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Fall 2001 Table of Contents
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Thinking About Employment Issues for Our Children Who are Blind or Have Vision Impairments

By Kris Kiley, Region 2 NAPVI Representative, Virginia

Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2000 issue of Awareness
National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI)

My son Patrick turned 15 last February and his thoughts turned to how he would spend the summer. He had gone to camp for many years, but he felt he needed something different this year. He probably would have benefited from an academic program to boost his skills, but he had worked exceptionally hard during the school year and felt like he needed a break from the classroom.

Patrick was lucky enough to be invited to a mission project with his church youth group. The Jeremiah Project in rural Virginia teams up teenagers with an abundance of energy and promise with people who need projects done around the house. They painted homes for elderly residents, built wheelchair access ramps, and stacked firewood. They also visited with people who enjoyed hearing about the lives of young people and wanted to share stories of their own lives. There were also spiritual components and singing as well as time spent with devoted youth group leaders. This was a project for typically developing teenagers, and Patrick was the only student with a vision impairment.

As part of Patrick's transition plan for school, we started thinking about life goals and how to prepare for the workforce. At 15, he has a couple of general clusters of goals in mind. He is interested in food service and building. During the school year, he had the opportunity to "shadow" a caterer for a day. He helped prepare soup 20 21 and bake bread and work in the restaurant-size kitchen. He loved the atmosphere as well as the actual work. Over spring break we contacted a local restaurant to see if they would let Patrick volunteer there for several weeks during the summer.

A local seafood restaurant, The River's Inn, in Gloucester Point, Virginia, was kind enough to give Patrick his first opportunity in subsidized employment. Patrick was "hired" to be a busboy. His responsibilities included setting and clearing tables, filling water pitchers, and doing any other task requested by the customers or servers. He seemed to learn quickly and loved waiting on customers and making them feel comfortable. Most of all, he loved feeling like part of a team of people who were working together to keep the customers happy and well fed. The restaurant has an excellent reputation, and Patrick felt like he had to work hard not to let down the owners, chefs, hostesses, and servers in their mission to provide a warm atmosphere and wonderful meal. The job also provided the opportunity for Patrick to increase his self-esteem. When we told friends and relatives that he was working at The River's Inn, they were very impressed and expressed admiration for The River's Inn for taking a chance on Patrick and on Patrick for stretching himself by working there.

We did face some barriers. We had to locate a business that was close by, so that Patrick's dad and I could get him back and forth to work. Not being able to drive is one of the biggest hardships faced by people with low vision. At this point, we don't know if Patrick will be able to drive. If he can get a license, it will be with bioptic lenses and restricted to daylight hours. So, location is important. Patrick needed a few accommodations. He was not able to carry the tray "waiter style," using one hand, and holding it over his head. He had to carry it in front of him, using two hands, and that is not the preferred way to carry a tray in a restaurant. He also had some difficulty hearing and following verbal directions in the background noise of clanging eating utensils and noise of the busy kitchen. His coworkers and customers seemed very understanding. Many people have a friend or family member who has special needs, and the public seems very understanding of a young person who is making every effort to become a taxpayer.

Our children who live with disabilities need to feel the satisfaction of contributing to society and becoming productive citizens. They have individual needs as well as abilities. Perhaps you are not able to envision your son or daughter (or grandchild) in a situation like Patrick's, but help them find their own dreams and then make a plan and begin the process of reaching their goals. By letting your child know that you think this possible, it will help them create their own dreams. I did not say this first, but I say it often: "First we give them roots, then we give them wings."

We don't have time to wait for agencies to take this on.the students are only teenagers once, and we need to make the best use of the time we can. Agencies can help you in the process, but taking an active role is just another aspect of parenting. Sometimes an agency can help find a job and sometimes they can provide a stipend. I was successful by asking if the business could take Patrick as a volunteer, and secured the funding later.

We are very appreciative of The River's Inn for going out on a limb and giving Patrick the opportunity to work. The Virginia Department of the Visually Handicapped and the JTPA (Job Training Partnership Act) provided a stipend and support for Patrick. He used the money he earned to put toward the laptop computer we purchased to assist him in mainstream classes as he started ninth grade. I feel like it was a win-win situation all around. Patrick had a good experience, grew both emotionally and in tangible employment skills, and earned some money that he put to good use. The Commonwealth of Virginia has helped a citizen become a little closer to independence, and the employer got the services of a busboy and was able to contribute to the success of a future taxpayer.

Editor's note: The Transition Program of the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) offers similar assistance for teens and their families.

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