[Pibe-division] Blind and Visually Impaired Adult Rehabilitation and Employment Survey:Final Results
Dr. Denise M. Robinson
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Thu Apr 4 12:11:14 CDT 2013
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Specialist in technology, teaching, training for blind/low vision
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--- On Thu, 4/4/13, Edward Bell <ebell at latech.edu> wrote:
From: Edward Bell <ebell at latech.edu>
Subject: [Pibe-division] Blind and Visually Impaired Adult Rehabilitation and Employment Survey:Final Results
To: "NOMCT Committee" <certificationtrainersnomct at lists.nbpcb.org>, "NOMC mailing list" <nomc at nbpcb.org>, nclb at lists.nbpcb.org, pibe-division at nfbnet.org, "Rehab Mailing list" <rehab at nfbnet.org>
Date: Thursday, April 4, 2013, 2:33 PM
Blind and Visually Impaired Adult Rehabilitation and
Employment Survey:Final Results
By Edward C. Bell, Ph.D. and Natalia M.
Edward C. Bell, Ph.D., serves as director of the Professional
Development and Research Institute on Blindness, Louisiana Tech
Individuals who are legally blind or visually impaired in the
United States have long suffered high rates of unemployment. The purpose of this
study was to determine the current employment status of these individuals and to
analyze its consistency with federal reports. The study also examined
demographic factors, education, civic involvement, and rehabilitation
experiences of this population in order to determine whether some of the factors
could be identified as contributing to the employment outcomes. Results showed
that the employment rate for individuals who are legally blind/visually impaired
is 37%, which is consistent with previous research. Findings show that a gender
gap still exists, with a significant difference in annual earnings between men
and women. Education and rehabilitation-related factors seemed to impact
employment outcomes; where higher educational attainment is associated with
better employment outcomes. In addition, those individuals who were trained
under the Structured Discovery approach were more likely to be employed and to
have higher earnings than those who did not. Finally, for individuals who read
Braille on a weekly basis and used a white cane, the likelihood of being
employed and receiving higher earnings was higher than those who did not use
Rehabilitation Research, Employment Outcomes, Education, training
centers, Braille, Cane Travel; Structured Discovery
Adult Rehabilitation and Employment Survey
This study sought to describe the current employment status of
individuals who are blind and visually impaired (VI) in the U.S. and to examine
its consistency with federal reports. In addition, it explored those factors
that might have an impact on employment status for this section of the
population. In order to do so, a summary of the most current federal data is
included, followed by a review of the literature that analyze the employment
situation of people with disabilities in the U.S. and, more specifically, those
factors related to an increase in employment outcomes by blind and VI
Employment Status of Blind and VI Individuals: Federal
The 2010 U.S. Census reports that the total population in the
United States is 308,746,538. According to the provisional report for the 2010
National Health Interview Survey, 21.5 million American adults age 18 and older
reported experiencing vision loss (defined as individuals who reported that they
have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as
those who reported that they are blind or unable to see at all). By December
2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that approximately 2 million
individuals from 16 to 64 years old were identified as having vision loss
according to the Current Population Survey (CPS) for all working age adults (16
to 64 years of age). Of them, 63.6% were not in the civilian labor force (i.e.,
those who were identified as "not in the labor force" were not actively looking
for work during the reported month, and thus not included in the unemployment
rate, even though they were not employed as well). Of the 36.4% who were in the
labor force, 13.8% were unemployed. However, the employment to population ratio
showed that of the 2 million working age adults with vision loss, only 31.3%
were employed (American Foundation for the Blind, 2012). These data are similar
to that of Bell (2010) who reported that by 2007, only 37% of adults who were
legally blind exiting the vocational rehabilitation (VR) system were achieving
The present study analyzed how the above reports are reflected in
the current employment situation of blind and VI individuals. And, more
importantly, whether specific rehabilitation, education, and/or civic factors
could be identified that might be indicative of increased employment.
Disability, Employment, and the Vocational Rehabilitation
In the pursuit of employment, each person, especially those with
significant disabilities, has to navigate a whole host of social services,
institutions, and processes that are aimed at assisting them in achieving their
vocational goals. These include the state-federal VR process (Schriner, 2001;
Schroeder, 2000); public financial support, such as Social Security Disability
Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (Vaughn & Omvig,
2005); and an entire array of education and employment preparation institutions
(Amato, 2009; Hershenson, 1998; Jeanmarie & Strauser, 2000). For those who
have successfully achieved employment, these social systems worked, in some form
or fashion, to facilitate success. While for many others, these same systems
have served as a land minefield, with continual road blocks, delays, and dead
The most commonly reported research in the area of employment
outcomes comes from secondary analysis of existing databases, such as the RSA VR
closure system, to identify variables that correlate with employment outcomes.
For example, Randolph (2004) found that disability status was the variable that
presented the strongest negative correlation with employment. The author
determined that disability status was a strong negative predictor of employment,
particularly of being competitively employed. He found that females with a
disability, who were less educated and who had young children, were less likely
to be employed.
A study by Ozawa and Yeo (2006) compared the employment outcomes
of individuals with mild and severe disabilities with those having no disability
(it is important to notice that of the factors that the authors used to classify
individuals into mild or severe disability groups, the use of a wheelchair,
white cane, or similar aid for more than 6 months was one of the most relevant).
The results showed that the rate of employment was inversely related to the
degree of disability. From the group of respondents with no disability 83.04%
were employed, while those in the mild disabilities group and the severe
disabilities group were employed at 69.94% and 51.54% respectively. These
authors found, as did Randolph (2004), that disability affects two main aspects
of work performance: the likelihood of working and monthly earnings. The
probabilities of working were significantly less for respondents with severe
disabilities than for those with mild or with no disability. Monthly earnings of
both respondents with mild disabilities and with severe disabilities were lower
than those of people with no disability. According to Baldwin and Schumacher
(2002), not only the chances of obtaining a job and earnings are negatively
correlated to disability status, but also job mobility. Workers with
disabilities were more likely to experience involuntary job changes than
Martz and Xu (2008) analyzed the demographic and service-related
predictors of employment among individuals with disabilities who received VR
services and who exited from a state-federal system in a U.S. southern state.
