Fall 2018 Quarterly Connections from the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University. News from the NRTC: Linking Blindness and Low Vision Research to Practice.

NIDILRR Celebrates 40th Anniversary

NRTC director and research professor, Dr. Michele McDonnall, and assistant research professor, Dr. Jennifer Cmar, will travel to Washington, D.C., in October to attend the 40th Anniversary Celebration for the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Community Living. The event will bring together members of the NIDILRR grant community to celebrate their many accomplishments and contributions to the field of disability, independent living, and rehabilitation research. The celebration will include a poster session on Thursday, October 18, in the Great Hall of the HHS Hubert H. Humphrey Building, where Michele and Jenn will highlight results from three projects funded by our current RRTC grant. Visit the NRTC website to learn more about the center’s history and additional NIDILRR awards.

Current Research Highlights: Job Retention and Advancement: A Mixed-Methods Investigation

When it comes to individuals with disabilities, most employment research focuses on the process of finding a job. Many individuals who are blind or visually impaired (BVI) do struggle to find employment. But after they find a job, or when a current worker starts to experience vision loss, what policies and services best help these individuals maintain their employment?

The recent federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, signed into law in 2014, emphasizes job retention and career advancement for people with disabilities. State vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies are tasked with helping these individuals find and maintain employment.

Researchers at the NRTC are using multiple sources of data to get the big picture on job retention and advancement for individuals with BVI. Once the project is complete, data sources will include:

  • Individual-level data from state VR agencies on the services received and employment outcomes of people who are BVI;
  • Survey data from individuals who are BVI on their experiences with VR and the impact of VR on their job retention or advancement;
  • Survey data from state VR agencies on their job-retention policies; and
  • In-depth case studies of individuals who are BVI on their experiences with VR and the impact of VR on their job retention or advancement.

NRTC researchers will analyze this data to answer questions such as:

  • What skills or technologies help individuals who are BVI retain their jobs?
  • When workers experience vision loss while on the job, what VR services help them keep their jobs?
  • Do people who apply to VR while employed or people who leave VR having maintained their jobs have different characteristics or receive different services compared to their peers?

This project is currently well underway. The survey of VR agencies on their policies for job retention has been completed. VR agencies in all 50 states and Washington, DC participated in the survey. In addition, analysis of VR data on employment outcomes has been completed.

While data analysis is ongoing, initial findings show that VR consumers who are BVI and who enter VR already employed have different characteristics and service patterns compared to BVI consumers who enter VR without a job. BVI applicants who enter VR already competitively employed are more likely to be White, non-Hispanic, older, more educated, and are less likely to have non-cognitive disabilities. They are more likely to receive VR services that include on-the-job supports, rehabilitation technology, counseling and guidance, technical assistance, and diagnosis and treatment.

Another recent study from this project examined the factors that put job retention at risk for VR applicants who are BVI and employed at application. Characteristics that made it more likely employed applicants would lose their jobs included being female, having a secondary disability, working fewer hours, having less education, or having a previous unsuccessful VR employment outcome. Consumers served in VR for longer periods were much more likely to lose employment, especially if they were older. Certain services—short-term, on-the-job supports; diagnosis and treatment of impairments; and rehabilitation technology services—were linked to better odds of maintaining employment. One key take-away message from this study is that prompt service delivery is an important factor in facilitating job retention.

The next major step for this project is to survey VR consumers who are BVI. The survey will ask participants about their experiences with VR, job retention, and career advancement. The survey is currently being pilot tested and will be released for participants later this fall.

If you are interested in participating in this survey, please sign up for the NRTC Research Participant Registry, if you have not already done so. When the survey is released later this fall, you will receive an email with instructions for completing the survey. Depending on your preference, you can complete the survey electronically or by phone. Individuals who complete the survey will be entered into a drawing for gift cards as a token of appreciation.

Training and Technical Assistance

Save the Date

We are excited to announce our upcoming State of the Science (SOS) Conference on Employment for Individuals with Blindness or Other Visual Impairments, which will be held in conjunction with the American Foundation for the Blind Leadership Conference on February 28 and March 1, 2019, in Arlington, Virginia. The SOS Conference is an excellent opportunity for professionals to learn about the latest research and products available to help their consumers obtain employment. We will be sponsoring up to 20 VR agency professionals to attend the conference. Additional information, including a link to the scholarship application, is available on our conference webpage. Priority will be given to applications that are received by November 15.

Research You Can Use

The NRTC focuses on research, training, and technical assistance activities that enhance employment and independent living outcomes for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. A number of publications and products have been developed as a result of these activities. We summarize our research into key points that are easy to understand and incorporate into practice. A variety of topics, including employment, transition, transportation, the Business Enterprise Program, and office technology are available to explore. Find information designed specifically for businesses, service providers, and persons with vision loss on the National Technical Assistance Center on Blindness and Visual Impairment (NTAC-BVI) website.

