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Training Needs of Rehabilitation Counselors and Rehabilitation Teachers in State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies Serving Individuals with Visual Disabilities.

People with visual disabilities typically receive services from both rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers within the State-Federal vocational rehabilitation program. Rehabilitation counselors focus on vocational and employment issues and rehabilitation teachers provide independent living training to individuals with visual impairments. Because of the paucity of literature comparing these two groups, state rehabilitation agencies serving individuals with visual disabilities were surveyed to identify the training needs of newly hired rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers working with individuals with visual disabilities. Identification of these training needs could have implications for both pre-service and continuing education designed for these professionals.

Pre-service education, defined by Scalia and Wolfe (1984) as emphasizing "basic theory and general principles of practice" and "directed toward preparation for a profession, not a specific job," is provided by university-affiliated degree programs (p. 36). The knowledge and skills that are to be obtained through pre-service educational programs are usually established by accrediting bodies or professional associations.

For example, the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE), a national accrediting body, accredits rehabilitation counseling programs and sets forth the educational outcomes and courses or study units that must be contained in accredited graduate rehabilitation counseling programs. Rehabilitation teaching programs are approved by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). Not all rehabilitation counseling programs and rehabilitation teaching programs are accredited, nor do all rehabilitation agencies limit their hiring to individuals who have graduated from these programs.

Continuing education, defined as that "set of activities which is geared to increasing skill in one's present job" (Scalia & Wolfe, 1984), is provided via Regional Rehabilitation Continuing Education Programs (RRCEPs) and agency in-service training programs (p.37). In contrast to the more formalized curricula in pre-service education programs, continuing education programs are varied and can respond quickly to a single agency unit's needs or regional-specific needs. The variables related to continuing education are reflected in the research of Szymanski, Linkowski, Leahy, Diamond, and Thoreson (1993), who found that "education, gender, job level, job setting, job title, and years of experience" were related to perceived training needs (p. 179). Because of these variables, Szymanski et al., (1993) recommended settingspecific training needs analyses, which usually represent an important first step in determining the content of continuing education programs.

Training needs, which may be self-identified or identified by program administrators or by professional organizations, are typically of two types: perceived and actual. Actual training needs are based on objective data that identify performance deficiencies or suggest the need for additional competencies in particular areas that can be met through an educational program. Identifying performance deficiencies objectively is difficult, and more individuals tend to participate in training when they view the training as meeting their unique needs. Consequently, individuals' perceived training needs are more frequently used in identifying the content for continuing education programs (Renwick & Mirkopoulos, 1991).

Various approaches have been used to identify perceived training needs of rehabilitation professionals. For example, the training needs of rehabilitation administrators were identified by consolidating the results of several individual studies on the training needs of rehabilitation administrators in state vocational rehabilitation agencies and community rehabilitation programs (Bordieri, Riggar, Crimando, & Matkin, 1988). Modified Delphi techniques were used to develop lists of training needs of independent living center personnel (Marini, 1994; Smith, Richards, Nosek, & Gerken, 1991) and occupational therapists (Renwick & Mirkopoulos, 1991). Examples of approaches used to identify training needs of rehabilitation counselors range from a forced choice, rank-ordering of training needs (e.g., McFarlane & Sullivan, 1979), or rating items as important, important but not essential, or training not needed (Roberts, Roberts, & Greer, 1989) to the use of discrepancy scores (Szymanski et al., 1993). The discrepancy scores were the differences between ratings of perceived importance and perceived preparedness by Certified Rehabilitation Counselors.

The present investigation of training needs of rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers employed by state vocational rehabilitation agencies who work with individuals with visual disabilities was part of a larger study (Lewis & Patterson, In Press) of the roles and responsibilities of these professional groups. In requesting information on perceived training needs, it was hypothesized that professionals working with a population of individuals whose needs were defined by the specific disability of legal blindness would perceive similar needs for training. It was also hypothesized that these perceived training needs would be delineated by the professional's role in the rehabilitation process: counseling or teaching. Finally, the investigators were interested to what degree, if any, the training needs for these two professional groups would be influenced by the type of employing agency (specialized or general). Specifically, would the training needs for rehabilitation counselors and teachers working at specialized state agencies, whose only clients were legally blind, be different from the training needs identified for rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers working for state agencies that serve individuals with diverse disabilities, including visual disabilities?


The Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR) Research Committee and the National Council of State Administrators of the Blind (NCSAB) reviewed and approved, with no substantive changes, the proposed survey. The survey was then mailed to the directors of all 57 vocational rehabilitation agencies. These agencies, which included rehabilitation programs in territories (e.g., Republic of Palau, Commonwealth of Mariana, Guam, Puerto Rico) were of two types: specialized agencies (n = 24) that serve only those individuals whose primary disability is related to vision and general agencies (n = 33) that serve individuals with visual disabilities as well as individuals with other types of disabilities. The 14-item survey included questions related to hiring practices, educational requirements, caseload characteristics, and projected vacancies that were listed in parallel format for rehabilitation teachers and rehabilitation counselors. One question asked for "the top three training needs of newly hired rehabilitation counselors whose caseload consists of individuals with a primary or secondary disability related to vision." The parallel question asked for "the top three training needs of newly hired rehabilitation teachers."


The survey was sent to the state directors, but the individuals who actually completed the surveys were not identified. Of the 35 agencies (61.4%) that returned the survey, 15 were specialized agencies and 20 were general agencies. These respondents represented approximately 61% and 63% of their respective agency type (specialized or general). The respondent agencies, which were located in states representing all 10 Rehabilitation Services Administration Regions, employed or contracted with 421 rehabilitation teachers and employed 831 rehabilitation counselors to work with clients whose primary or secondary disability was vision.

In response to a question about how caseloads are determined, most of the general agencies (70%) assigned caseloads to rehabilitation counselors on the basis of both geography and disability. Clearly, all rehabilitation counselors working in specialized agencies and all rehabilitation teachers for either type of agency work exclusively with individuals with visual disabilities. Twenty percent (n = 7) of all agencies (combined and specialized) employed individuals who perform the functions of both a rehabilitation counselor and a rehabilitation teacher. A total of 61 individuals were reported as serving in this dual capacity, although the numbers employed by any one state ranged from 2 to 24 persons.

A total of 99 training needs were provided for newly hired rehabilitation counselors working with individuals whose primary or secondary disability related to vision. For newly hired rehabilitation teachers, 92 training needs were identified. The variance in the number of training needs resulted from respondents who provided fewer than the requested three training needs. Also, three respondents (i.e., Washington, D.C., Louisiana, and Guam) omitted the training needs of rehabilitation teachers, because these agencies did not employ or contract with individuals in this category. Evaluation of the qualitative data resulted in the identification of eight categories into which the training needs could be grouped: Agency Policies and Process, Blindness Teaching Skills, Job Development and Placement, Psychology of Blindness, Assistive Technology, Medical Aspects of Blindness, Community Resources and Team Issues, and Multiple Disabilities and Special Populations. The researchers independently assigned each of the responses to one of these categories. There was a 96% agreement between the two researchers' assignments.

Table 1 contains a summary of the number and type of training needs by professional specialization and agency type. Based on the number of times an item was listed, the top three training needs reported for all rehabilitation teachers were: (a) blindness teaching skills; (b) agency policies and process, and (c) assistive technology. Two of these same areas were identified by respondents as among the top three training needs for newly hired rehabilitation counselors working with individuals with visual disabilities. In order, the perceived needs of rehabilitation counselors were: (a) job development and placement; (b) agency policies and process; and (c) assistive technology.

