If you are exploring job options or looking to change careers, you might consider becoming a vision services professional. This field provides the opportunity to work with people of all ages from all walks of life, teach them new skills, and make a real difference in their lives by empowering them to live independently and with dignity.
The reality is that there is a critical nationwide shortage of vision services professionals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent estimates that the number of people with loss is going to double by 2030. That means the shortage of professionals is likely to get more severe in the coming years.
Could Work as a Vision Services Professional Be a Good Fit for Me?
If you can answer “Yes” to some or all of the following questions, a vision services professional career might be for you.
- Do you enjoy working with people, individually or in small groups?
- Do you like to teach and guide others to learn?
- Are you a good problem solver?
- Are you creative?
- Are you willing to think outside of the box?
- Does finding ways to make technology accessible intrigue you?
- Do you want to make a difference in someone’s life?
What Does the Vision Services Field Include?
Vision services professionals work with people from infants to senior citizens. They work in public and private schools, homes, blindness training centers, rehabilitation centers and community-based organizations. They interact with family members and other professionals, such as classroom teachers, medical personnel, vocational rehabilitation counselors, case managers, job coaches and social workers.
Possible career paths include:
- Vision rehabilitation therapist: Teaches adaptive techniques for everyday tasks.
- Orientation and mobility specialist: Teaches independent travel skills.
- Teacher of the visually impaired: Works with students to effectively participate in all aspects of classroom learning and teaches braille and access technology.
- Low vision therapist: Provides low vision evaluations and assists people in using their remaining vision effectively.
- Access technology specialist: Provides training to use access technology such as smart phones, screen reader and magnification software on computers, and other devices like braille displays and digital recorders.
Within each career title, there is much variation, and what you do depends on your work setting and the population you serve. Below is more information about what teachers of the visually impaired, vision rehabilitation therapists, and orientation and mobility specialists do. To learn more about other vision services professions, visit the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AERBVI) website.
What Do Vision Services Professionals Do?
Vision Rehabilitation Therapist
A vision rehabilitation therapist works with adults who are blind or visually impaired. They provide information, resources and training in adaptive techniques and the application of assistive products and technology used in everyday life. They teach communication skills, such as texting on a smart phone, downloading audio books onto a tablet, using keyboard shortcuts to move around a computer, and employing a magnifier for spot reading. Vision rehabilitation therapists instruct and guide an individual’s learning of daily living skills, including food preparation, labeling and establishing a medication routine. They also help find adaptive techniques for organizing clothing to prepare for work, home management, and leisure and recreation activities.
“I love watching my clients get to those ‘aha’ moments and those times where something just clicks for them,” says Jennifer Ottowitz, a vision rehabilitation therapist who is herself visually impaired. “I was working with a client teaching him how to load paper into a Braillewriter. It took a while, but once he was able to get that paper in, he had a sense of relief and joy. It was great to see that.”
Orientation and Mobility Specialist
An orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist works with people with vision loss on techniques for traveling safely, confidently and independently in their environments. This might mean encouraging a toddler to explore sounds in their home, teaching an elementary student the route from the classroom to the cafeteria, working with a college student to navigate campus buildings, helping an employee get around a work site, or teaching an older adult to cross a busy intersection safely to get to the walking path at a local park. O&M specialists teach white cane skills and incorporate technology, such as GPS and other apps, to help a person with way finding or scheduling a ride.
“I enjoy the creativity I need to use in my job,” says Kay Rhode, who has been an O&M specialist for 15 years. “If I have a concept I want my student to learn, I need to think about how to best deliver it to that person. Everyone is unique and has a different learning style.”
Teacher of the Visually Impaired
A teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) is typically a person with a teaching license in general or special education. This person has additional specialized training to meet the educational needs of students who have vision loss. A TVI may teach in a classroom where all students have a vision impairment, work as a consultant to classroom teachers who have a student with vision loss in their classroom, and provide small group and individual lessons to students. TVIs identify learning strategies, techniques and materials for all aspects of the curriculum, from spelling to physics, and from music to physical education. In addition, they teach Braille, access technology and independent and community living skills.
“My favorite aspect of my job is working with my students,” says TVI Erin Vande Hei. “I knew I wanted to teach children with visual impairments since I was in high school. I love being able to talk and bond with my students, since I have a visual impairment as well.”
How to Become a Vision Services Professional
Most vision services careers require a master’s degree. There are few schools that offer vision services professional degeres, and some programs offer online training. Some aspiring vision services professionals decide to first get an undergraduate degree from a college or university close to home, and then afterwards enter a graduate program within their area of interest.
AERBVI accredits vision services professional programs.You can find a list of programs on their website. Explore and ask lots of questions, because there are other programs and routes of entry into these jobs.
Consider doing an informational interview with a vision services professional. Check with your school district’s special education director to find teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialists. You can also visit the websites of organizations that have vision services professionals, such as these:
Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired
Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss
You can contact the vision services professionals whose information is on these sites and ask them about their work and why they find it meaningful. Here at the Council, our Vision Services staff are always open to talking with people interested in going into our field.
To get an idea of job availability, visit the Job Exchange on the AERBVI website.
If you have questions, contact the Council’s Education and Vision Services Director Amy Wurf at AWurf@WCBlind.org or 608-237-8107.