Sandy’s View: Finding Your First Job as a Teen with Vision Loss
It was during my junior year in high school that I found out I would have my first ever summer job. Like most teenagers, I was eager to earn money for the first time! However, unlike other people, finding that first job was not simple. Truth be told, I was skeptical of applying to the typical jobs teenagers work in to make some extra money. It’s not that I did not want to work, rather I did not know where to start or if employers would want to hire me. I am totally blind, and was doubtful that restaurants, stores or other businesses would give me a chance. After all, I had heard about the difficulties people with vision loss encounter when looking for a job. It is not impossible by any means for someone who is blind or visually impaired to work at a grocery store or restaurant, but unfortunately many people still believe otherwise.
My teacher of the visually impaired and orientation & mobility instructor were able to arrange a part-time job for me that summer. They were teaching a summer day program for children who are blind or visually impaired, and suggested I work as a teacher assistant in the classroom. To say that I was ecstatic to know I would have my first ever job just like everyone else is an understatement! Working as a teacher was not something I planned to do for the rest of my life, but I knew that the job would give me valuable experience for my future career. Sure enough, the part-time position helped me prepare for my first internship, and not to mention it was a great addition to my resume!
I was incredibly fortunate that my teachers could coordinate this summer job for me, but not all students with vision impairments get to experience that opportunity. Often it is because there simply are not enough resources to provide them with the support they need to find work. To help teens and young adults with vision impairments obtain the tools they need to gain employment and become independent in all areas of their lives, The Chicago Lighthouse created the Youth Transitions Program in 2016. Shelle Hamer is the Director of the Youth Transitions Program. As a long-time teacher of students with vision impairments, Shelle saw firsthand how important it is for youth to have this type of support.
“I saw that there was a real need for kids that have low vision and blindness to do something in the summer, to get their first job,” she says.
One of the most popular components of Youth Transitions is the First Jobs Program, which helps provide summer jobs for high school students who are blind or visually impaired. During this six-week paid internship, students receive individualized support throughout every step of the job-seeking process. The first week of the program consists of creating a resume, doing mock interviews, and working on other communication and job skills. Following this preparation and training, students start working in their individual jobs. Previously, participants have worked in places like Mariano’s, Walgreens, and in various departments throughout The Lighthouse. Each placement is specifically designed around the student’s needs and goals. Some students have even continued to work in these jobs well after the Program ends.
In addition to First Jobs, the Youth Transitions Program also offers the Summer in the City and Photography for All Programs. These components are also designed to give youth with vision impairments real-life experiences to build their independent living and job skills. Shelle says that since these programs started, she has seen many students thrive and has also noticed their confidence grow. Other events held throughout the year include a career fair and seminars for youth, their teachers and parents.
The First Jobs, Summer in the City and Photography for All Programs are currently open for enrollment. Applications are due on Thursday, April 1. To find out more about each program’s requirements or to apply, visit https://chicagolighthouse.org/program/yt/. You can also contact Shelle Hamer, Director of Youth Transitions Programs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 847-508-0600. Note that due to the pandemic, some of the program components will be held virtually. Events will take place as permitted per CDC safety guidelines. I encourage youth who are blind or visually impaired to apply for these programs. Not only will they help you get your first ever summer job, but they will give you valuable experience that will help you during your lifetime.