 Rehabilitation Counselors

 General Specialized
 Agencies Agencies

Job Placement 17 12

Agency/Process 8 8

Assistive 12 3

Medical Aspects 11 1

Blindness 4
Teaching Skills

Psychology of 8 4

Multiple 1 2
Disabilities and
Special Populations

Community 3 5
Resources and
Team Issues

Total 64 35

 Rehabilitation Teachers

 General Specialized Total
 Agencies Agencies

Job Placement 4 1 34

Agency/Process 7 9 32

Assistive 11 3 29

Medical Aspects 10 2 24

Blindness 9 10 23
Teaching Skills

Psychology of 6 3 21

Multiple 5 8 16
Disabilities and
Special Populations

Community 2 2 12
Resources and
Team Issues

Total 54 38 191

The results of a Chi Square Test showed significant differences between the overall training needs of rehabilitation teachers and rehabilitation counselors, [chi square] (7, N = 191) = 17.02, p [is less than] .05. Job placement issues were noted significantly more frequently (p [is less than] .05) as a training need by rehabilitation counselors, [chi square] (1, N = 34) = 48.97, p [is less than] .05). For rehabilitation teachers, the areas of blindness teaching skills and working with special populations were reported significantly more frequently, [chi square] (1, N = 34) = 20.85, p [is less than] .05). No significant differences were found between the training needs of rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers in the other six areas (e.g., agency process, assistive technology).

When the training needs reported for newly hired rehabilitation teachers at specialized and general agencies were compared, a Chi Square analysis did not reveal any significant differences, [chi square] (7, N = 92) = 11.7, p [is greater than] .05. When the perceived training needs of rehabilitation counselors employed by general agencies and working with individuals with visual disabilities were compared to the training needs of rehabilitation counselors at specialized agencies, the observed Chi Square values differed from expected values only with regard to the perceived need for training on the medical aspects of visual disability, [chi square] (1, N = 12) = 18.42, p [is greater than] .05. Training in this area was reported as a need for rehabilitation counselors employed by general, not specialized, agencies.

Interestingly, a Chi Square analysis revealed significant differences between the training needs reported for the two groups of rehabilitation professionals working with legally blind clients at specialized and general agencies [chi square] (7, N = 191) = 20.46, p [is less than] .05. In particular, the observed values exceeded the expected values with regard to training needs related to medical aspects of visual disability and special populations. Fewer professionals employed by specialized agencies reportedly require training in medical aspects of visual disability, while more of the rehabilitation personnel at specialized agencies are perceived to require training in meeting the needs of special populations (e.g., individuals with dual disabilities, older individuals, individuals with traumatic brain injury, and people with learning disabilities) than the same personnel at general agencies.


Rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers are members of the multidisciplinary team that often provides necessary services to individuals who are experiencing vocational rehabilitation needs related to blindness. It could be predicted that these two professionals would have many common training needs due to their work with people with a specific disability, but that some training needs would remain distinct, unique to the primary job (i.e., counseling or teaching) performed by each professional. These data support this concept. Agency administrators report that newly hired rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers who work with individuals with visual disabilities need training in one or more of eight identified areas.

When the training needs of rehabilitation professionals (both counselors and teachers) are examined with regard to the type of agency by which they are employed, some interesting differences were revealed. Rehabilitation professionals employed by general agencies are reported by their administrators to need more training in the area of medical aspects of visual disability than are their counterparts employed by specialized agencies. Rehabilitation professionals working at specialized agencies, on the other hand, are reported more frequently to require training in providing services to special populations of individuals who are blind than do the rehabilitation professionals employed at general agencies.

These discrepancies raise several questions regarding the differing practices in the vocational rehabilitation services offered by these two types of agencies. Is it possible that specialized agencies serve a more diverse population, as suggested by The National Accreditation Council (1997), which could account for the greater need for this kind of training? Or do rehabilitation professionals working at general agencies have more resources related to serving more diverse populations available to them? Do rehabilitation professionals employed as new hires by general agencies have less entry-level blindness-specific training that might be reflected in the need for greater information about this disability? Are new rehabilitation professionals working at general agencies more isolated and less able to get information on visual disability from co-workers? These questions cannot be answered by these data, and are appropriate foci for future research.

Overall, the state directors indicated that newly hired rehabilitation counselors working with people with visual disabilities needed additional training in job placement, whereas newly hired rehabilitation teachers need training in blindness teaching skills and working with special populations. Both professionals reportedly have high needs for training in agency processes and assistive technology. It seems reasonable to expect that new employees would need training in the processes specific to their employing agency. Although case management is an important part of the pre-service training of both rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers, orientation to and familiarization with an agency's unique procedures, policies, and forms is always necessary for the smooth integration of the new hire into an agency's culture.

