Quarterly Connections: News from the NRTCLinking Blindness and Low Vision Research to Practice
Congratulations to B.J. LeJeune!
B.J. LeJeune, the NRTC's Training Supervisor, received a big surprise when she arrived at the annual conference of the Association of Vision Rehabilitation Therapists in November 2014. Unbeknownst to her, she was the 2014 winner of the Charlyn Allen Award, presented in recognition of outstanding achievement, dedication, and leadership in the field of rehabilitation therapy for the blind and visually impaired. Receiving this award from an association of professionals she values so highly was an experience B.J. describes as "significant and humbling."
B.J.'s long career in the field of vision rehabilitation has led her along a winding path of innovative research and training. Now, as the NRTC's Training Supervisor, B.J. spearheads the NRTC's knowledge translation activities, seeking to communicate the latest research results to a national audience of practitioners and consumers.
In light of her career-capping award and her extensive work on many iterations of NIDRR grants, the NRTC decided to ask B.J. to reflect back on her years of research and training in the area of blindness and low vision:
Q: At what point did you become interested in working with individuals with blindness and low vision?
B.J.: Growing up, I was very close to my grandfather, who lived with my family. He had age-related deaf-blindness, and in hindsight I think living with him and seeing how independent he was really piqued my interest in the area of deaf-blindness. I also distinctly remember reading the book Follow My Leader as a child, which is about someone who was blind getting a guide dog. I don't remember many other books I read as a child, so this one clearly made a big impact! I thought the idea of a guide dog was just the coolest thing.
Q: How did your career progress?
B.J.: After stumbling into my first job in the field at a local agency for the older blind, I went on to complete my Bachelor's Degree, and then a Master's Degree. My area of specialty was deaf-blindness, and I did my student teaching at the Arkansas School for the Blind and my internship at the Mountain Plains Regional Center for Deaf-Blind Children. Throughout my career, I've also worked as a rehabilitation counselor, a vision rehabilitation therapist, and I also worked with students who were blind at Arizona State University. I eventually made my way to the NRTC here at Mississippi State University in the mid-1980s.
Q: What are some of the most interesting NIDRR-funded research projects you've been a part of during your time here at the NRTC?
B.J.: There are two very interesting projects that come to mind. One was an exploratory study on persons aging with hearing and vision loss, where we were able to identify some very interesting issues and strategies people are using to overcome challenges. The other was a NIDRR grant we received to study the transition-age population. One aspect of my activities on that project was an intervention called Project HIRE. This was a 10-week online program geared toward high school and college students with blindness and low vision. The online curriculum guided them through exploring areas such as job-seeking skills, career decisions, and self-awareness. We interacted regularly with a small group of students as they worked through the curriculum. The results of this project turned into the Career Advantage online curriculum, which is currently available free of charge on our website to any individual of any age hoping to brush up on their skills in order to gain employment.
Q: The NRTC is coming up on the last year of a 5-year NIDRR grant focused on improving employment outcomes for individuals with blindness and low vision. What has been your involvement in this grant?
B.J.: My role is to lead all knowledge translation activities. The biggest project has been getting a new website- the National Technical Assistance Center on Blindness and Visual Impairment (NTAC-BVI) - up and running. This site has a very practical focus and is geared toward three main audiences: employers, service providers, and consumers. The goal is to translate our research into best practices for each of these three groups. NTAC-BVI also serves as a home base for finding resources in a wide variety of areas, from employment to transition.
We've also been working hard to create a library of free online short courses. These courses cover a broad range of topics, from medical aspects of blindness to the latest research findings from NRTC staff. The majority of these are structured as a PowerPoint presentation with audio commentary. The short courses are geared toward busy professionals who want to update their knowledge in a convenient way. Continuing education credits are offered to those who successfully complete a brief quiz at the end of each course.
Q: Of all the NIDRR-funded work you've done, what are the accomplishments you're most proud of?
B.J.: In general, I'm really excited about all the knowledge translation activities that are going on right now. In the past, knowledge translation wasn't such a big focus, and I'm pleased that NIDRR is promoting more of a focus on the practical application of research findings and sharing best practices with a wide audience. I'm very excited about the NTAC-BVI website and its ability to reach more people to get the message out more broadly and more effectively. I also think the online short courses are reaching people with information they didn't have access to before.
