A follow-up study of division of blind services clients who received post-secondary educational services.
State vocational rehabilitation agencies, in keeping with federal mandates to place individuals with disabilities into remunerative employment positions in the competitive labor market, are continually searching for ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their service delivery programs. Understandably, such efforts on behalf of agencies targeted toward serving individuals with severe visual disabilities contain special concerns and issues pertinent to services provided and placement outcomes (Curry & Hatlin, 1988; Miller & Rossi, 1988; Wolffe, Roessler & Schriner, 1992).
From a more generic perspective, public agencies serving individuals with severe visual impairments are especially concerned about specialized educational concerns (Parsons, 1990), overall employment concerns (Bush-LaFrance, 1988; Wolffe, Roessler & Schriner, 1992), and the specific role(s) of those professionals having primary responsibilities for services provided (viz., the professional rehabilitation counselor [Szymanski, 1987]). Toward the ultimate vocational objective of obtaining and maintaining employment in the competitive labor market, a common service delivery component of public vocational rehabilitation agencies serving individuals with severe visual impairments is the provision of post-secondary educational services (Augusto & McGraw, 1990; Harrell & Curry, 1987; Parsons, 1990).
It is important to remember, however, that it is costly for a state/federal vocational rehabilitation agency to sponsor a severely visually impaired individual through a two-year or a four-year post-secondary educational institution. Not only is it costly in case service dollars, it also is costly in terms of the time the individual has invested into the experience. It also is critical to appreciate that the degree earned and the vocational development attributes associated with a post-secondary educational experience, are not the only benefits to be derived by the visually impaired individual (Wolffe, Roessler & Schriner, 1992). In keeping with Roberts' (1992) observation that "people with visual impairments may need compensatory training in such interpersonal techniques as monitoring the incongruence between speech and body language and dress and overall appearance" (p.180), it indeed would appear important for studies of the impact of attending a college or university on visually impaired individuals to include aspects of personal and social development as well as educational development. There indeed have been research and theoretical callings for continued investigations of the impact of educational experiences on blind and visually impaired individuals (Haugann, 1987; Kirchner, 1990; Orlansky, 1989), and it would appear that a quasi longitudinal investigation of such experiences as reported by blind and visually impaired former college and university students would meaningfully contribute to rehabilitation's body of knowledge and the impact of rehabilitation service delivery programming.
Purpose of the Study
The overall purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of college or university attendance on blind and visually impaired clients of a state vocational rehabilitation agency. The specific areas of concern pertinent to visually impaired clients' post-secondary educational experiences included in the study were: (a) demographic characteristics of the clients/students; (b) specific aspects of their poet-secondary educational experiences; (c) targeted considerations of the rehabilitation services they were afforded; (d) their placement and post-secondary education employment experiences; and (e) overall suggestions and recommendations they may have pertinent to the provision of post-secondary education to visually impaired individuals.
This study extended over a 12-month period (August, 1992 through August 1993).
An eight-page, 50-item Client Survey Questionnaire (CSQ), developed by the authors specifically for this study, was field tested and reviewed by a group of rehabilitation counselors and administrators from a state vocational rehabilitation agency, students in a graduate rehabilitation counselor education program, and (former) clients who were visually impaired of a state vocational rehabilitation agency who completed a post-secondary educational program. The CSQ contained supplied-response items, fill-in the-blank items, five-point Likert scale rating items, and open-ended questions. For logistical reasons, a Braille version of the CSQ was not developed; nonetheless, the CSQ was designed to be as user-friendly as possible.
Former clients who received post-secondary educational services from the Florida Division of Blind Services over a five-year period (1988-1992) and were closed in status 26 ("rehabilitated"), were identified. Of the total of 171 individuals identified, "current addresses" were available for 134 (78.4%) of them.
A cover letter from the state agency director, a copy of the CSQ and a postage-paid return envelope were sent to the 134 former clients. Eighteen (13.4%) were returned "undeliverable" or "address unknown"; 27 (23.3%) usable returns were received from the first mail out. A second mail out was sent to the 89 nonrespondents; 14 (15.7%) usable returns were received from the second mail out. Thus, out of the 116 ostensibly delivered and received questionnaires, the total of 41 usable returns constituted a 35.3% response rate (representing an estimated 24% of the 171 individuals in the research sample). An analysis of the respondent-by-year data, however, indicated that across the five year period (1988-1992) there was a relatively even distribution of respondents by year with a slight skew toward the more recently "closed 26" cases: 1988 - 3 (9.7%); 1989 - 6 (19.4%); 1990 - 4 (12.9%); 1991 - 8 (25.8%); and 1992 - 10 (32.2%).