The need for information about assistive technology used by people who are blind also is understandable. Both rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers must have knowledge of the variety of devices that are available, their characteristics, limitations, and potential for enhancing the personal and vocational functioning of clients with visual disabilities. Rehabilitation teachers often are responsible for training clients to use these devices and, therefore, must possess a thorough understanding of each device's operation. Similarly, rehabilitation counselors must utilize their knowledge of each device's capabilities in their job development and placement efforts. Regardless of the level of pre-service training related to the assistive technologies used by people who are blind and visually impaired, further training will always be critical to enhancing employment options, since the nature and scope of these technologies (e.g., refreshable braille systems, braille-to-speech notetaking devices, speech access programs compatible with the Windows operating system) change so rapidly.

It is more difficult to explain the reported need for training of new hires in the areas of job development (for rehabilitation counselors) and blindness teaching skills (for rehabilitation teachers) without considering the quality of pre-service educational programs or the hiring practices of state vocational rehabilitation agencies. Graduates of CORE-accredited rehabilitation counseling programs are evaluated in terms of 12 educational outcomes associated with job development and placement. Although it might be argued that skills necessary to identify appropriate employment opportunities for clients who are blind are different than the job development and placement strategies stressed in most rehabilitation counseling programs, the authors reject this explanation. Appropriately educated rehabilitation counselors should have acquired these skills as part of their pre-service training, since placement is a process that is client-specific, but not disability-specific (Salamone, 1996).

Likewise, appropriately educated rehabilitation teachers should not need extensive in-service training in blindness teaching skills. Grouped in this category of responses were training needs identified as "mobility," "braille," "how to teach the blind," and "assistive skills training." Newly hired rehabilitation teachers from AER-recognized rehabilitation teaching programs should already possess these skills. If they do not, employers need to provide this feedback to the programs or accrediting body. However, these training needs may reflect the hiring practices of state vocational rehabilitation agencies, which may not be hiring qualified personnel and are choosing instead to train "in house." This conclusion can only be considered within the context of the following limitations associated with this study.

First, the agency administrators who responded to the survey were asked to generalize about the training needs of new hires (rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers) who work with individuals with visual disabilities. Because the term "newly hired" was not defined and, thus, not standardized, it is possible that state directors varied in their interpretation of the tenn. State directors were not asked whether training needs differed by educational level or type of pre-service educational program. Nor were they asked the percentage of new hires with degrees in rehabilitation counseling or rehabilitation teaching. Although the data was collected in 1996, state rehabilitation agencies and the Rehabilitation Services Administration are still addressing the 1992 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which require hiring "qualified" personnel and implementation of personnel development plans for each state agency. It is possible that agency administrators responded on the basis of "what has been," more than on changes occurring as a result of changes in hiring practices in response to the 1992 Amendments to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. Another reasonable explanation for these findings may be that administrators believe that rehabilitation teachers and rehabilitation counselors can never have enough training in the basic purpose of their position - job development and job placement for rehabilitation counselors or blindness teaching (independent living) skills for rehabilitation teachers.

The needs identified by rehabilitation administrators in this study are consistent with those of other recent studies concerning the training needs of rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers. For example, Szymanski et al. (1993), in her investigation of the training needs of rehabilitation counselors, found that vocational services, which includes job development and job placement, had "comparatively high mean discrepancy" ratings between importance and preparedness (p. 173). When Beliveau-Tobey and De l'Aune (1991) evaluated the survey responses of 435 rehabilitation teachers, who were asked to rate the importance of 100 tasks performed by rehabilitation teachers and to indicate (yes/no) whether additional training was needed, they found that additional training was desired in the following areas: (a) maintaining current knowledge relevant to working with clients who have additional impairments, (b) developing and teaching strategies for improving visual efficiency, and (c) investigating and evaluating new technology relevant to rehabilitation. Referencing the work of Beattie (1990), Justesen and Menlove (1994) stated that "in-service assistive technology training for individuals who are already in the field providing services to people with disabilities is the most critical need identified by The Coalition on Technology and Disability" (p. 258).