Having a sample composed of clients who received VR services from the Tennessee
Division of the Rehabilitation Services (TDRS) during the years of 1998-2004,
this study showed that those individuals with learning disabilities had the
highest employment rate (93.3%) and the ones that presented the lowest
employment rate were individuals with visual disabilities (78.7%). For this
later group, gender and age were significant predictors of employment outcome,
with women being less likely to be employed.
The next section summarizes findings on predictors of employment
specifically for the blind and VI population.
Blindness, Employment, and the Vocational Rehabilitation
Warren-Peace (2009) analyzed outcomes and predictors of employment
and the differences between clients who were legally blind and clients with
other disabilities. With this framework, the RSA-911 data for Fiscal Year 2007
was used. Results showed that approximately 34% of consumers with legal
blindness were closed competitively, while 29.5% of individuals in this same
group were closed in non-competitive employment (i.e., homemaker and unpaid
family worker). This is in sharp contrast to other disability groups, where
non-competitive employment was only 1.5%. Of the total of noncompetitive
closures, clients who were legally blind represented 43.6%. This suggested that
out of the 19 disability types included in this study, just the legally blind
group accounted for a significant amount of the total of noncompetitive closures
in FY 2007.
According to the literature, there are several factors that
predict employment for the blind and VI. Among them, educational level, age,
training in blindness skills, and visual status remain consistent across the
research studies. Leonard, D'Allura, and Horowitz (1999) found that both
achieving a higher educational level and attending an integrated school setting
for most of one’s schooling was associated with being employed. In addition, the
use of printed material as a primary reading medium, employment related skills
(computer, typing, and use of public transportation), psychosocial variables
(overall satisfaction with social contact and receipt of encouragement from
family and friends), vision rehabilitation service, and technology training were
associated with being employed. In relation to those factors that predicted
employment in higher level positions, they identified higher level of education,
technology training, orientation and mobility (O&M) training, and fewer
hours of rehabilitation teaching.
In addition to the receipt of education services that resulted in
a certificate or degree, Capella-McDonnall (2005) concluded that having worked
since the onset of the disability, the reason for applying to rehabilitation for
services, and a high-quality relationship between the client and rehabilitation
counselor were the greatest predictors of an employment outcome. In contrast,
McDonnall and Crudden (2009) concluded that an involvement with the VR counselor
was not associated with employment. In this later study, the results showed that
work experience, academic competence, self-determination, use of assistive
technology, and locus of control were all significant predictors of employment
in transition-age youth with blindness. Cavenaugh, Giesen, and Steinman (2006)
also found that the education level reached and the age at the time of
application, followed by the presence of a secondary disability, and
race/ethnicity were strong predictors of employment.
Regarding visual status, Leonard et al (1999) found that this
factor had an important impact on employment outcomes, since those individuals
who were blind were more likely to be employed in higher level positions than
those who were partially sighted. A study by Darensbourg (2013) also revealed
that the severity of vision loss was a statistically significant predictor of
competitive employment outcomes, however, in this study those consumers with
lesser vision loss where more likely to be competitively employed. On the other
hand, the study of Cavenaugh et al (2006) showed that the severity of the
disability was the strongest predictor of acceptance for VR services.
The results of the study conducted by Warren-Peace (2009) revealed
that the likelihood of obtaining competitive employment after receiving services
from VR was greater for those consumers who were legally blind without a
secondary disability; were male; African American, Hispanic, or Multiple
race/ethnicity; had a personal income as a primary source of support at
application; and attained a special education certificate or college degree. As
well as visual status, Darensbourg (2013) found that the variables that were the
most statistically significant predictors of competitive employment outcomes for
individuals with blindness or visually impairment were weekly earnings at
application, source of referral (self-referral), gender (male), and not
Besides predicting competitive employment, some of the factors
mentioned so far also predicted higher earnings. For consumers with visual
impairments who were competitively employed through the state-federal VR system
during Fiscal Year 1997, Capella (2001) concluded that age, educational level,
and case expenditures were some of the factors accounting for differences in
earnings. Of these three, age was the most significant predictor; clients with
visual impairments that were older tended to receive lower earnings. Education
also had impact on earnings, since the higher the level of education, the higher
the earnings. Finally, some of the variance in earnings was explained by case
expenditures, whereby the greater amount of money that was spent on a case, the
higher the earnings at closure was for consumers.
An additional factor that seemed to have a significant impact on
employment outcomes and earnings for individuals who were blind and VI was the
type of agency (separated or combined/general) that served these clients.
Cavenaugh, Giesen, and Pierce (2000) concluded that the mean earnings at closure
of legally blind consumers were significantly higher in separate agencies than
in combined agencies. In addition, Warren-Peace (2009) found that the type of
agency seemed to be a relevant predictor of competitive employment outcomes.
Those consumers who received services from a separate agency for the blind had
more chances to be closed in an integrated work setting. Capella (2001),
however, found that the type of agency that served these clients was not a
significant factor impacting on earnings.
From a different perspective, Golub (2006) studied the factors
that contributed to successful work experiences for employees from the
perspective of their employers. This study revealed that, according to the
employers, important factors included employee being comfortable with his/her
disability, being an ambassador for blindness by eliminating awkwardness in
relationships, and insisting on being held to the same standard as his/her
coworkers. In addition, this study found that the key to success for employees
was skills of blindness. He/she should possess updated O&M, Braille and
assistive technology skills, and a variety of strategies to cope in case a
system fails. Furthermore, during interviews candidates should demonstrate their
competence and have specific ideas for how to manage the details of the work and
The literature also accounts for studies that have analyzed those
factors that are considered barriers for employment. Crudden and McBroom (1999)
for example, found that attitudes of employers and the general public,
transportation problems, and a lack of access to print, adaptive equipment, and
accommodations were the most relevant. Visual status also seemed to play a role
when analyzing barriers to employment since individuals who were partially
sighted had more issues with transportation than those who were totally blind.
