Q: My teenaged daughter has vision loss. How can I help her begin to prepare for a career?

A: The transition from secondary or post-secondary education to the workforce can be an exciting and nerve-wracking experience for any teenager. Let’s face it: it is a major step towards adulthood and independence. For a teen living with vision loss, this transition may be even more challenging. As a parent, you can be your teen’s greatest supporter, since no one else knows your daughter as well as you do. Taking an active role will help to ensure she is prepared for the road that lies ahead.

Building skills

It is important for young adults living with vision loss to ensure their skills are competitively matched with their peers. As a parent, you should focus on encouraging the development of interpersonal, functional and technological skills throughout your daughter’s life.

Encouraging your teen to register for CNIB services is a first step. A wide range of services are available to help your teen live well with vision loss, such as orientation and mobility and independent living skills training.

Work with your daughter to identify what her strengths are and positively reinforce those strengths. At the same time, look for solutions to address areas where her skills could be stronger. For example, if your teen is having a hard time making the best use of computers, enrol her in a course on adaptive technologies. CNIB offers a variety of computer courses to help people with vision loss develop adaptive technology skills. If your child is particularly shy, get her to volunteer so she can meet new people and build interpersonal skills.

Although you may find yourself slightly more protective than the average parent as a result of your teen’s disability, you’ll need to let go of the reins as she steps into adulthood. Being independent is particularly important for teens with vision loss as they enter their post-secondary education, because unlike high school, teens are required to take on a more active role in advocating for their needs. By post-secondary school, your daughter should be able to request materials in alternative formats or ask for further orientation and mobility training if she thinks she needs it. This is good preparation for the years ahead: as your teen enters the workforce she will need to be prepared to express the importance of having her accessibility requirements met so she can get her job done in the workforce.

Throughout high school, focus on helping your daughter to build self esteem so she has the confidence to ask for what she needs. Modelling effective advocacy skills is one way to do it – watching you advocate for your own needs can help your daughter to develop strong self-advocacy skills herself.

Be sure to check with your local CNIB office for specialized skills development programs for teens – there are programs of various kinds happening across Canada. For example, the CNIB SCORE Summer Program helps teens between the ages of 16 and 18 to develop interpersonal, leadership, team building and career skills. Offered for two weeks every summer, eligible participants attend for free and have the opportunity to explore career options and meet others with vision loss who have been successful in the workforce.

Career exploration

Helping your daughter understand early on the link between high school and her future career is important. For example, if she is interested in the travel industry, point out how courses such as geography can help. Be sure to explain how good marks can help with future opportunities, such as meeting eligibility requirements for a particular school or program that can lead to a chosen career.

Sit down with your teen and find out what her interests and dreams are. Don’t let your teen’s disability discourage her from pursuing what she’s interested in. If she has a passion for aviation, don’t immediately discount it because it is a highly visual industry. There are areas within the field she may be able to pursue. Support her as much as possible, and let her know her decision is not set in stone. We all take a while to figure out what vocation “fits” us, and your daughter should know it is okay to change her mind along the way, or to take her time to decide what she wants to do with her life.

Once your teen has discovered what she is interested in, put her in touch with an employment counsellor either through CNIB or another agency that works with people with vision loss. An employment counsellor can:

  • help your daughter develop a career plan that fits her skills and abilities
  • put her in touch with mentors in her desired field, and
  • assist with job searches and resume building.

You can view a list of employment services offered on CNIB’s website.

Breaking barriers

Unlike their sighted peers, young adults with vision loss will need accommodations to get through university or college. As a start, it is helpful to know what your teen’s rights are. In Canada, all educational institutions have a legal obligation to accommodate a student with a disability, including vision loss, according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a result, many post-secondary institutions now have programs that serve students with disabilities. Services and accommodations will vary from school to school.

Your teen should spend lots of time researching post-secondary schools before accepting any offers of admission to ensure her needs will be met. Once your daughter has made a decision and been accepted somewhere, and knows what courses she is taking, it is a good idea for her to meet with each of her professors to discuss her requirements. This will help her feel more prepared.

Encourage your daughter to join support groups for students with disabilities. In addition to giving her the opportunity to meet others who are facing similar challenges, it will also help her to learn from her peers about what accessibility services are available. If there are no such associations or groups available in the community where she is attending post-secondary school, encourage her to start one or become a member of NEADS – The National Educational Association of Disabled Students. As a NEADS member, your teen will receive information on services and programs for students with disabilities nationwide. NEADS also has information about scholarships for students with disabilities, workshops, job forums and more.

About the Expert:

Duane MorganDuane Morgan is an employment counsellor at CNIB in St. John’s, Newfoundland. As a person living with vision loss, he can relate to the struggles that vision loss can bring to any teenager. He obtained his B.A. in Psychology from Memorial University in Newfoundland and has worked extensively with assistive technology.