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Winter 2010 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By William “Bill” Daugherty, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: In this article, Superintendent Daugherty discusses “career education,” “vocational education,” and the need for young people to develop work skills and behaviors at an early age.

Key Words: blindness, visual impairment, disability, career education, vocational education, TSBVI, DARS Division for Blind Services, work skills, work interests.

 

The concept of Career Education is an outgrowth of what we had for many years called Vocational Education. “Voc Ed” was about getting the skills needed to perform a specific job, and Career Education came about to take a broader view that included student interests and more generalized job-getting and job-keeping skills. With the employment rate of adults with visual impairments alarmingly low, we all have to continue to reevaluate what we are doing in order to ensure that young people are in the best position possible to have shot at a rewarding career, a job that pays the bills, or whatever it is that allows them to do at least these three important things: 1) make a contribution to the collective work effort of society; 2) have a network of friends and co-workers that add value to our work hours and our leisure hours; and ) have your own money. I say these three things because it is what motivates me to do what I do, and it seems hold up well as I think about the motivations of those I know and work with.

Right now in my circle there is a lot of discussion about the relative values of more generalized job-getting and job-keeping skills in areas of interest (Career Education), and more specific job skill training around interests and aptitudes (Vocational Education). I suspect that the outcome of these discussions will lead us somewhat back in the direction of specific skills training around jobs that are available in the market, and that the student in question can—and is willing to—do. I believe that one of the best avenues to the loftier career (not just a job) path is actually doing something someone is willing to give you money for. In my young adulthood I had a job where I became extremely competent at cleaning toilets. From that I developed speed and efficiency and a sense of pride over a job well done. I also developed a strong belief that I did not want to make that my life’s work, although to this day I have very high regard and respect for those who do the job.

But any move toward revising how we approach preparing students for their role as a worker doing a specific job should also include what we have learned about the concept of a career—that getting paid for doing something we love is better than pay alone. And if we want to keep getting paid for doing something we enjoy, we have to attend to what is valued in the workplace. Showing up on time, organizing around tasks, and fitting into the workplace with how we look and how we act are the basic tenets around which we have organized our career education activities, The importance of these things will never change. These are not taught in shop class. And by the way, as a completely random aside, the best diesel mechanic I have ever met was a blind man whose daughter attended TSBVI. I guess it’s pretty clear that I’m saying specific vocational training and career education are both needed, and more of it on all fronts.

Joint TSBVI/DARS-DBS programs like SWEAT (Summer Work Experience In Austin Texas) are excellent ways to help young people prepare for work, but if participation as a teenager in programs like these is the first significant exposure to work skills and behaviors, then that’s very late in the game. It’s best to start early with chores at home. Doing them regularly is more important than what the child is actually doing. Watch carefully for interests and aptitudes and build upon them. I’m imaging that a few of the successful visually impaired document shredding entrepreneurs we’ve met over the years who now have their own businesses all began with actions around the home (rip!) that might not have been initially viewed as productive. As with my toilet cleaning experience I alluded to earlier, I’m a big fan of everyone starting with work that is not glamorous, but is instead sweaty and dirty and maybe even boring. Learn to do it well, and you may find you like it; you may also find that your success can be applied to something else you’d rather be doing.