The average age of the respondents was 33.50 years (SD = 7.41); 15 (48.4%) were male and 16 (51.6%) were female. Over half of them were single while in college (59%); 46.9% reported to be married now (including "divorced and remarried"). A majority of them reported to be currently living in Florida (95%), attended a "mainstream public high school" (85.4%), and had a job before going to college (65.9%).
The respondents appeared to be academically well prepared for college -- the average high school grade point average was 3.25, average Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score was 1089.33, and the average American College Test (ACT) score was 38.75. Two-thirds (67.5%) reported to have attended both 2-year and 4-year post-secondary institutions.
A great majority of the respondents (92.6%) reported having completed a two-year degree. For those who attended 4-year institutions, the majority (67.6%) attended public institutions and again most of them (88.9%) finished their 4-year degrees. Over one-third of the respondents (37.5%) attended a post-baccalaureate program.
Of the 15 (37.5%) respondents who attended post-baccalaureate programs, 13 (31.7%) attended graduate schools in the state of Florida and received graduate degrees, 10 of which were in helping professions.
Subjective Educational Outcomes
Most of the respondents (94.9%) reported that when they started college, they were "totally" (87.2%) or "moderately" (7.7%) convinced that they would graduate. Most respondents (82.5%) reported being very satisfied with their decision to attend college and over half (55%) were very satisfied with their chosen major. Another third (35.0%) was "moderately" satisfied with their chosen major. The majority (61.5%) "Got as far as they wanted to in their education."
Respondents were asked whether going to college helped them achieve an independent lifestyle. Most (89.7%) indicated that it did "somewhat" (20.5%), "very much" (35.9%), or "greatly" (33.3%).
Educationally Related Rehabilitation Services
A majority of the respondents began receiving assistance from DBS prior to going to college (43.9% while in high school and 29.3% after high school yet before college); they also received assistance from their 2-year (69%) and their 4-year (78.4%) institutions. Of the assistance received from DBS, the most frequently reported types of assistance received were diagnosis and evaluation (28% for 2-year college and 22.9% for 4-year college), college/university training (18%, 18.6%), and counseling and guidance (24%,24.3%).
Almost three-quarters of the respondents (71.4%) reported having contact with a DBS counselor four or less times per year in person and a few more (83.8%) reported this much contact by mail. Almost half of them (48.6) reported having contact four or less times per year via telephone.
Subjective Evaluations of Rehabilitation Services
Over three-quarters of the respondents (82.0%) indicated that the assistance they received from DBS was "moderately" to "extremely helpful" while they were in college (no respondent endorsed "Not at all helpful"). Almost half (48.7) of the respondents indicated that they "would not" have or would "maybe not" have been able to afford college without DBS assistance; a few (10.3%) were "not sure." A little over three-quarters (76.9%) indicated that there "should be" (53.8%) or there "maybe should be" (23.1%) a DBS counselor on campus.
Before attending college, over three-quarters (77.5%) of the respondents reported living in family living arrangements and a quarter (22.5%) reported living independently in the community. In contrast, a little over half of the respondents (52.3%) reported independent community living as their living arrangements while attending college and presently (52.5%).
Almost two-thirds of the respondents (65.9%) reported having had a job before going to college. Most of them (84.6%) are reported being presently employed (of whom 75.8% are employed full-time) and over half (60%) reported their current employment income to be between $15,000 and $30,000 per year. The greater majority of the respondents (82.4%) reported that their job is somewhat related (41.2%) or very much related (41.2%) to their college major. Furthermore, most (58.8%) reported that their job was commensurate with their education and most (69.7%) were working at the type of job they wanted to. Almost three-fourths (73.0%) of the respondents reported holding professional jobs (52.9% are human service professions).
After leaving college, respondents reported getting their first job anywhere between right away to four years (x = 7.4 months, SD=9.8). Two-thirds (65.7%) of the respondents reported that they received no direct assistance ("None, I did it on my own") from DBS in getting their first job. However, a little under a third did acknowledge "some"(17.1%) or "equal" (11.4%) assistance from DBS. Respondents also indicated that their education was helpful (38.2%), very helpful (14.7%) or extremely helpful (35.3%) in getting their present job.
General Evaluative Items
The top four response categories to the question "What was the most important assistance you received from DBS?" were: (a) college education (26.7%); (b) financial assistance (22.2%); (c) personal growth and development (17.8%); and (d) professional job/career (15.5%).
The top four response categories to the question ". . . what was the most important impact of your college education and experience on your life?" were: (a) personal growth and development (42.5%); (b) job/career (23.4%); (c) education/knowledge (14.9%); and (d) independence (10.6%). Respondents were asked if their life would be as meaningful as it is now had they not attended college; the majority (71.3%) indicated that they felt it would not.