Those who were blind as opposed to VI, however, had more problems with the
skills or attitudes of rehabilitation counselors or placement staff. When asked
about the most important thing the rehabilitation counselor did to help the
participants to find employment, they mentioned help in locating jobs, arranging
interviews, and providing job references; provision of education and training or
equipment; and provision of counseling and emotional support. However, of the
total sample, only 39% of the participants believed that VR services helped them
to obtain their jobs. The rest of them believed that rehabilitation services
helped them to improve their performances, that the services made them more
competitive with those nondisabled workers, and that the services helped them to
maintain their jobs.
Finally, Bell (2010) offers one of the most current analyses on
the competitive employment rates for VR consumers who were legally blind.
Results from fiscal year 1997 to 2007 (obtained by using the RSA-911 data
system) showed an average employment rate of 31.79%, which was
significantly higher than the 25.1% reported by Cavenaugh (1999) based on data
from FY 1995. In fact, the Competitive Consumer Rates have shown a steady climb
from 27% in 1997 up to a high of 37% in 2007. In addition, earnings of consumers
had also increased. Some of the factors that seemed to impact employment
outcomes were gender, race, education, and veteran status. Results demonstrated
that men earned $0.63 more an hour than women in 1997, and this increased by
2007 to a $0.86 difference on average. In addition, while the average spread
between earnings was about $6.00 in 1997, the variability in earnings had
increased to nearly $12 for men but only $8 for women. On the other hand, Native
Americans had less employment in 1997 than the other racial groups, and this
group remained substantially behind by 2007. Asian/Pacific Islanders earned the
highest average wages and Black/African Americans earned the lowest average
hourly rates. Those with a master’s degree or higher had almost a 40% greater
chance of being employed and had $4.00 an hour more in earnings than did
individuals with less than a high school degree. In addition, American veterans
were underrepresented in the RSA-911 data system, and where they were identified
the rates of employment were 19%.
White cane for mobility. When analyzing the
impact of using a cane and having received O&M training on employment
outcomes, this factor appears to be important when obtaining a job in higher
level positions (Leonard et al 1999). In addition, from the perspective of
employers, having O&M skills was a factor that contributed to successful
work experiences for employees (Golub, 2006). In his literature review, Miller
(2002) addresses the important role that both O&M instructors and
rehabilitation teachers have as employment resources. They not only provide the
training that leads to employment but since they spend more time with the
consumers than the counselor in a community-based setting, they have the chance
to explore a consumer’s vocational interests and complement the rehabilitation
As it is well known in the field of O&M, there are two main
philosophical approaches that outline two different training methods: the
conventional approach and the alternative approach or Structured Discovery Cane
Travel (SDCT) (Omvig, 2005). SDCT instructional service offers to individuals
who are blind or VI the opportunity to learn independence and build
self-confidence in a meaningful and permanent approach. SDCT is rooted on
non-visual techniques, problem- solving skills, and confidence-building learning
experiences (National Blindness Professional Certification Board, 2012). It is
based on experiential learning and it remains neutral regarding the instructor’s
perceptual experience, transferring the focus on the instructor’s vision to the
cognitive processes that are involved in an orientation and mobility lesson. The
success of cane travel depends upon the way in which the student is able to
cognitively process the information (Mettler, 2008). SDCT also applies
principles of the Socratic questioning, (i.e., the asking of strategic questions
to guide the learner in solving the problem autonomously), and strongly relies
on the role modeling of non-visual techniques, which encourages the discrediting
of public misconceptions about blindness (National Blindness Professional
Certification Board, 2012).
The literature is not extensive about the effectiveness of the
different types of O&M training that those individuals who are blind or VI
receive and their impact on employment outcomes. However, in his study, Aditya
(2004) made an attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of the SDCT approach. The
author hypothesized that because of the philosophical and methodological
differences between the conventional and alternative approaches related to
functional independence, individuals trained in the alternative approach will
score higher on a measure of functional independence than those trained in the
conventional approach. In this survey the data about the method of training was
not directly obtained, however, it was replaced by examining the variable of
cane size, given that the “NFB” canes are employed almost exclusively in the
alternative approach, while the shorter, folding, aluminum or graphite canes are
predominately utilized in conventional programs. Therefore, the item of cane
size was recoded into a dichotomous variable to reflect the two training
approaches. The descriptive statistics revealed that the differences were in the
expected direction. The within-group variances between those who were trained in
the alternative approach and those who were trained in the conventional approach
were noticeably different. Aditya (2004) reported that individuals who were
trained with a long, white cane had significantly higher ability and activity in
matters of independent living.
Braille. One of the most cited studies in the
field conducted by Ryles (1996) revealed that reading Braille was one main skill
that predicted, for congenitally legally blind adults, higher employment rates
and higher education levels than reading print as original medium. The main
results showed that those individuals that utilized Braille as their primary
reading medium had a significantly lower unemployment rate (44%) that those who
utilize print as the original reading medium. The author affirmed that even
though reading Braille as a primary medium did not increase an individual’s
opportunities for employment, those who learned Braille when they were children
and used Braille extensively as their primary reading medium, were employed at a
higher rate. However, those who learned Braille after using print did not have a
higher employment rate than those who never read Braille. According to Golub
(2006), employers believed that possessing updated Braille skills represented an
important factor that contributed to successful work experiences for their
Papadopoulos and Koutsoklenis (2009) conducted a study with higher
education Greek students and graduates who were VI in order to explore the use
of different reading media. They found out that the most significant predictors
of the frequency of use of Braille were visual status, age at the loss of sight,
and training in Braille. Specifically, the frequency of use of Braille declined
with the increase in the age at which sight was lost, but increased with
training in Braille. The authors concluded that a well-established tendency to
use technology could lead to a further decline in the frequency of Braille use
in Greece. For this reason they stated that efforts should be made to enhance
the use of Braille, and since in Greece the frequency of Braille use decreases
with the increase in age at time of loss, they recommended the development of
intensive Braille courses for people who become visually impaired at a later
Little agreement exists over the type, nature, intensity,
structure, and model of training that is most effective (Ryles, 2008). Some
training models report that the learning of Braille is a requirement for all
individuals who enter the program (Mayo, Allen, & Deden, 2008) while others
report that only 20% of individuals attending training elect to learn Braille
(Ponchillia & Durant, 1996). It is commonly reported that 85% of adults who
read Braille are employed (Ryles, 1996; Spungin, 1990), yet disagreement still
rages over what constitutes best practice for the teaching of Braille.
