-related assessment.
Educational Requirements: A Vocational Evaluator must have the knowledge of psychometric tests and evaluation procedures. Most positions usually require a master's degree in Vocational Evaluation.
Certification Requirements: There are no certification standards specific to blindness and low vision; however, there are general Vocational Evaluation certifications based on examinations and educational background.
Employment Outlook: There is a good employment outlook for Vocational Evaluators who have expertise in all disability areas; however, the outlook is very limited in careers that are specific to blindness and low vision.
Salary Ranges: Depending upon geographic location, certification, and experience, salaries can range from $25,000 to $45,000 per year.