A career planning and employment resource for people who are blind or partially sighted

Knowledge and Skills for Secondary Students

Youth who are blind or partially sighted typically attend secondary school with their sighted peers in preparation for assuming adult responsibilities. Or, they may attend a specialized school that provides both core academic courses and disability-specific skills training. Whether they attend a local school with their sighted peers or a special school, when they complete their primary school studies they will be expected to have mastered their basic literacy skills and be able to apply those skills in more advanced classes.

They will also be expected to demonstrate competence with disability-specific skills, such as:

  • Using assistive technology to access information and produce their school work (video magnifiers, screen readers or screen enlargement software on computers and computer devices, electronic or digital note taking devices, etc.).
  • Moving about in the environment with a white cane or other mobility devices.
  • Managing their academic, personal, and social demands by using adapted tools or materials (electronic, braille, or large print books, optical devices like magnifiers or telescopes, tactual maps or graphics, braille or audio-output devices for measuring, etc.).

The disability-specific or alternative skills (skills developed as alternatives to doing and learning exclusively by sight) that they learned as children – at home and in primary school – will be needed to meet increased demands expected in secondary and post-secondary settings. For further information visit the Disability-Specific Skills Training section.

These skills include:

  • Independently organizing time and resources in order to participate in school and extracurricular activities.
  • Performing well in comparison to their peers, whether academically or in areas of innate talent or strong interest, such as, sports, aesthetics (music, drama, art) and social philanthropy.
  • Demonstrating responsibility at home and at school as well as in the community by securing volunteer and paid work.

In preparation for careers and employment, the knowledge, skills and abilities that youth need to master include:

  • Understanding what work opportunities are available.
  • Demonstrating well-developed academic, social, and disability-specific skills.
  • Evidencing well-developed thinking skills.
  • Demonstrating well-developed work behaviours.
  • Participating in work activities.
  • Planning for life beyond secondary school.

For additional information and materials related to knowledge and skills for secondary students visit the Learning and Education Resources section.

For young adults currently enrolled in secondary school

If you are a young adult and currently enrolled in a secondary school program, you may want to complete a self-evaluation to see what career/ life skills you have in preparation for graduating and moving into a post-secondary setting or employment. We have provided a self-evaluation tool called the Transition Competencies Checklist, designed to help you identify the skills you may need to work on while in your secondary program to prepare for your career.

The Checklist is available as a downloadable file in either large print or text-only formats so that you can print it out and complete it off-line. If you plan to attend a post-secondary program following graduation, you may also want to review the Living Independently section.

To learn more or to download the checklist visit the Transition Competencies Checklist page

Understanding what work opportunities are available

Entering secondary school, students typically have some early notion of the work they want to do as adults. They will have read about the lives and work of famous people, including those with disabilities. Students who are blind or partially sighted will usually have written book reports on materials they’ve read and will benefit from discussions with teachers, parents, and other adults in their lives about what they’ve learned to ensure their perceptions jive with the realities of the world of work.

Due to their inability to scan the environment visually and pick up on details of the work going on around them, they will have to be encouraged to read broadly about careers — what is available nationally, regionally, and locally – and be assisted in identifying specific jobs that relate to their career interests and abilities.

Youth in secondary studies should be able to articulate what types of jobs cluster into the various occupational areas: management, business, finance, marketing and sales, human services, production, farming, law enforcement/security and corrections, office and administrative support, architecture and construction, arts and entertainment, education, hospitality and tourism, and so forth.

They should also be able to identify the work being performed by family members and others in their home communities and provide details about their jobs (typical work schedules, major job duties, salary ranges, benefits, qualifications required, etc.). And they should understand how what they are doing now (in school, home, and community service) relates to what they want to do for employment following school.

Once young adults have read about specific careers of interest, they need to be encouraged to conduct informational interviews with adults in the community who are employed in jobs that are of interest to them. Ideally, it is in secondary settings where youth can participate in job-shadowing experiences and volunteer to learn more about work in their fields of interest. Youth who are blind or partially sighted may benefit from teaming up with sighted peers who have similar interests to observe or job-shadow workers prior to selecting volunteer sites. Community-based experiences are vital to the learning process for students.

Demonstrate well-developed academic, social, and disability-specific skills

By the time students are in secondary school, they should be able to demonstrate well-developed reading, writing, listening, calculation and conversation skills by performing comparably to their sighted classmates. They will need to consistently and satisfactorily complete classroom and homework assignments without assistance. What this means is that students who are blind or partially sighted need to be able to match the general classroom standards in any subject area that is critical to the work they plan to do or training programs they plan to take.

This requires them to research the demands of the career areas they plan to enter and figure out what knowledge, skills, and abilities are required of entry-level workers in those careers. Any secondary content that is radically altered or waived inhibits the students’ ability to enter a related post-secondary program or career in that area.

If secondary students are allowed to “opt out” of courses or course requirements, they may miss important opportunities for knowledge or skill development that students without disabilities are experiencing. Likewise, if they are given “watered down” or less challenging assignments, they may misunderstand the true nature of a competitive postsecondary academic or work environment. These kinds of alterations in curriculum or assignments may actually handicap students who are blind or partially sighted more so than their sensory disability.

