By Paul H. Olson, Guest Blogger

The three Essential Career Prep Tips for Vision Impaired Students

With the new school year underway it’s time to begin considering what you want to do with your life once you have that college diploma in your hand. This subject is worth thinking about from the moment you step through your college doors on day one. Preparing for a career is important for all students but for students with visual impairments you will likely face additional challenges in your job search and so early preparation is a must. Needless to say, doing well in school is one of the best ways to get a leg up and make a good impression with prospective employers. Selecting a college that has a good support system for students with visual impairments is essential for your success.  

Questions To Ask Your Prospective College

*Is there a dedicated Disability Resource Center on campus?

*Does the campus include braille on all of the signs and structures, to help students with visual impairments easily navigate and identify classrooms and buildings?

*Are the faculty knowledgeable in addressing the needs of low vision and blind students?

Having the right assistive devices is also crucial for making the course material accessible, so you want to ensure that whatever college that you attend will provide you with the tools that you need for the school year. Some of the assistive devices and tools that a college may offer include:

*Closed Circuit Televisions (CCTV)

*Braille Embosser

*Alternative Mice (trackballs, rollerball and trackpads)

*Alternative Keyboards (natural and smaller size)

*Screen magnifiers

*Screen readers

*electric height adjustable workstations

*Digital book resources

The OrCam device is also beginning to find its way to college campuses and classrooms. Students with visual impairments are finding it helpful for reading textbooks in print format as well as for reading handouts and other course material. In addition, the device can also assist student in navigating the college campus by reading signs on doors and buildings. And once students integrate OrCam into their daily schedule, they will be able to easily use it later on when searching for a job, as well as on the job. Once you have all of the tools that you need to succeed in the classroom, it’s time to focus on the other two aspects of planning for your future career and job search:
  1. Exploring possible career options.
  2. Learning practical job search techniques to help you get hired.

Career Exploration

Begin by considering where your interests and talents lie and which career might be the best fit for you. Is there a subject that you particularly enjoy studying or do you have a hobby that you spend your free time involved in? Next, consider which professions would be a good match for your interests and skills and begin researching the qualifications and equipment that you would need to pursue a career in these professions. What are the duties involved? What are the hours? What’s the going salary? What access technology is required? In order to get some the answers to these questions you can seek out a mentor in your field of interest. One way to do this is through AFB CareerConnect’s free mentoring program which allows members to connect with professionals who are blind and work in various professions. You can take this opportunity to ask your mentors about their own job search techniques. Another tool that every student should explore as part of their career research is O-Net. This tool is the nation’s primary source of occupational information. The database is available to the public at no cost and is continually updated by surveying a broad range of workers from each occupation. More than just a database, it is also a sophisticated career exploration tool. I have come to believe that this is the best resource I have come across and used with students to explore job descriptions, educational requirements, potential for growth and what one can expect to earn. The website itself is user friendly for sighted people but I would contend that it is loaded with many levels of information which can make it challenging to navigate using screen enlargement and screen reading software. A novice technology user may need help from a sighted partner to efficiently find important information at first. Once you have completed your research and determined which professions would be the best fit for you, it’s time to begin preparing for the actual job search.  

Job Search Preparation

Since most college students will be entering the work force equally inexperienced, your college’s career counselors should be able to provide you with the same guidance as is offered to sighted students. Some of the skills your career counselor will focus on will include:

1. Writing a resume 2. Searching for job advertisements 3. Filling out job applications 4. Interview skills 5. Advice on dressing appropriately for an interview

As a student with a vision impairment you will need to consider some of the additional challenges you will be facing in your job search and how you will want to handle them. For example, you will need to decide when to disclose to your prospective employees information about your vision and the tools that you plan to use to perform your job. If you’re working with a state agency serving the visually impaired, or the state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, they should be able to provide you with specialized career counseling that will guide you through these issues. If you are not already working with such an organization, I highly recommend that you seek eligibility immediately since these agencies not only provide advocacy; they can offer assistance with tuition and assistive technology.  

Working and volunteering

While you are still in college you can already begin testing the waters of your chosen profession by getting a part-time job, or even volunteering, in your field of interest. Not only will this give you a some real-life experience but it may also open the door to a future position at the same company or organization later on. And if you discover that this job is actually not a great fit for you, you still have time to explore other options. This is a very exciting time in your life with many opportunities available to you. If you begin preparing for your future now, once you finish college you’ll have have far fewer challenges when embarking on the path towards your chosen career.
Paul Olson head shot Paul Olson is a Certified Low Vision Therapist-ACVREP and a Certified O&M Specialist–ACVREP. Paul has an M.A. in Special Education with an emphasis in Visual Impairment & Orientation & Mobility. He’s the Superintendent at North Dakota Vision Services/School for the Blind in Grand Forks, ND.  
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