Respondent Feedback and Recommendations
A total of 56 discernibly different responses were offered to the "additional comments, suggestions or recommendations" item. With regard to the Division of Blind Services, they indeed expressed appreciation for all of the assistance they received and especially the helpfulness of their rehabilitation counselors. There was, however, an appreciable number of responses indicating a need for more assistive technology while they were in college, some need for closer contact with their rehabilitation counselors, and a definite need (and request) for more assistance in the area of placement. It is also important to acknowledge that a number of the respondents recommended the use of large print questionnaires and/or 1-800 telephone survey alternatives for survey research methodologies with individuals who are blind and visually impaired.
Although the low response rate can be considered typical for social science research (Sallow, 1982), a note of caution must be sounded with respect to possible non-response bias. There are countless reasons why any individual did or did not respond to the survey. Unfortunately, it is easy to imagine that many of these might be confounded with the issues investigated in this study.
Overall, the clients reported that the experience of going to college was beneficial to them. They tended to consider the experience as having had a positive impact on their personal growth or development. In the area of employment, their college education was generally deemed helpful to their careers. Respondents also indicated that their college experience was helpful in achieving an independent lifestyle and that their lives would not be as meaningful had they not attended. Since they tended to feel that DBS assistance was helpful to them in attending college, it follows that this assistance is thus indirectly responsible for improving their perceived quality of life.
In general, the respondents in this study seem to be "success stories". They appeared to be academically well prepared for college and reported having been quite confident about their eventual success in college. Many attended junior college before attending a four-year institution. In the employment arena, many were employed even before attending college. Despite the caveat issued earlier regarding possible non-response bias, these findings suggest that there might be a "winning profile" which would indicate a greater chance that a client might benefit from DBS assistance and from the college experience. In an age of increasing budgetary pressures, future investigations in this area might be fruitfully aimed at determining how potential clients can best be selected and what developmental interventions might be undertaken to increase their chances of success.
Respondents reported to have had some difficulty in finding employment after graduating from college. This is consistent, however, with the relatively recent experiences of most individuals who go to college (e.g., Frank, Karst & Boles, 1989). Individuals with disabilities who have counseling services available to them on campus report to have higher success in college as well as in the process of obtaining employment after graduation (Frank, Karst & Boles, 1989). Based on the recommendations provided by the former clients in this current study, it is suggested that agencies sponsoring college students who are blind and visually impaired have a rehabilitation counselor on campus (especially if it is a large institution). Nonetheless, in keeping with a "mainstreaming" philosophy, guidance and counseling services provided through college and university counseling centers should be utilized as well.
It would appear that there are benefits for an agency serving individuals who are blind and visually impaired to selectively send their clients to college (i.e., those who are prepared, ready and motivated). A four-year college experience has a significant, meaningful and positive impact on their lives for which they are very grateful and appreciative.
It was not within the scope of this study to conduct any program evaluation type analysis of the value or effectiveness of the case service expenditures for college sponsored clients. However, it would appear probable that over the long-term, the costs of helping clients achieve vocational success (and higher tax brackets) are at least partially offset by increased tax revenue generated by these individuals. It furthermore is important to note that a majority of the "closed 26" college graduates are making numerous and meaningful humanistic contributions to society by virtue of the very nature of their employment (e.g., they are social workers, counselors, etc.). Future research focusing on this aspect may very well demonstrate that the manner of investment examined in this study might produce generalized positive dividends for society.
On-going and replication studies similar to this one are highly recommended. Moreover, the use of large-print surveys and 1-800 telephone survey options also are highly suggested.
Anyone desiring a copy of a 16-page "Technical Data Supplement,which is a tabular display of the data analyzed in this study, should contact: William G. Emener, Ph.D., CRC, Department of Rehabilitation Counseling, College of Arts and Sciences, SOC 107, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33620.
Sincerest appreciation is extended to the 41 individuals who participated in the study. This project was funded via a research contract from the Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind, Tallahassee, Florida, to Professional Psychological Services, Clearwater, Florida (which also contributed in kind matching contributions). A hearty "Thank-you" goes to Mr. Chip Kenney, a Program Administrator with the Florida Division of Blind Services, and members of his staff for their help throughout the conduct of the study. At the beginning of the study, Mr. Robert H. Evans, Jr. was working on the project as a co-researcher; an automobile accident precluded his continued involvement and we indeed have missed him, as well as his professionalism and talents. Sincerest appreciation also is extended to Dr. David E. Stenmark, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of South Florida, for his technical extertise and reviews.
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Received: January 1994 Revision: August 1994 Acceptance: August 1994
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|Author:||Marion-Landais, Conrado A.|
|Publication:||The Journal of Rehabilitation|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1995|
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