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 Funded by the United States Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).

The Effectiveness of an Evidence-Based Approach to Rehabilitation Counselor Training on Working with Businesses

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

An important part of a counselor’s job is interacting with businesses to generate employment opportunities for consumers. Research supports that counselors provide the majority of placement services to consumers within VR agencies. Although this is an essential job function, many counselors are uncomfortable, or even fearful, about interacting with employers. Barriers or challenges that counselors experience to working with employers include lack of preparation/training, lack of knowledge and experience resulting in a lack of confidence, and time constraints due to large caseload sizes. Existing job development training curricula tend to focus on a sales approach, prompting counselors to “sell” their consumers to businesses, which many counselors are not comfortable with.

Through this research project we will develop and provide evidence-based training for counselors about working with employers. Working in collaboration with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Division of Blind Services (DARS-DBS), the NRTC staff will utilize existing best practice elements of the Texas DARS-DBS training curriculum and empirical results from our recent NIDILRR-funded business interactions research project, as well as existing expert knowledge to develop the content for the new training program.

The purpose of the training is to improve counselors’ knowledge and skills related to engaging with businesses. Through the training we hope to increase counselor and agency capacity to engage with business, and help counselors gain confidence with this activity. Specific areas targeted for improvement include: foundational knowledge and self-efficacy about working with businesses, use of practices consistent with the dual customer approach, number of interactions with businesses, and percentage of consumers served by the agency who achieve employment with a business. In addition to counselor training, agency administrators will also receive TA regarding successful implementation and ongoing support of the dual customer approach to business relationships.

The NRTC will partner with four VR agencies to implement and evaluate the effectiveness of the new training approach with practicing rehabilitation counselors who work with consumers who are blind or visually impaired. Seeking to determine the long-term impact of the training on counselor behavior, data will be collected over an extended period of time. Participants will be divided into two groups: one group will receive the intervention first, and the other group will receive the training approximately one year later, serving as a control group prior to receipt of the training.

Following analysis of the intervention data, the curriculum will be published on the NTAC-BVI website in the form of a self-paced, online training module for VR counselors. The NRTC staff will also be available to provide on-site training upon agency request.