More on... Business Enterprise Program

Survey of Business Enterprise Program Directors Reveals Core Training Needs for National Online Training Curriculum

Research Takeaway- Business Enterprise Program (BEP) directors see the most pressing training needs for BEP staff in the areas of marketing, customer service, and communication skills. Taking these needs into account, the National Research and Training Center (NRTC) on Blindness and Low Vision is in the process of creating a national online training curriculum that can be used free of charge by BEP staff across the country.

What is the BEP? Created by the Randolph-Sheppard legislation of 1936, the BEP gives priority to blind entrepreneurs to run food service facilities located on federal property. In later years, the program expanded to include state, county, and municipal facilities as well. Today, over 2,300 legally blind BEP entrepreneurs work as self-employed business owners who successfully operate a wide range of facilities, from vending machine routes to full-service cafeterias. BEP staff work closely with entrepreneurs to troubleshoot problems and provide advice and ongoing training.

Research Question- What are the most important training topics that need to be covered by BEP staff members?

Project Description- BEP staff take part in trainings in order to refresh their skills and enhance their ability to provide advice and guidance to BEP entrepreneurs. Forty-four BEP program directors from across the country responded to a survey regarding the most pressing training needs for BEP staff. As part of the survey, directors were asked to rank the importance of 17 potential training topics.

Major Research Findings

  1. State directors identified business management and interpersonal skills as the top two most important categories of BEP staff training. Within these broad categories, marketing and customer service and communication skills were identified as the most essential training topics. These are all areas where BEP staff work closely with entrepreneurs to improve their business practice and outcomes.
  2. Online distance learning is the most-preferred method for conducting training. Forty-one percent of directors who responded to the survey felt that online training would be the most effective way of conducting training for staff.

Implications for Practice

  1. Consumers who are interested in areas such as business and marketing make excellent candidates for the BEP. Working as a BEP entrepreneur offers consumers the chance to be self-employed, independent business operators while still receiving support and training from the larger BEP community. Many BEP entrepreneurs run very successful businesses that allow them to achieve financial independence and job satisfaction.
  2. National Online Training Curriculum for Randolph-Sheppard (R-S) Business Enterprise Program (BEP) Staff is now online. Designed to help orient new BEP staff members to the Randolph-Sheppard Program, anyone, including blind entrepreneurs and vocational rehabilitation staff, is welcome to take all or part of the course. The course is composed of 14 individual modules, each covering an important aspect of the R-S program. An overall certificate of completion may be requested when a student successfully completes and passes all module quizzes with a score of 80% or better. There is no fee associated with taking and completing individual modules or the entire course.

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Findings taken from the following article:

Bybee, J., & Cavenaugh, B.S. (2014). Randolph-Sheppard national online training curriculum for program staff: Findings from a national survey of Randolph-Sheppard directors. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 108(2), 157-162.

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Improving the Business Enterprise Program Experience for Vendors who are Deaf-Blind

Research Takeaway- Business Enterprise Program (BEP) owners and operators (vendors) who are deaf-blind face some unique challenges. In this study, BEP vendors and staff identified specific challenges, such as communication obstacles and availability of technology, and suggested program improvements to address these concerns.

What Were We Trying to Learn

This study explored challenges facing Randolph-Sheppard (R-S) BEP vendors who are deaf-blind and the staff who work with them and solicited suggestions for improvements to address these concerns. Randolph-Sheppard (R-S) BEP vendors own and operate more than 2,300 vending facilities across the country, ranging from vending machine routes to full-service cafeterias. State agencies recruit individuals who are legally blind to work in and manage BEP facilities, but BEP vendors may have other disabilities, such as hearing loss, which require additional accommodations.

Major Research Findings

The top challenge mentioned by BEP staff was helping vendors who are deaf-blind communicate effectively. Although most vendors and some staff felt that deaf-blindness did not involve any unique communication issues, others noted that vendors who are deaf-blind:

  • Communicate slowly and often need to repeat themselves or ask others to repeat themselves multiple times.
  • Communicate indirectly through assistance from interpreters, employees, or family members, increasing the chance that content will get lost in translation.
  • Rely on alternative communication methods, such as writing or phone calls, resulting in a lack of face-to-face interaction.

Among BEP vendors who are deaf-blind, the most commonly cited challenge was a lack of up-to-date technology available to them while on the job.

When asked for suggestions to improve the BEP experience for vendors who are deaf-blind, vendors and staff offered the following feedback:

  • Expand access to interpreters by employing more people who know how to interpret or by training existing staff to understand tactile sign language. Individuals serving as interpreters should know how to communicate technical terms and concepts relating to the food service industry.
  • Expand and update the technology available to vendors who are deaf-blind. Vendors are concerned that the technology currently offered by the BEP is too often out-of-date.
  • Partner with outside organizations, such as state Vocational Rehabilitation programs, to expand available resources.

Implications for Practice

  1. Be intentional about communication strategies: Communication is a major challenge for customers and staff who work with vendors who are deaf-blind, even though most of the vendors included in this study did not report any communication problems. Commonly cited challenges in this area included reliance on third parties to hold conversations and communication characterized by repetition and slowness. BEP staff should discuss these barriers with vendors and implement proactive strategies, such as letting customers know ahead of time how to communicate and interact with vendors who are deaf-blind.
  2. Provide training and support: BEP staff in this study requested more training on the unique challenges faced by vendors who are deaf-blind and how to work effectively with this population. In particular, BEP staff requested training in sign language and tactile sign language.
  3. Expand and update technology: Vendors who are deaf-blind rely on technology to perform their jobs, yet many expressed concerns that the technology available to them through the BEP is not up-to-date. BEP staff should identify entrepreneurs’ technology needs and provide updated technology that can boost productivity and improve communication.
  4. Interact and observe: BEP state directors were more likely than vendors and other staff to say that deaf-blindness did not create any major communication challenges and to have no suggestions for improving the BEP experience of vendors who are deaf-blind. In order to increase their awareness, state directors should interact with vendors on the job and consult with counselors and trainers.
  5. Establish guidelines: No BEP state directors in this study reported having official policies in place for working with vendors who are deaf-blind. State programs should consider creating official guidelines for working with vendors who are deaf-blind. These guidelines should include procedures for hiring qualified interpreters, communication strategies, and technology needs of individuals who are deaf-blind.

How Was This Project Carried Out?

Interviews were conducted by telephone or email with 41 respondents from across the country, including BEP vendors who are deaf-blind, BEP state directors, and BEP staff. Vendors and staff were asked about their experiences with the BEP, the challenges they encountered, and the accommodations they used. Respondents were also asked to provide suggestions for improving the BEP for vendors who are deaf-blind.

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Findings taken from the following article:

Hierholzer, A. C., & Bybee, J. (2017). Working with Randolph-Sheppard entrepreneurs who are deafblind: A qualitative analysis. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 111(1), 61-71.

For more information about the Randolph-Sheppard Business Enterprise Program project, including links to an informational brochure and video, an online training course, and other resources, visit the project overview page: Best Practices in the Randolph-Sheppard Business Enterprise Program.

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Business Enterprise Program Materials

  • Business Enterprise Program Brochure: Word or PDF
  • Business Enterprise Program: Video
  • BEP Hearing Loss Resource Guide: Word or PDF

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