Consumer and civic involvement. Existing
literature has demonstrated the key role that family support plays in sustaining
effective outcomes (Bennetts, 2003; Whelley, Radtke, R., Burgstahler, S., &
Christ, T., 2003). The role of advisors, peers, and other peer-to-peer
interactions has also been cited as important in the rehabilitation process
(Hall & McGregor, 2000; Whelley, et al., 2003). Both formal as well as
informal models of mentoring have been demonstrated as effective mediators in
education, employment, and career decision making (Bell, 2012; Hall &
McGregor, 2000; Marks & Feeley, 1995). Community and civic participation,
such as religious affiliation, social clubs, and civic organizations, further
help to support interest and engagement in employment (Nagle, 2001; Vaughn &
Omvig, 2005). Finally, specifically for members of the target population,
self-reports and anecdotal evidence suggest that membership in a consumer
organization is an essential element in the rehabilitation process
(Beck-Winchatz & Riccobono, 2008; Omvig, 2005; Phelps, 2005). However, the
stories of many individuals who are blind tell of families who were over
protective (Omvig, 2002), of communities that put up restrictions (Ferguson,
2001), and of support groups that promoted unemployment and dependence (Vaughn
& Omvig, 2005). What research needs to accomplish is to tease out how these
factors serve as facilitators rather than deterrents so that training and
education can impact greater growth and evolution.
Crudden and McBroom (1999) conducted a study that demonstrated
that among the reasons participants thought they were successful in overcoming
barriers to employment was the importance of developing networking and mentoring
opportunities. Role models appeared to be a relevant variable in maintaining
motivation. They serve as examples to others and provide helpful insight on how
to address some of the employment barriers. According to participants in this
study, rehabilitation providers usually do not encourage mentoring opportunities
or contact with role models who are visually impaired. The authors stated that
referrals to consumer organizations could assist those who seek employment in
generating support systems.
Even though there is a lack of empirical studies about the impact
of a consumer affiliation on employment outcomes, there are sufficient
testimonies of blind individuals who express the opinion that their involvement
in a consumer organization changed their lives completely. Omvig (2002) stated
the NFB has been a key in his life and the lives of many blind individuals. He
emphasizes the importance that competent and successful blind people who are
part of this organization have as positive role models. These role models are
the living proof that with proper training and opportunity, blind people can
live normal, successful, and meaningful lives. And this is what they pass along
to the new generations.
Purpose of the study. The purpose of the current
study was to capture a snapshot of the employment status of individuals who are
legally blind and/or VI across the United States. Furthermore, this study sought
to examine demographic factors, education, civic involvement, and rehabilitation
experiences of this population in order to determine whether any state factors
(i.e., those which are changeable through education or training) could be
identified as contributing to the employment outcomes of these individuals.
Research Questions. The following research
questions served as the guiding principles for this study.
Q1: What is the employment rate for adults who are blind/VI in a
national sample, and how does this rate compare to existing research findings on
Q2: Are specific demographic factors (i.e., age, gender, racial
identity, visual status) associated with greater or lesser rates of employment
and wages for this population?
Q3: Can social and civic factors (i.e., civic
involvement, affiliation with consumer organizations) be identified that are
associated with higher rates of employment and wages for this population?
Can education and rehabilitation-related factors (i.e., college, adjustment
training, etc.) be identified that are associated with increased rates of
employment and wages for this population?
The participants for this survey were drawn from legally blind and
VI adults of working age (i.e., 18-70 years old) from across the United States.
Complete data were obtained from 1,056 individuals who were an average age of
46.47 years (SD=13.81, Range=18-87). These individuals were representative of
595 females (56.34%) and 461 males (43.66%), who were 90 African Americans
(8.52%), 35 Asian Americans (3.31%), 56 Hispanics/Latinos (including Puerto
Ricans) (5.30%), eight Native Americans/Alaska Natives (0.76%), four Native
Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders (0.38%), 836 Whites or Caucasians (79.17%), and 27
who reported being of other or mixed races (2.56%).
The instruments that were used for this study included the Adult
Rehabilitation and Employment Survey (ARES), which consisted of 79 variables,
covering (a) general demographics including living situation; (b) VR and
adjustment training experiences; (c) civic and consumer organization
affiliation; (d) educational attainment; (e) employment characteristics; and (f)
a request to participate in future research.
All participants first read (or were read to) an informed consent
document that outlined the purpose of the study, characteristics of requested
participants (i.e., blind/VI adults of working age), and a notice that their
participation was completely voluntary. This study was reviewed and approved by
the host university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). Interested persons were
provided two options for participation: (1) they could complete the survey
online by visiting the provided URL; or (2) they were invited to contact the
office of the principal investigator and have the survey read to them by a
research assistant over the phone. The survey took approximately ten minutes to
complete. Data were collected between March 15 and August 31, 2011.