On the Job Employee Profiles

Have you ever wondered how an employee who is blind or visually impaired attains a career or accomplishes workplace tasks? On the Job Employee Profiles, available on the NTAC-BVI website, highlight career success stories of employees in a variety of fields. Three new employee stories have been posted to our website: business owner John Pastorius, technology auditor Sam Joehl, and CAD technician Michael Kitchens. If you or someone you know would like to be considered for our website, please contact Sophie Kershaw-Patilla at skershaw@colled.msstate.edu or 662-325-6695.

OIB-TAC Events

Join the conversation with the Older Individuals who are Blind (OIB) Technical Assistance Center, as they share information with service providers, agency personnel, and others to promote the improvement of OIB program operation and performance.

  • Live Forum - The OIB-TAC live discussion series continues on Thursday, November 15, at 1:00 PM Eastern, and you are invited to participate in this one-hour event. During the live event, you will be able to sign in to ask questions of industry experts and share your success stories, tips, strategies, and concerns for working with older individuals with vision loss. This is a text-only forum, so no audio equipment is needed, and the entire discussion will be archived for future reference. The forum topic will be Staff Qualifications (found on page 26 of the OIB-TAC Best Practices Report). It is recommended that you sign up on the website in advance by going to www.oib-tac.org/forum, then select “Create Account” to get started.
  • Water Cooler Discussion - The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) Division on Aging hosts regular Water Cooler Phone Discussions to share knowledge regarding efforts and challenges in the interest of OIB. The next event will be held on Wednesday, October 17, at 12:00 PM Eastern to provide an introduction to the OIB-TAC Community of Practice. Visit our event page for further details.

Other NRTC News

JVIB Call for Papers

Congratulations to Michele McDonnall on her selection as guest editor for the 2019 Special Issue on Employment and Visual Impairment in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB)! The Special Issue will serve as a forum for the exchange and discussion of ideas, issues, and additional knowledge to inform the global field and address a variety of topics related to employment and visual impairment, including barriers to employment, employment outcomes, job retention, use of assistive technology, and skills and training. JVIB, the international peer-reviewed journal of record in the field of blindness and visual impairment, invites reports, practice papers, and research addressing these and many other related topics of interest. Also welcome are professional articles about staff development and public education programs that relate to the employment of individuals with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities. The deadline for submissions is February 28, 2019, with publication in the November- December 2019 issue. For submission guidelines, visit the JVIB Call for Papers webpage.

Customizable Labor Force Statistics

Customizable data tables from both the Current Population Survey (CPS) and American Community Survey (ACS) are available on the Data Corner tab of the NRTC website. The data has been recently updated to present the most current, comprehensive labor force statistics for the U.S. population of people with visual difficulty. Data on national prevalence estimates for persons with self-reported visual difficulty is also available.

Publications, Presentations, and Miscellanies


Cmar, J. L., & McDonnall, M. C. (2018). Effectiveness of a job search training program for youth with visual impairments. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/2165143418792238

Crudden, A., McDonnall, M. C., & Sui, Z. (2018). Losing employment: At-risk employed vocational rehabilitation applicants with vision loss. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 112(4), 461-474.

Crudden, A., Giesen, J. M., & Sui, Z. (2018). Contrasting competitively employed and unemployed VR applicants with visual disabilities: Characteristics and VR service delivery patterns. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 49(1), 117-126.

Giesen, J. M., & Lang, A. H. (2018). Predictors of earnings enabling likely roll departure for SSDI beneficiaries with visual impairments in vocational rehabilitation. Journal of Disability Policy Studies. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/1044207318780363

McDonnall, M. C., & Antonelli, K. (2018). Employers' implicit attitudes about the competence of people who are blind. Rehabilitation Psychology. Advanced online publication. doi:10.1037/rep0000235

McDonnall, M. C., & Cmar, J. L. (2018). Experiences of young adults with deafblindness after high school. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness. 112(4), 403-410.

McDonnall, M. C., & Sui, Z. (2018). Effectiveness of a business development training for rehabilitation counselors who work with consumers who are blind or visually impaired. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0034355218796276

McDonnall, M. C., Crudden, A., & Steverson, A. (2018). Perceived impact of Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act changes on agencies serving consumers with blindness and low vision. Journal of Rehabilitation. 84(3), 39-45.

Upcoming Presentations:

Crudden, A. (2018, October). Best practices in vision rehabilitation. VisionServe Alliance 30th Annual Executive Leadership Conference, Portland, OR.

Farrow, K. (2018, November). Put your SMART foot forward. Association of Vision Rehabilitation Therapists 2018 Conference, Cleveland, OH.

Jeffords, N. (2018, October). Team building and blindness sensitivity training. Pennsylvania Association for the Blind Annual Conference, State College, PA.

Jeffords, N. (2019, November). Overview of the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision: Projects, products, training, and technical assistance. National Council of State Agencies for the Blind Fall Conference, Long Beach, CA.

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Visit our website at http://www.blind.msstate.edu/.