This investigation has implications for pre-service, in-service, and continuing education. RRCEPs and human resource development personnel of state agencies may wish to consider combining training activities for rehabilitation counselors working with individuals with visual disabilities and rehabilitation teachers in the areas of agency policies/process and assistive technology. These areas are job-specific training needs identified as important for both professional groups. However, job development, job placement, and assistive technology must remain central to the mission of pre-service rehabilitation counseling programs. Similarly, blindness teaching skills and assistive technology must remain central to the mission of rehabilitation teaching pre-service programs, since these areas represent training for a profession. If both pre-service and continuing education programs focus on these areas, services to individuals with visual disabilities who are served by the State-Federal Vocational Program will be enhanced.


This study investigated the training needs of newly hired rehabilitation counselors who work with individuals with visual disabilities, and newly hired rehabilitation teachers. The similarity in training needs for these two groups has implications for state agency in-service training and continuing education programs. The fact that the top training need for each group is part of the required pre-service curricula suggests that these areas are not adequately covered in the pre-service programs or that appropriately educated individuals are not hired. Thus, the findings of this study provide direction for further research related to the hiring practices of rehabilitation agencies and the extent to which the pre-service curricula are adequate to the needs of the state agencies. The current emphasis on measurement of client outcomes as an indicator of agency effectiveness will require an evaluation of the quality of the intervention (Crews & Long, 1997), one component of which is the competence of the involved rehabilitation personnel. In this event, it will be important to know the level of knowledge, skills, and abilities of service providers and how those knowledge, skills, and abilities were acquired.


Beattie, P. (1990, September). The coalition on technology and disability working group on training. Statement prepared for the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research Public Forum on Part C of Public Law 100-407, Washington, D.C.

Beliveau-Tobey, M., & De l'Aune, W. (1991). Identification of roles and functions of rehabilitation teachers. Mississippi State, MS: Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision.

Bordieri, J.E., Riggar, T.F., Crimando, W., & Matkin, R.E. (1988). Education and training needs for rehabilitation administrators. Rehabilitation Education, 2, 9-15.

Crews, J.E., & Long, R.G. (1997). Conceptual and methodological issues in rehabilitation outcomes for adults who are visually impaired. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 91, 117-130.

Justesen, T.R., & Menlove, M. (1994). Assistive technology education in rehabilitation counselor programs. Rehabilitation Education, 7, 253-260.

Lewis, S., & Patterson, J. (in press). Rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation teachers in state vocational rehabilitation agencies. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.

Marini, I. (1994). Identified service and training needs of centers for independent living in the Southeastern United States. Journal of Rehabilitation, 60(1), 47-51.

McFarlane, F.R., & Sullivan, M. (1979). Educational and training needs of rehabilitation counselors: Implications for training. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 100, 41-43.

National Accreditation Council. (1997). Outcomes achieved by consumers with vision loss served by specialized and general state Vocational Rehabilitation agencies, FY 1994: Review of selected variables. New York: Author.

Renwick, R., & Mirkopoulos, C. (1991). Continuing professional education needs assessment: A systematic regional study. Rehabilitation Education, 5, 185-197.

Roberts, R., Roberts, R., & Greet, B. (1989). A survey of training needs in Tennessee vocational training centers. Rehabilitation Education, 3, 43-53.

Salamone, P. (1996). Career counseling and job placement: Theory and practice. In E.M. Szymanski & R.M. Parker (Eds.), Work and disability: Issues and strategies in career development and job placement (pp. 365-420). Austin: Pro-Ed.

Scalia, V.A., & Wolfe, R.R. (1984). Rehabilitation counselor education. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 15(3), 34-37.

Smith, Q.W., Richards, L.K., Nosek, M.A., & Gerken, L. (1991). Education and training needs of independent living center managers. Rehabilitation Education, 5, 101-111.

Szymanski, E.M., Linkowski, D.C., Leahy, M.J., Diamond, E.E., & Thoreson, R.W. (1993). Human resource development: An examination of perceived training needs of Certified Rehabilitation Counselors. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 37, 163-181.

Sandra Lewis Florida State University

Jeanne Boland Patterson Council on Rehabilitation Education

Dr. Sandra Lewis, 205 Stone Building, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-44593
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Author:Patterson, Jeanne Boland
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 1998
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