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Implications for vocational success for visually impaired users of adaptive equipment.

With the advent of new technologies, vocational placement opportunities for people with visual impairments have improved dramatically. Stereotypical attitudes regarding blind and visually impaired workers have given way to an openminded consideration of occupational titles rarely considered before for this population. These progressive attitudes and considerations are the result of evidence strongly suggesting that visually impaired workers using adaptive technology can perform their duties as well as their sighted co-workers.

According to the Vocational Rehabilitation Operations Manual developed by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, adaptive equipment is defined as, "Those pieces of equipment or tools which enable a visually impaired person to obtain equal access to and reasonable accommodation on the job" (sec. 503-22, 1986). For example, a totally blind word processor could not perform his/her job unless the word processing unit was equipped with a voice synthesizer. This type of adaptive device is a computer-based unit which translates computer signals into human speech. To cite another example, a school teacher with low vision might not be able to grade student assignments without an image enlarging device known as a closed circuit television set (or C.C.T.V.), a device that allows the user to adjust print size on a portable monitor.

According to Lawrence Scadden (1983), the technological explosion has carried our society to an important crossroad, perhaps the most important in the history of education and rehabilitation of blind people. With the aid of adaptive devices, visually impaired people can independently access, store, and transmit the same information handled by sighted people. Bagley (1985) echoes the posture of Scadden and adds that without the new technology visually impaired people are limited in their abilities to access information in the environment. The extent of the visual impairment sets parameters on the person's capacity to interact with the environment without assistance; yet, largely due to technological advancement, the majority of visually impaired people can interact with their environment to nearly the same extent as sighted people.

In terms of the above statements, we might rejoice in the new technology for, as William Gallagher (1986) has stated, technological progress conveys dignity to the individual by enabling him/her to become active in the community, through either recreational activity or employment. But if adaptive technology is the "breakthrough" for which vocational rehabilitation professionals have been yearning, why do the numbers of unemployed visually impaired people remain high? Why is it that the vast majority of visually impaired, employment-oriented people are not pounding down the doors of special agendes with requests for training in the use of these devices? Perhaps Albert Bandura's views on "self-efficacy" (one's assessment of his/her own effectiveness) can shed some light on these questions.

Bandura (1977) maintains that perceived self-efficacy influences performance. Assuming this to be true, most people would tend to choose tasks they think they can perform well over those they predict will yield unsuccessful or disappointing results. Visually impaired people are not exempt from this global view. Often, in fact, the element of visual impairment alone will convince the person that he/she is incapable of work; thus, when the vocational counselor speaks of talking computers, the client sometimes reacts with fear.

Efficacy expectations determine how much effort people will expend and how long they will persist in the face of obstacles and adversive experiences (Davidson & Wilson, 1973). The stronger the perceived self-efficacy, the more active the efforts. According to Bandura (1977), those who persist in subjectively threatening activities that are in fact relatively safe will gain corrective experiences that reinforce their sense of efficacy, thereby eliminating their defensive behavior.

In their research of 27 visually impaired men and women employed in diverse occupations and using adaptive devices to perform the duties of their respective jobs, Liebman and Ryder (1987) report that all of their subjects stated that they could not work up to maximum potential without their adaptive devices. These devices included computers with both braille and voice components and magnification systems for optimum reading capacity. These 27 workers were given adequate incentives, in the forms of technical equipment and training, to increase their levels of efficacy expectations.

Efficacy expectations vary on several dimensions that have important performance implications (Lick & Bootzin, 1975). When tasks are ordered by level of difficulty, the efficacy expectations of some people may be limited to the simpler tasks, those of others may extend to moderately difficult ones, and still others may include the most taxing performances. We can say, then, that expectations differ in magnitude. Expectancies also vary in strength. People who possess strong expectations of mastery will tend to persevere in their coping efforts despite disconfirming experiences.

Training in the use of adaptive devices often requires certain prerequisite skills, such as reading and writing braille (Aston, 1979). Liebman and Ryder (1987) reaffirm this posture as they point to several cases where successfully employed visually impaired people using adaptive devices often supplement their technical training with practical application of basic compensatory skills. The acquisition of these skills, as a prelude to technical training, serves to increase the level of efficacy expectation.

