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Blind Teens Building Careers

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Daytona Beach News Journal (Florida), June 14, 2006: www.news-journalonline.com

For most teens, their lives are burdened with self-doubt, peer pressure, teen angst and lifelong career goals.

Multiply these issues a hundred times and you will get a sense of what a blind teen deals with when faced with that first step on a career path.

Besides problems encountered by a teen's own eye affliction, some employers are reluctant to hire visually impaired teens. They fear the new-hire may not be able to handle the job or may cause the business to incur larger insurance premiums for being "accident-prone."

But, as the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI) Transition Program has proven, these concerns are totally unfounded.

"A lot of teens, ages 14 through 18, routinely get jobs at McDonald's, Publix, Burger King, or K-Mart and so on, with little or no restriction," says Ronee Hudson, executive director of CVI, one of Florida's leading agencies for the rehabilitation and mainstreaming of the blind and sight-impaired.

"Early job experiences are an important factor in a teen's development, and in his or her eventual career choice," Hudson continues. "But the visually-challenged teen lacks this early exposure to the job market."

Learning day-to-day job skills "leads to a whole cluster of life-orientation skills, from meal preparation to money management," she adds.

The Florida Division of Blind Services (DBS) stepped in to analyze this problem, and developed a program, working with businesses and employers in the area, to furnish blind teens jobs locally. The Transition Program finds CVI partnering with DBS to establish necessary resources.

Transition training encompasses everything from mock job interviews, teaching how to develop an effective resume, how to budget money, banking skills and public speaking, as well as proper dress attire in the workplace. In addition, teens learn behavioural skills, how to keep the job and maintain a successful and compatible relationship with employers and peers.

"DBS funds the program, while CVI is the actual implementer," Hudson points out.

One important facet for the transition teen is to learn "job protocol"--not to walk off the job without giving the employer advance notice and to avoid prolonged absenteeism from one's job.

Some of the participants in last year's program found a rich mix of employers, including WROD Radio, Goodwill Stores, WORE Inc., United Way of Volusia/Flagler Counties, Gold's Gym and CVI itself.

Carolyn S. Leitch provides a teacher's point of view on the Transition Program, which she serves as instructor-mentor.

"Mentoring the teen--providing a role model for the young person in the course of his or her transitions--is just as important as it is to instruct them how to adapt to the work world," Leitch says.

"It's a great tool for creating empathy with the youngsters and helping them attain the confidence to take on job assignments."

At least one Transition alumnus, John Williams, has secured a permanent position as board operator at WELE Radio. He reports he has advanced in his WELE duties "from dubbing commercials to co-producing commercials while working the board" and is one of Transition's big success stories.

Summing up the program, which is actually a summer session for teens on hiatus from school, Hudson praised the program's benefits.

"Our Transition course helps melt down the barriers between the visually-handicapped teen job hunter and the employer looking for bright, well-motivated high school teens," she says.

For more information about the CVI Transition Program--scheduled to begin July 19--call (386) 253-8879 or email: cvisight@bellsouth.net

Reprinted with permission of the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Copyright 2006.