Recruitment. The purpose of this survey was to
obtain a snapshot of the cross section of rehabilitation, education, and
employment situation of adults with legal blindness/visual impairment in the
United States. As such, a host of methods were employed to reach individuals
from a cross section of society and socioeconomic status. The invitation to
participate in the survey was distributed on all available listservs of the two
largest consumer organizations of the blind (i.e., the American Council of the
Blind (ACB) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB)). The invitation was
sent electronically to every state-operated library for the blind in each
regional office with a request to have it distributed to library patrons. The
invitation was sent electronically to all fifty VR agencies who serve the
blind/VI population, to the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind,
and related rehabilitation membership organizations. The request for
participation was sent to more than 80 rehabilitation and adjustment training
facilities electronically, and more than 2,000 requests were also sent in
print/Braille to those training centers that were willing to distribute the
announcement. In addition, 3,000 print/Braille flyers were distributed to the
participants of the 2011 annual convention of the NFB; 1,200 were distributed to
the participants of the 2011 annual convention of the ACB; and 200 were
distributed to the participants of the Blinded Veterans of America Conference.
Requests were sent on more than ten periodic newsletters and periodical
publications, were posted on Facebook and other social media outlets, and were
passed on by word of mouth.
Beyond age, gender, and racial group identity, the following data
were captured to provide an understanding of the make up of the sample
population that comprised this study. The respondents were representative of all
50 states, with the fewest respondents being from North Dakota (n = 2) and the
largest representation coming from Texas (n = 75). They self-reported being 702
individuals who are blind (66.48%) and 354 reported being visually impaired
(33.52%) (See Table 1).
Table 1 – Demographics
African American, Black
Asian American, Asian
Hispanic, Latino (including Puerto Rican)
Native American, Alaska Native
Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander
White or Caucasian
Data were collected on additional demographics, such as marital
status, living situation, and the community of residence. The majority of
participants (51%) reported that they live in their own home that they are
purchasing, with the smallest proportion (2%) who reported living in a dormitory
or similar institution. The largest segment of this population are currently
married (45%), while just under two percent report being widowed. By far, the
majority of this sample (57%) report that they do not have any children, while
the next largest grouping (17%) report having two children. While others report
having one, three, four or five children, less than two percent (1.5%) report
having six or more children. When looking at the size of the community in which
individuals reside, the majority (23%) lived in small communities of less than
25,000 residence, with the second largest concentration (22%) living in small
communities of between 25,000 and 75,000. The third largest grouping of
individuals resided in large cities with populations above one million, and the
remainder fell into mid-size communities (See Table 2).
Table 2 – Family and Community
Live alone and/or with others in house/condo that I own or am
Live alone and/or with others in apartment or rental property that I
Live at home with parents or in someone else’s home
Live in dormitory or other institution
Share an apartment or rental property with room mates
Widow or widower
With significant other person
No, I have no children
6 or more children
Population of Your Community
Vocational Rehabilitation and Education
The next set of questions was designed to gain information related
to VR, and in particular, the attainment of adjustment to vision loss training.
Individuals were asked whether they had an active case with their state’s VR
agency. Forty-two individuals (3.98%) stated that they have never had a VR case,
while 26 were unsure or did not know (2.46%). Of the remaining 94%, 577
individuals (54.64%) reported having once had a VR case, but that it is closed
now, while 411 individuals (38.92%) reported they still maintain an open VR
case. When asked whether or not the individual ever received adjustment to
blindness training (i.e., mobility with a white cane, Braille, or daily living
skills), 191 individuals (18.09%) reported that they have never received any
sort of formal skill training based on visual impairment. Another 501
individuals (47.44%) reported having completed (or graduated) from either a
residential or day-training program. Another 119 individuals (11.26%) stated
that they attended a residential or day program, but that they did not complete
their training program. Finally, 252 individuals (23.86%) reported that they
attended multiple forms of training, and/or that they received training in their
home or school.
While there are many forms of rehabilitation and adjustment
training, this study focused only on cane and Braille. For those who did receive
some sort of adjustment training, they were asked about their training/use of a
white cane for mobility. There were 777 individuals who reported having been
taught to use a cane. These individuals were at an average of 23.67 years of age
(SD = 15.62, Range = 2—78) when they were first taught. Of the total sample, 152
stated “No, the use of a cane was not taught” (14.39%). The remaining
individuals stated, “I learned a little about cane use” (n = 76, 7.20%); “I was
taught using a white cane that measured between my sternum and chin” (n = 513,
48.58%); and “I was taught with a long cane that measured between my chin and
nose” (n = 315, 29.83%). When respondents were asked whether they currently use
a white cane for mobility, 247 stated that they did not use a cane for mobility
(23.39%). Of the remaining 544 individuals, (51.52%) stated that they use a cane
all of the time, and 265 individuals (25.09%) reported using a cane some of the
time. When asked about the size and structure of the cane that is preferred for
current use, 334 individuals (39.57%) said, “A folding cane, that is lower than
my chin in height;” 171 individuals (20.26%) said, “A folding or telescoping
cane that is above my chin in height;” 249 individuals (29.50%) said, “A rigid
cane that is above my chin in height;” 40 individuals (4.74%) said, “A rigid
cane, that is lower than my chin in height;” and 50 individuals (5.92%) stated
that they used another type of cane/mobility device.
Similarly, participants were asked about their training/use of
Braille. There were 674 individuals who reported being taught Braille at an
average of 18.32 years of age (SD = 15.54, Range = 3—78). Of the entire sample,
765 stated that they were taught Braille (72.44%), while 291 reported that they
had not been taught Braille (27.56%). When these participants were asked whether
or not they currently read Braille on a daily or weekly basis, 613 stated that
they currently read Braille (58.05%), and 443 stated that they do not currently
read Braille (41.95%).