Socially, young adults who are blind or partially sighted need to attend to the social demands of their peers and others in their environment. To do so, they must learn to pick up social cues in nonvisual ways: listening for other people’s tone of voice and cadence or speech rhythm to help interpret their feelings; paying attention to whether a speaker’s voice is directed at or away from the listener; listening to how classmates speak to one another and capturing clues about other’s interests and talents for future reference, etc.

One of the greatest challenges when engaged with sighted acquaintances is simply determining how much to reveal about one’s disability: what’s enough? What’s too much or not enough? Some good tips for dealing with social challenges can be found in the Communication Skills – Conversation section and, for more specific disability disclosure information, in the Preparing for Work section.​

Disability-specific skills required for success in secondary settings include:

  • Independent use of orientation and mobility techniques and devices (long canes, telescopes, GPS with audio output, etc.)
  • Reading and writing with braille, print, electronic text, or optical devices at rates and quantities comparable to sighted classmates
  • Use of alternative techniques to care for oneself and one’s possessions, such as, using raised-markings on appliances for cooking and laundry tasks, using a grid-pattern to sweep, mop, or vacuum, using lipped trays to catch ingredients that spill over when cooking, etc.
  • Making use of assistive technology (video magnifiers, screen enlargement or speech output on computers, electronic note-taking devices, etc.) to complete both in-class assignments and homework.

Note: there are a number of tip sheets in the Living Independently section relevant to disability-specific skills that you may want to review

Evidence well-developed thinking skills

Young adults need to use their imagination and creativity to “think outside the box,” connect known ideas in new ways, make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, and consider alternatives to known ideas to demonstrate well-developed thinking skills. Thinking skills are also evidenced by an individual’s ability to recognize that a problem exists, define the problem, identify possible solutions (goals), devise an action plan to resolve the problem, initiate the plan, evaluate benchmarks or outcomes, and revise the plan as needed.

Secondary students who are blind or partially sighted need to be given opportunities to demonstrate their ability to problem-solve and set goals. Too often, the adults in their lives intervene and resolve problems or anticipate what problems they’ll encounter, rather than letting them solve difficulties they face for themselves. Youth need to select goals and decide what to do based on their own analysis of the choices available to them. They then must work to achieve their goals and resolve their problems.

Secondary students are expected to be aware of their learning styles and know whether they learn best through visual, aural, tactual, or kinesthetic presentation of content. They must be able to articulate their need for materials or activities to be adapted to meet their learning needs. They must also be prepared to show their preferences by using formal learning strategies, such as, taking notes with disability-specific skills or tools while in class or working in groups. Finally, secondary students are expected to adapt to new situations and demands, which requires students who are blind or partially sighted to be adept at using adapted tools and equipment creatively.

Demonstrate well-developed work behaviours

Secondary students benefit from setting standards or goals for their performance at school, home, and in the community, as mentioned earlier. Articulating those goals and demonstrating self-directed behaviour in achieving those goals is considered a “soft skill” or work behaviour by prospective employers. Other soft skills or work behaviours that secondary students need to master and demonstrate include:

  • Paying attention to details and staying organized.
  • Performing tasks even when the tasks are unpleasant or difficult.
  • Being on time and demonstrating good attendance overall.
  • Understanding the impression they make on others (presentation skills).
  • Being able to describe their needs and how they will address them or ask for assistance.
  • Understanding the social/work hierarchy and following the “chain of command”.
  • Working well with others, which includes accepting constructive criticism.
  • Interacting with peers and adults appropriately.
  • Proving trustworthy with materials, tools, supplies, and money.

Participate in work activities

One of the most important activities that young adults can engage in while in school is work. The work they do can be paid or unpaid, but it is critical that they work for people outside of their immediate family to demonstrate their competence. Early work experiences typically involve students volunteering to help others – extended family, neighbours, and acquaintances from community-based organizations.

Youth who are blind or partially sighted will want to consider proximity of volunteer sites to home or school to facilitate transportation concerns. If a site is close enough to walk to, it may make it more attractive and accessible. While volunteering, youth need to keep records of the time they commit, the tasks that they complete for others, tools and equipment they use, and the people with whom they work. One of the great advantages of volunteer work is the chance to make a positive impression on others who can become references when it is time to seek paid employment.

Youth will also be expected to perform increasingly demanding work tasks - at home and at school - throughout their secondary school careers. These tasks should also be documented for future reference and can be used in employment interviews as examples of transferable work ethic and skills.

Finally, young adults can benefit tremendously from participation in part-time or seasonal full-time work for pay in their home communities. Many communities offer supports for young people to move into jobs during holidays from school and some communities have special agencies, such as, rehabilitation agencies that are staffed by people available to assist youth in finding paid employment.

Plan for life beyond secondary school

Following graduation from secondary school, most young adults will be expected to move into post-secondary training or employment. While they are still in secondary settings, young people who are blind or partially sighted need to investigate their post-secondary education or training options in order to develop their plans related to their vocational interests, abilities, and values. The plans they develop should include short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals for achieving satisfaction in life.

This means they must know what outcomes (personal, social, and vocational) they want to achieve. Before leaving their secondary school settings, they will want to identify the supports they will need to move from secondary into post-secondary environments (for example: housing, transportation, access to information, child care, personal care, home care, time and money management, or assistance with leisure and recreational activities) as well as the knowledge and skills they need to enter those post-secondary environments independently.​​​​​​​​