NRTC Receives Two Major National Grants
The NRTC is the proud recipient of two national grants totaling over $7.3 million that will allow the Center to continue its work to maximize employment opportunities for individuals with blindness and visual impairments (B/VI) while also expanding into new areas.
In October, the NRTC was awarded a competitive federal grant sponsored by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). This grant funds the NRTC to function as a Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Employment Outcomes for Individuals with Blindness or Other Visual Impairments. Projects funded by this grant are focused on generating new knowledge about the efficacy of rehabilitation services and technology used to support improved employment outcomes for individuals who are B/VI, and include a focus on three specific subpopulations: youth who are B/VI, individuals who are deaf-blind, and individuals with combined traumatic brain injury and B/VI.
This grant will fund RRTC-related work over five years and encompasses six major research projects:
- Development of an App to Help Parents and Youth Focus on Employment: This app, which will be developed by the NRTC and a group of partners, will help youth who are B/VI and their parents focus on the steps they need to take, starting early in life, to obtain employment upon completion of their education. An app for parents of youth with deaf-blindness and other disabilities will also be developed.
- Summer Work Experience Plus: This intervention adds a guided job search component to an existing summer work experience program conducted by a vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency with youth in their home communities. Researchers will look to see whether youth experience better employment outcomes when they gain experience in conducting a job search.
- An Experiment to Evaluate Employer Intervention Approaches: This project uses a randomized, controlled design to test the effectiveness of different approaches to a first meeting between a VR professional and a potential employer.
- The Effectiveness of an Evidence-Based Approach to VR Counselor Training: In this project, the NRTC will partner with four VR agencies to provide training to counselors on evidence-based methods for interacting effectively with employers. The training will be based on results from a current NIDILRR-funded project.
- Job Retention and Advancement: This exploratory study will generate new knowledge regarding job retention and advancement for individuals who are B/VI. Using a combination of surveys, secondary data analysis and case studies, the NRTC will evaluate factors that help individuals who are B/VI maintain their jobs, as well as the best policies VR agencies can use for job retention cases.
- Exploration of Secondary Data: Using two large existing databases, NRTC researchers will analyze data to increase knowledge about subpopulations (youth and adults who are deaf-blind, individuals with combined traumatic brain injury and B/VI) to gain a more comprehensive understanding of employment outcomes for these rarely studied populations.
The second five-year grant received by the NRTC in October 2015 will allow the Center to implement new training and technical assistance projects focused on agencies serving older individuals who are blind (OIB). This grant is funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) under the Department of Education. Projects under this grant will be led by B. J. LeJeune, the NRTC’s training supervisor. To accomplish the goals of the project, the project staff will be working in collaboration with the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (HKNC), and VisionServe Alliance. All activities are designed to improve the operation and performance of OIB programs through improved community outreach, use of best practices in the provision of services, improved data reporting and analysis, and stronger financial and management practices. The six major projects under this grant are:
- Intensive Training and Technical Assistance (TA): Three OIB programs per year will be selected to receive specialized consultation, in-depth training, technical assistance, and a follow-up plan in order to improve their operations and performance.
- Electronic Trainings: Each year, two new online training sessions for OIB service providers will be developed. In addition, existing training modules from collaborative partners will be updated specifically for OIB program use and made freely available to designated service providers.
- OIB Collaborative: Program administrators will be consulted regarding training and technical assistance opportunities available to their staff members.
- Community of Practice (CoP): The NRTC will develop a website that will host a CoP for individuals and programs in the OIB field. All activities will promote communication, quality service delivery, resource sharing, and professional support.
- Communication and Dissemination Network: A network of service delivery systems will be created and shared to reduce redundancy and promote cross-agency training, TA, service delivery, and professional development.
- Evaluation: Ongoing evaluations of activities under this grant will be aimed at improving training and TA throughout the project and to determine the effectiveness of services provided.
Both grants will allow the NRTC to partner with a broad variety of organizations in the field of blindness and low vision, and national advisory councils will guide research, training, and TA efforts and help disseminate results for both projects. Outputs from all projects, including peer-reviewed publications, online short courses, and policy and practice guides, will be made available on the NRTC website.
The grants will also allow the NRTC to expand and broaden our ability to conduct training and research through hiring additional staff members. For more information on job opportunities at the NRTC, please visit our website.
Current RRTC Research Highlights: Updates on the Mentoring Project
For many young people, having a mentor can make a big difference in the search for a satisfying, fulfilling career. For young people who are blind or visually impaired (B/VI), having a mentor who can lend insight into navigating the professional world as an individual who is B/VI can be invaluable.
Over the past five years, researchers at the NRTC have conducted a project to study whether providing college students who are B/VI with professional mentors who are also B/VI would have positive impacts on the students’ job search process and results. Researchers wanted to see whether working with a mentor could improve postgraduate employment outcomes, such as finding a job and experiencing job satisfaction, for college students who are B/VI.
The NRTC worked with consumer groups and institutions of higher education across the country to recruit mentors and mentees to participate in the program. In order to qualify, students had to be legally blind residents of the United States, graduating from college between April 2012 and December 2014. Participating mentors also had to be legally blind, and they were asked to provide their mentees with opportunities for job-shadowing and networking, as well as monthly meetings which could be conducted either over the phone or face-to-face.