With respect to participant education, respondents were asked
about their educational standing before they received any rehabilitation
training, and then again after the receipt of any vocational training. Table 3
provides a side by side comparison of the number and percentage of individuals
by educational level before and after rehabilitation training. As can be seen
from the table, a majority of individuals significantly increased their
educational attainment, from pre to post training. When respondents were asked
whether they attributed their rehabilitation training to their advances in
education, 141 individuals (13.45%) stated that they did not attend
rehabilitation and adjustment training. Of the remaining, 201 individuals
(19.03%) stated that their rehabilitation did not help them to increase their
educational attainment, while another 282 individuals (26.70%) were not sure.
This meant that 432 individuals (40.1%) of respondents felt that their
rehabilitation training was either somewhat helpful, or was instrumental in
their ability to increase in their educational attainment.
Table 3 -- Education
Less than High School
Less than High School
High School diploma/GED
High School diploma/GED
Some college, but no degree
Some college, but no degree
Vocational or Trade school
Vocational or Trade school
Doctorate degree/post graduate training
Doctorate degree/post graduate training
Not sure or
Not sure or
Consumer and Civic Involvement
Individuals were asked whether they participated in any consumer
organizations of the blind. There were 226 individuals (21.40%) who affiliated
with the (ACB); 49 individuals (4.64%) who affiliated with both the ACB and NFB;
457 individuals (43.28%) who associated with the NFB; and 324 individuals
(30.68%) who are not members of any consumer organization. In attempting to
determine the level or extent of consumer organizational affiliation, 330
individuals (31.25%) reiterated that they do not participate in consumer
organizations; 397 individuals (37.59%) stated that they are members, but hold
no leadership positions; 253 individuals (23.96%) reported holding local or
state leadership positions; 12 individuals (1.14%) claimed national leadership
positions; and 64 individuals (6.06%) stated that they hold several positions at
the local, state, and/or national level.
Information was also sought with respect to the frequency with
which participants participated in other community and/or civic activities in
their local communities. All individuals participated in at least one
extracurricular event, and a large number participated in a number of different
activities. Of the sample, 541 individuals (51.23%) stated that they participate
in their local church, synagogue, or place of worship. As many as 185
individuals (17.51%) reported holding leadership positions within their church.
One-hundred ninety-four individuals (18.37%) participate in music or theatre;
111 individuals (10.51%) compete on local sports or athletic teams; 114
individuals (10.79%) are members of Kiwanis, Rotary, or other business groups;
and 200 individuals (18.93%) participate in political and/or other civic groups.
One of the major factors under consideration in this study was the
employment situation of the population of adults who are blind/VI, and
specifically, what role, if any, VR plays in changing this situation. As can be
seen from Table 4, 512 individuals (48.48%) were unemployed prior to receiving
VR services, while only 192 individuals (18.18%) were employed full time.
Conversely, after individuals received VR services, the majority of persons, 393
(37.22%), were employed full-time, compared to 307 individuals (29.07%) who
remained unemployed, in addition to a 5.3% increase in the number of individuals
who were working part-time. Of the 535 individuals who were working either full-
or part-time at the completion of this survey, 406 individuals provided data on
their annual salaries. For these individuals, the average annual salary was
$40,134.12 (SD = $27,129.74, Range = $2,401.92--$180,000), with a median annual
salary of $35,000.
Table 4 – Employment Status
Full-time college or vocational student
Volunteer part- or full-time
Retired from previous employment
N/A, I never had a VR case before
Information was also collected with respect to the availability of
fringe benefits through the place of employment. The participants reported that
361 individuals (66.85%) had the availability of medical insurance through their
place of work. In addition, 338 individuals (62.59%) reported having dental
insurance available to them, and 332 individuals (61.48%) reported having
retirement benefits/planning available to them through their work.
Factors that Impact on Employment
The preceding data are helpful in drawing a picture of the general
demographic, rehabilitation, educational, and employment characteristics of the
working-age population of individuals who are blind. With only 37% of the
population reporting full-time employment, it is important to examine the
demographic, rehabilitation, and educational characteristics of this sample to
determine the factors that seem to make an impact on the attainment of
employment. The demographic and descriptive data that have been presented so far
are representative of the entire sample. During the analysis of the VR data, the
first question identified that 475 individuals (45.36%) of the sample either
still have an open VR case, or else they did not know what their VR status was.
Consequently, 577 individuals (54.64%) of the sample reported that they did
receive VR services, but that their VR case has now been closed. It is this
portion of the sample whose data should be most descriptive of the employment
situation of individuals post-rehabilitation, and therefore, the remaining
analysis will be confined to the 577 individuals who have already received VR
services and who should most likely be available for participation in the
Demographic factors. The participant’s age,
gender, racial/ethnic classification, and visual impairment characteristics were
examined to determine to what effect each has on the attainment of employment.
The data demonstrated that there was no correlation between the age of the
consumer and the likelihood of being competitively employed; nor was there a
relationship between age and the annual earnings of participants.
Participants were asked to classify themselves as being either
blind or VI. This information was sought based on a perception that those with
lesser vision may be less employable and consequently at a greater risk for
unemployment. The data demonstrated no significant difference based on this
classification (F(1, 576) = 1.55, p = .21, RS.0). Those who described
themselves as “blind” were employed at a rate of 54%, while those who classified
themselves as “visually impaired” were employed at a rate of 49%. While a
difference does exist based on annual earnings for these two groups, the results
were non-significant (F(1, 294) = 3.28, p = .07, RS = .01).; with blind
individuals earning $44,000 on average and visually impaired earning $37,623.
With respect to gender, the data demonstrated no significant differences between
men and women on the percentage of those who were employed (54% and 51%
respectively); however, there was a significant difference in the annual
earnings based on gender (F(1, 294) = 10.45, p < .01, RS = .03),
with men earning an average of $47,424 and females earning $37,483 annually.