Besides encouraging prospective visually impaired workers to acquire basic adaptive skills, rehabilitation professionals have the prodigious task of convincing the employer to recruit, employ, and retain qualified visually impaired people (Stern, 1981). Sensitivity training workshops strive to assist employers in developing more positive attitudes regarding the hiring of people with disabilities. Growing evidence from several lines of research support the contention that when a leader, teacher, or employer openly demonstrates confidence in the ability of the client, student, or employee, efficacy expectations increase and performance improves (Rosenthai & Jacobson, 1968). In their research on the topic of self-efficacy, Bandura, Jeffrey, and Wright (1974) emphasize that people develop somewhat different efficacy expectations based upon personal experiences. People weigh, process, and integrate diverse sources of information concerning their capability, and they regulate their effort expenditure accordingly. For example, the visually impaired computer operator with a degree of usable vision may quickly regain confidence in his / her self-efficacy by simply attaching a magnifying lens over his/her monitor. On the other hand, the adventitiously (non-congenitally visually impaired) blinded assembly worker with no usable sight may require much more than an adaptive device. Psychological ramifications can create a wide variation on individual levels of efficacy expectations. Thus, we can determine that adaptive equipment and the prerequisite training are insufficient to improve the self-efficacy of many visually impaired people.

The degree of efficacy expectation among workers with visual impairments depends largely on the availability and suitability of adaptive technology. As evidenced by increased employment opportunities for this target population, rehabilitation engineers who develop adaptive devices are deserving of our gratitude and respect. They must not stop now, for as more types of adaptive equipment become available, more doors will open for employment-oriented people who have visual impairments.

Under the terms of the recently implemented Americans with Disabilities Act, employees with disabilities must be provided with reasonable accommodations. Employees who are blind may need some special equipment, and, in many instances, low cost modifications can provide access to equipment already in use. If more equipment is needed, part of the cost may be borne by the rehabilitation agencies or the employee (Kent, 1992).

Vocational rehabilitation professionals must keep abreast of current technological progression and must transfer this knowledge to employers as well as prospective employees. According to McMahon and Nosek (1992), many rehabilitation counselors will become consultants. Attitudinal barriers toward hiring people who are visually impaired can be ameliorated by educating employers regarding the increased efficacy of the visually impaired worker using adaptive technology. Again, knowledge of the use of adaptive devices is not enough. Rehabilitation professionals must encourage many of their vocational clients to seek the necessary psychological counseling to increase confidence.

Lastly, because the technological revolution, particularly in the area of blindness, is relatively young, more research in the area of self-efficacy must be conducted. Hopefully, the results of this research will assist vocational professionals to better serve their clients.

Bibliography 1. Aston, T. (1979). Technology and employment. The New Beacon, 63, 29-32. 2. Bagley, M. (1985). Service providers assessment of the career development needs of blind and visually impaired students and rehabilitation clients and the resources required to meet those needs. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 79, 434-443.

3. Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.

4. Bandura, A., Jeffrey, R.W. & Wright, C.L. (1974). Efficacy of participant modeling as a function of response induction aids. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 83, 56-64.

5. Davidson, G.C. & Wilson, G.T. (1973). Process of fear reduction in systematic desensitization: Cognitive and social reinforcement factors in humans. Behavior Therapy, 4, 1-21.

6. Gallagher, W. & Oi, W.Y. (1986) Attitudes toward employment, technology, and independence: Introductory remarks. Proceedings of a National Symposium on the Future of Work for Disabled People: Employment and the New Technology (pp. 63-6). New York: American Foundation for the Blind.

7. Kent, D. (1992, September). First consumer, The Journal of Visual Impairment, 86, 12.

8. Lick, J. & Bootzin, R. (1975). Expectancy factors in the treatment of fear: Methodoiogical and theoretical issues. Psychological Bulletin 82, 917-931.

9. Liebman J., Miller, J. & Jackson, C. (1986). CBVI-VR 502-3. Vocational Rehabilitation Services Operations Manual. Newark, NJ: New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

10. Liebman, J. & Ryder, B. (1987, November). Reach for the stars: Practical implications of vocational success using adaptive technology Symposium conducted at the Annual Training Conference of the National Rehabilitation Association, New Orleans. LA.

11. McMahon, B. & Nosek, M. (1992, October). ADA implications for counselors. Guidepost, 35, 23.

12. Rosenthai, R. & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

13. Scadden, L.A. (1986). The changing workplace: View from a disabled technologist. Proceedings of a National Symposium on the Future of Work for Disabled People: Employment and the New Technology (pp. 45-52). New York: American Foundation for the Blind.

14. Stern, H.B. (1981). The working years: Employment. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 75, 90.

Ms. Ryder is a Career Development Specialist and Co-Facilitator of the Job Seekers Clinic of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Central Regional Office, Tom River, NJ.
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Author:Ryder, Bonnie
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Dec 22, 1992
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