Participating students were randomly assigned to either the intervention or comparison group and placed (based on their expected graduation date) into one of four program cohorts. In total, across the four cohorts, 51 students (26 comparison, 25 intervention) participated in the program, with 25 mentors also participating. Students in the comparison group received incentives to participate and information about careers. Students in the intervention group were matched with mentors working in their chosen career field. Both sets of students completed brief pre-tests to measure their job-seeking self-efficacy, assertiveness in job-seeking, and career adaptability.
In order to guide and structure the mentor/mentee relationship, the NRTC developed a mentoring manual that covers a wide range of topics, including technology, transportation, résumés, and interviews. Mentors were encouraged to use the manual as a resource for conversations with their mentees; however, their discussions were not limited to content from the manual. Mentor/mentee pairs met at least once a month, with some choosing to communicate more frequently.
After completing the program, students took post-tests to measure job-seeking self-efficacy, assertiveness in job-seeking, career adaptability, and employment outcomes (e.g., employment status, salary, benefits, job satisfaction, etc.). Students from the intervention group were also asked about their overall satisfaction with the program.
When asked about their participation in the mentoring program, students generally described having a good experience. They reported discussing a wide variety of topics with their mentors, such as how to address their visual impairments during the interview process, securing transportation to and from work and finding resources to cover the cost of assistive technology. One pair conducted mock interviews so the student could practice their interviewing techniques. A majority of students agreed that the program had been beneficial to them and reported having a good relationship with their mentors.
Mentors tended to agree with students’ positive perceptions of the experience. Ninety-five percent of mentors rated their agreement high that college students who are B/VI would benefit from this program, and 89% of mentors rated it highly likely that they would participate in a program like this again, if given the chance.
Results from the four cohorts suggest the mentoring program had a mildly positive effect on students’ job seeking outcomes. The intervention group reported a significantly greater increase in job-seeking assertiveness (i.e., showing bold, confident behavior and decision-making in job search activities) than did the comparison group. The intervention group also reported increases in job-seeking self-efficacy (i.e., a sense of confidence in one’s ability to secure a job); however, this increase was not significantly larger than the increase the comparison group made. There were no differences between the two groups in either job satisfaction or job quality (e.g., whether a job is full-time or offers benefits). By the end of the study, approximately half of the students in both the intervention and comparison groups had found employment.
For more information on the mentoring project, please visit our website. To learn how to set up your own mentoring program or mentoring relationship, you may download a free copy of our mentoring manual from our website.
In the Works: Training and Technical Assistance
New Online Randolph-Sheppard Course Now Available
The NRTC has launched a new course: The National Online Training Curriculum for Randolph-Sheppard (R-S) Business Enterprise Program (BEP) Staff. This course is designed to help orient new BEP staff members to the Randolph-Sheppard Program, although anyone, including blind entrepreneurs and vocational rehabilitation staff, are welcome to take any of the modules that they find interesting. The curriculum is composed of 14 individual modules, each covering an important aspect of the R-S program.
2016 Vision Specialist Class
This year we have eleven students in the Vision Specialist in Vocational Rehabilitation graduate certificate program. They hail from Texas, Michigan, Mississippi, Georgia, North Dakota, California, and Virginia. There are lots of exciting new activities this year, and we are welcoming Cheryl Saucier from the Signal AT Center in Chattanooga, TN as the new instructor for the Assistive Technology class. Applications will open for the 2017 class on June 1, 2016.
Mark Your Calendars
March 3-5, 2016: As part of the Older Blind Training and Technical Assistance grant, the NRTC will sponsor a special track on Aging and Vision Loss as part of the AFB Leadership Conference. The conference will include a half-day workshop for Program Managers of the Older Blind program.
Other NRTC News
Be Part of our Team
The NRTC currently has openings on our research and training team. If you are interested in helping the NRTC accomplish its mission, check our employment opportunities page for information about these positions:
- Older Blind Specialist
- Communications Specialist
- Rehabilitation Counselor/Training Specialist
- Ph.D./Postdoctoral Research Training Position
NRTC Research Utilization Award
We encourage service providers to implement NRTC research findings into their own practice or research activities, and we want to hear how you have done so and how it impacted others. Our Research Utilization Award recognizes individuals who have utilized the Center's research or training in practice, service delivery, or research projects to deliver the most substantial or widest impact on the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Applications must be submitted by May 31, 2016 to be considered for this year's award. Up to $500 will be awarded. To learn more about the criteria and how to apply, visit https://www.blind.msstate.edu/research/nrtc-training-award/.
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Publications, Presentations, and Miscellanies
Crudden, A. (2015). Transportation Issues: Perspectives of Orientation and Mobility Providers. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 109(6), 457-468.
Crudden, A., McDonnall, M., Hierholzer, A. (2015). Transportation: An Electronic Survey of Persons who are Blind or Visually Impaired. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 109(6), 445-456.
Farrow, K. (2015). Navigating the accommodations for a college course, VRT News, 5-6.
Giesen, J. M. & Hierholzer, A. (In press). Vocational rehabilitation services and employment for SSDI beneficiaries with visual impairments. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Antonelli, K. B., & McDonnall, M. C. (2016, March). Mentoring students with blindness from college to employment. American Foundation for the Blind Leadership Conference, Washington, DC.
Crudden, A. (2016, January). Transportation issues for persons with visual disabilities. 2016 Technology Symposium, Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, Talladega, AL.
LeJeune, B.J., Rogers, P., & Farrow, K. (2016, March). Training and Technical Assistance Resources for the Older Blind Program. American Foundation for the Blind Leadership Conference, Washington, DC.