Next, the participant’s self-reported racial/ethnic background was examined, and
no significant differences were found in either the percentage of employment or
Does participation in a national consumer organization of the
blind/VI help such individuals with their employment prospects? Data
demonstrated that a significant difference did exist (F(2, 576) = 5.99,
p < .01, RS = .02), with those individuals who participate in the ACB being
employed at a rate of 42%, those who participate in the NFB being employed at a
rate of 59%, and those who reported no participation in a consumer organization
for the blind being employed at a rate of 49%. Similarly, a significant
difference exists based on annual income (F(2, 294) = 3.80, p = .02, RS
= .02), with ACB members earning an average annual wage of $37,100; NFB members
earning $46,200; and those who do not affiliate with either organization earning
Training factors. Beyond those characteristics of
participants that are trait factors (i.e., demographics), it was next important
to evaluate the impact of the state factors that were examined (i.e., education
and rehabilitation training). Previous studies (Bell, 2010) demonstrated that
the attainment of college education is a leading factor in increasing employment
and so it was examined for its impact in this study. Although myriad forms of
rehabilitation training exist, this study focused primarily on the provision of
adjustment skills training through comprehensive residential and day training
programs. Specific data were also obtained with respect to the use of the white
cane and Braille, as these are the most readily identifiable tools used by
individuals who are blind or VI.
The data demonstrate that a significant difference exists between
the employment status of participants based on the level of education that had
been attained (F(4, 576 = 13.09, p < .01, RS = .08). Further
analysis showed that those who had a high school diploma or less, or who
attended only some college were employed at a rate of 36%; those who had earned
a baccalaureate degree were employed at a rate of 59%; those having earned a
master’s degree were employed at a rate of 65%; and those with a law or doctoral
degree were employed at a rate of 80%. Similarly, significant differences exist
with respect to the annual earnings of these individuals (F(4, 296) =
12.23, p < .01, RS = .14). These differences were represented by those
holding a high school diploma or less earning an average annual salary of
$31,500; those holding a baccalaureate degree earning $42,300; those holding a
master’s degree earning $48,200; and those with a law or doctoral degree earning
When participants were asked whether they had completed training
at any sort of day-time or residential program, the sample was split almost in
half between those who had, and who had not completed training. The data
demonstrated that the mere fact of receiving training versus not receiving
training had no impact on employment outcomes (F(1, 576) = 0.24, p
=.62, RS = 0). Upon further analysis, a more interesting trend was discovered.
The data demonstrated a significant difference based on the method or type of
training that was received (F(2, 576) = 3.78, p = .02, RS = .01). The
data demonstrated that those individuals who completed training at a Structured
Discovery-based training center were employed at a rate of 60%; those who
completed training at a traditional or conventional training facility were
employed at a rate of 47%; and those who either received training at home, or
who received no formal skills training were employed at a rate of 56%. When the
annualized salary of these individuals was examined, the data again showed
significant differences (F(2, 294) = 3.98, p = .01, RS = .02). The same
trend continued, with those who received their rehabilitation at a Structured
Discovery-based program earning an average of $49,302; those who received their
training at conventional centers earned an average of $38,170; and those who
were trained at home or had no formal training earned an average of $42,753.
Another factor that was examined in this study was recidivism
(i.e., the returning for training multiple times). As has been noted in the
literature, there is concern that the need for constant retraining—for example,
when more vision diminishes--has a negative impact on employment. It is for this
reason that Structured Discovery-based training centers endeavor to provide
comprehensive training during one concentrated period of time. The data do in
fact support the notion that those who return for training multiple times have
significantly less employment than those who only obtain training a single time
(F(3, 384) = 2.80, p = .04, RS = .02), with those who obtained training
one time being employed at a rate of 57% and those receiving training 4 or more
times being employed at a rate of 35%. The same trend exists with respect to
salary (F(3, 193) = 2.81, p = .04, RS = .04), with those who attended
training one time earning $46,766, and those obtaining training four or more
times earning $33,275.
More specifically, this research was interested in several
specific training variables and their impact on employment. The data
demonstrated that 87% of participants have been taught to use a long white cane
for mobility; however, only 54% of respondents report currently using a white
cane for daily mobility. When these data were evaluated for their impact on
employment, the data demonstrated that individuals who currently use a white
cane for mobility are employed at a significantly higher rate than those who do
not (F(1, 576) = 3.73, p = .05, RS = .006), with cane users being
employed at a rate of 57% and those who do not use a cane being employed at a
rate of 49%. The data were similarly significant with respect to the annual
income of cane users (F(1, 294) = 4.77, p = .02, RS = .01), with cane
users earning an average of $45,329, and non-cane users earning an average of
$38,478. Stemming from the findings of Aditya (2004), the data were next
analyzed to see if the type of cane used was related to employment outcomes. The
data demonstrated a significant difference (F(2, 465) = 9.52, p <
.01, RS = .03), with those who use a rigid cane that comes above the chin in
height being employed at a rate of 66%, those who use a folding or rigid cane
that is below the chin in height being employed at a rate of 47%, and those who
either use an “other” device or no cane at all being employed at a rate of 34%.
Similarly, the data demonstrated a significant difference in the annual earnings
(F(2, 241) = 6.92, p < .01, RS = .05), with longer white cane users
earning approximately $50,000, short/folding cane users earning $37,000, and
other/no cane earning $49,000.
The same data were next analyzed to determine whether the use of
Braille had an impact on the employment status of this population. Similar to
cane use, 75% of the participants were taught Braille at some time during their
education or rehabilitation, but only 63% reported still using Braille on a
daily basis. Are Braille readers employed at a higher rate than VI individuals
who do not read Braille? The data demonstrate that the answer to this question
is yes (F(1, 576) = 11.32, p < .01, RS = .02), with Braille readers
being employed at a rate of 58% and those who do not read Braille being employed
at a rate of 44%. With respect to annualized salary, the data are even more
significant (F(1, 294) = 11.40, p < .01, RS = .03), with Braille
readers earning an average of $45,947, and non-Braille readers earning an
average of $34,826. With more than an $11,000 difference in annualized salary,
there appears to be a substantial impact that Braille has on employment and
Taken individually, each of these factors demonstrates a
significant impact (or association) with greater or lesser rates of employment.
