Effectiveness of VR Agency-Employer Interaction Practices

Principal Investigator: Michele McDonnall, m.mcdonnall@msstate.edu

When looking for a job, negative employer attitudes are a major barrier faced by many individuals who are blind or visually impaired (B/VI). Vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies can help mitigate these negative attitudes through their interactions with employers. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of existing practices used by VR agencies to interact with employers in their states. The study involved four separate projects:

  • Project 1: Identification of practices agencies currently use to interact with employers and measurement of the emphasis placed by agencies on these practices
  • Project 2: Evaluation of the practices used by VR agencies on consumer employment outcomes
  • Project 3: Measurement of employer attitudes towards, and knowledge about, employees who are B/VI
  • Project 4: Interviews with agencies with successful business relations programs

Surveys were sent out to VR agency administrators and staff across the United States to gain insight into how they currently interact with employers. Data from these surveys were analyzed in conjunction with individual consumer data (RSA-911) from each agency that serves consumers who are B/VI to determine whether agency interactions with employers are associated with consumer employment outcomes.

Results showed that what mattered most in achieving employment success for B/VI consumers were staff-level strategies (rather than agency-level strategies). For rehabilitation counselors, the use of practices consistent with the business relations model (BRM) was associated with consumer employment. The BRM focuses on a dual-customer approach in which both employers and B/VI consumers are considered customers. In this model, finding an employee who will be a good fit for the employer is just as important as finding a job that will be a good fit for the consumer. For business relations staff, use of blindness-specific techniques with employers was associated with consumer employment. Such techniques include providing education about how B/VI workers can function on the job, exposing businesses to employed people who are B/VI, and providing referrals to other businesses that employ B/VI workers.

Phone surveys were conducted with 160 randomly-selected employers across four states. Thirty-seven employers who had a relationship with VR agencies in two of these states also participated. These surveys included a measure of employer attitudes and questions about employers’ knowledge regarding how B/VI individuals can perform work tasks.

Based on the results of the employer survey, it is clear that there is a lack of knowledge among employers regarding how B/VI individuals can be successful at work. When asked to describe how B/VI workers could complete five basic work tasks (e.g., accessing a printed document), 67% of employers could not identify a single strategy. More employers thought they knew how tasks could be accomplished than actually did.

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Results from the study also showed a link between employer knowledge and employer attitudes. The more employers know about B/VI individuals and how they can be successful on the job, the more likely an employer is to have a positive attitude towards the idea of hiring a B/VI worker.

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These findings also highlight the importance of VR agencies’ work with employers. The study found that communication with VR agencies is associated with more positive employer attitudes. VR agency staff can also help facilitate more positive employer attitudes by educating employers to increase their knowledge about B/VI workers.

Four VR agencies were selected for more in-depth study based on their focus on building strong relationships with employers and their levels of client success. Fifty-two VR administrators, business relations staff, rehabilitation counselors, and employers participated in semi-structured interviews, allowing for more in-depth investigation of their business relations practices.

A national follow-up study was conducted with 382 employers in 2014. Results were similar to the original employer study, and documented the importance of employer knowledge about how B/VI people can perform job tasks and the importance of communication with VR agencies to the hiring of people who are B/VI. Results from all of these studies have been published in numerous journal articles, online short courses, and in an evidence-based practice guide. (See below for links to these products.)

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Project Outputs

  • Working with Businesses to Improve Employment Outcomes is an evidence-based practice guide that presents key research findings from the VR Agency-Business Interactions study and recommendations for agencies and counselors about working with businesses based on the findings.
  • Effectiveness of VR Agency-Employer Interaction Practices and Recommendations from Successful Agencies – Online Short Course
  • Employer Knowledge of and Attitudes Towards Individuals who are Blind or Visually Impaired as Employees – Online Short Course
  • Working with Businesses to Improve Employment Outcomes: Recommendations for Agencies and Counselors – Online Short Course