Current RRTC Research Highlights: VR Agency-Employer Interactions Project Update
The unemployment rate for individuals with blindness and low vision is significantly higher than the rate for their peers without vision loss. Finding a job can be a daunting task for anyone, and people with blindness and low vision face added challenges. One commonly-cited barrier to employment for this population is the negative attitudes of employers toward hiring a worker with blindness or low vision.
Although negative employer attitudes are often identified as the biggest challenge to finding employment, relatively little research has been done in this area. In order to better understand employers' attitudes toward individuals with blindness and low vision and to discover how Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies can positively impact those attitudes, the NRTC undertook a 4-part project.
Parts 1 and 2 of the project involved identifying the ways VR agency staff currently interact with employers and whether these interactions are associated with employment outcomes for consumers. Data was collected with a national survey of VR agency administrators and VR agency staff and combined with RSA-911 data for analyses. Counselors' use of the dual customer approach, which focuses on serving both employers and consumers as customers, was found to be associated with positive employment outcomes for clients. Business relations staff's use of blindness-specific techniques with businesses was also found to be positively associated with consumer outcomes.
Part 3 of the project aimed to measure employer attitudes towards and knowledge about individuals with blindness and low vision. Two recent publications highlight findings from this portion of the study. The first article, "Employer Knowledge of and Attitudes Toward Employees Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired," published in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness in the May-June 2014 issue, presents results from a survey of 197 employers in four states. The survey gauged employers' knowledge of how individuals with blindness and low vision can perform common workplace tasks and sought to understand whether this knowledge was associated with employers' attitudes about hiring individuals with blindness or low vision. Survey results showed that:
A second article, "Predictors of Employer Attitudes toward People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired as Employees," currently in press with the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, took a closer look at the factors that predict employers' attitudes toward individuals with blindness and low vision. In particular, researchers wanted to understand the relationship between employers' knowledge and their attitudes when other factors were considered. Using data from the surveys described above, researchers used multiple regression analysis and found that three variables were significant predictors of more positive employer attitudes:
These results reinforce the importance of VR agency staff staying in regular contact with employers. Through these interactions, VR personnel can help improve employers' knowledge levels regarding workplace accommodations and on-the-job training experiences, hopefully leading to improved attitudes among employers and more job opportunities for individuals with blindness and low vision.
Part 4 of the project, in-depth interviews with VR agencies who have successful business relations programs and the employers they work with, has been completed. Data analysis from this component is currently underway. For more information on this project, contact Michele McDonnall at email@example.com.
In the Works: Training and Technical Assistance
Vision Specialist Program 2015
The next cohort of the Vision Specialist Program will start training in January 2015. Funded for a five-year cycle through a grant from the Rehabilitation Services Administration, this cohort of 13 students representing 11 states is one of the largest in the program's history. Using an extensively-updated curriculum, participants will train in a wide range of subjects, with an emphasis on job placement for consumers. They will also have the chance to hear first-hand from researchers in the field on their latest findings and implications for evidence-based practice.
New Short Course on Findings from SSDI StudyIn the coming months, the NRTC will be updating our library of online short courses to reflect findings from research projects under the RRTC grant. A short course relating findings from the first round of data analysis from the Employment Outcomes of SSDI Beneficiaries study has just been released. This short course consists of two parts - a narrative outlining major findings and a roundtable discussion between practitioners in the field discussing the implications. All short courses are a combination of audio and visual content. They are available free of charge and can be accessed at http://ntac.blind.msstate.edu/courses/.
Other NRTC News:
The NRTC Celebrates White Cane Day
In recognition of October 15th, White Cane Day, NRTC staff member Kendra Farrow published a series of posts on the NRTC Facebook page. These posts, which were gradually unveiled in the days leading up to the event, detailed Kendra's own personal journey of white cane use and acceptance. Her posts were later published as a blog post on the American Foundation for the Blind's VisionAware website.
Publications, Presentations, and Miscellanies
Publication in Press:
For Additional NRTC News and Activities:
Visit our website at http://www.blind.msstate.edu/.
This newsletter was supported in part by grant #H133B10022 from the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). Newsletter contents do not represent policies of NIDRR or the Department of Education and viewers should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Please feel free to forward this newsletter to interested parties.
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