By combining the most salient factors together, the results show even more
substantial differences in employment outcomes. Individuals who complete
training at a Structured Discovery type of training center, continue to read
Braille on a daily or weekly basis, use a white cane for mobility, and affiliate
with the NFB are employed at a rate of 75%, earning an annualized salary of
$53,600. Conversely, those individuals who received training at a conventional
program or had no formal training, who affiliated with the ACB or no consumer
organization, and who do not use a white cane or Braille are employed at a rate
of 44%, earning $36,000 annually.
The rates of employment for individuals who are legally blind/VI
in the United States have been low for decades. The purpose of this study was to
describe the current employment status of these individuals and to analyze its
consistency with federal reports and previous research. In addition, the study
sought to examine demographic factors, education, civic involvement, and
rehabilitation experiences of this population in order to determine whether some
of them could be identified as contributing to the employment outcomes.
The contributions of this study are quite revealing and reliable
since this work represents the largest field-based study in the field of
rehabilitation for blind and VI individuals, with a national sample of 1,056
participants. Although this study highlighted a great deal of demographic,
education, and rehabilitation factors that impact on employment, the following
were found to be the most salient:
The data show that 37% of working-age adults who are blind/VI are employed
full-time earning a median salary of $35,000—a strikingly similar finding to
the federal rehabilitation and labor findings for this population. This
finding is also similar to those of existing research (Bell, 2010;
Warren-Peace, 2009), putting in evidence that there has not been a change in
the employment rate in the last years.
Of these 37% employed individuals , approximately 67% have access to
medical insurance through their work, 63% have access to dental insurance, and
61% have the availability of retirement planning.
Although men and women who are blind/VI are employed at roughly equivalent
rates, a gender gap still exists with men earning on average $10,000 more
annually than women. These findings are consistent with those of previous
research (Bell, 2010; Darensbourg, 2013; Randolph, 2004; Warren-Peace,
No significant difference was identified within the rates of employment or
earnings based on other demographic characteristics, such as age,
race/ethnicity, or visual impairment classification.
Those individuals who affiliate with the NFB in this study were employed
at a rate of 59%, earning $46,200; whereas, those who affiliate with the ACB
were employed at a rate of 42%, earning $37,000. Those who chose not to
affiliate with either organization tended to fare better than ACB members, but
less well than NFB members.
As has been demonstrated in previous research, educational attainment was
a significant factor in the employment of this population, with those having
graduate-level education being employed at more than twice the rate of those
with only a high school diploma, and a more than $35,000 difference in
Obtaining comprehensive adjustment training was also positively related to
employment outcomes, with those being trained at Structured Discovery-based
programs being employed at a rate of 60%, earning $49,300 in comparison to
those trained at conventionally-based programs, who were employed at a rate of
47%, earning $38,100. These results confirm those of Aditya (2004).
Recidivism (i.e., the returning for retraining multiple times), was found
to be negatively related to employment, with those who receive training four
or more times being employed at a rate of 35% in comparison to those who seek
training only once being employed at 57%, and those same individuals earning
$13,000 less than those who were trained a single time.
The findings showed that those who use a white cane for daily mobility are
employed at a significantly higher rate and earn a significantly greater
annualized salary than those who no longer do.
Those who read Braille on a daily or weekly basis are employed at a
significantly higher rate than those who do not, and Braille readers also earn
on average $11,000 more than non-Braille readers.
In combination, the data indicate that individuals who complete training
at a Structured Discovery program, who affiliate with the NFB, use a cane for
daily mobility, and read Braille are employed at a rate of 75%, earning
In contrast, those who were conventionally trained or not trained, who
either affiliate with ACB or no one, and who neither use a cane or read
Braille are employed at only a rate of 44%, earning only $36,000 annually.
The employment rate for individuals who are blind or VI remains
extremely low in the United States. The findings of this study may help
consumers and professionals in the field of blindness to pinpoint and work on
those factors that influence the acquisition of competitive employment and
higher earnings in their particular cases. Education and training seem to be two
of the main central factors to have a significant influence. It is extremely
important for consumers and professionals, especially in the VR field, to
acknowledge the benefits of this type of training. Consumers should become aware
of these data about Structured Discovery training in order to be able to make an
authentic informed choice about their rehabilitation plan. Of the data obtained
through this study, consumers and practitioners should know that:
Age, gender, racial identity, and degree of visual impairment need not
impede one’s ability to obtain employment.
Education, especially higher education, seems to make a positive
difference in the chances of being employed and the amount of money that one
Knowing positive role models who are themselves blind appears to be
important in the pursuit of education, training, and employment.
Using a white cane to assist in daily mobility is probably a good idea.
Knowing and using Braille for reading on a regular basis makes good sense.
Obtaining comprehensive training up front seems better than getting it
piecemeal over time in shorter segments.
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Vaughan, E. & Omvig, J. (2005). Education and
rehabilitation for empowerment. Greenwich, CT: Information Age.
Warren-Peace, P. (2009). Models that predict competitive
employment outcomes in the United States Federal/State vocational rehabilitation
program for clients who are blind and clients with other disabilities.
Dissertation Abstracts International: Section A. Humanities and
Social Science, 70(4-A), 1181.
Whelley, T., Radtke, R., Burgstahler, S., & Christ, T. (2003).
Mentors, advisors, role models and peer supporters: Career development
relationships and individuals with disabilities. American
Rehabilitation, 27(1), 42-49.
Edward C. Bell, Ph.D., CRC, NOMC
REGISTER TO TAKE THE NATIONAL CERTIFICATION IN
LITERARY BRAILLE (NCLB) Exam
Director, Professional Development and
Institute on Blindness
Louisiana Tech University
PO Box 3158
Ruston LA 71272
ebell at latech.edu
am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain
than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in
cotton fields and sweatshops."
-- Stephen Jay Gould
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