This thesis explores the ways in which vocational rehabilitation for vision-impaired people is socially constructed. Vision-impaired people are people with diverse eye functions, whose inclusion in the workforce is impeded, restricted or impaired in some way. Despite their hundred-year history of some form of vocational rehabilitation/ employment assistance, vision-impaired people continue to have one of the highest rates of unemployment, with the latest national survey reporting that 69% of vision-impaired, working-aged Australians do not have paid work.
Such knowledge about vision-impaired people’s high rate of unemployment was a driving factor for this research. Another was my professional and personal experiences with them, particularly in regard to their efforts to seek assistance to obtain or retain employment.
While this study revealed that vision-impaired people’s low employment rate in New South Wales, where this study was conducted, is consistent with comparable Western societies, it also revealed that the vocational rehabilitation/employment assistance offered to them differed according to their perceived social identities. This observation implies that vision-impaired people’s social identities and relationships play some part in their employment opportunities, and should be a constituent part of their rehabilitation planning.
Social and institutional assumptions about people, in poststructuralist terms, are enacted through discourse. Consequently, the methodology I adopted in this thesis is based on poststructuralism. It is a critical discourse analysis of a major source of vocational rehabilitation discourses, namely, rehabilitation practitioners’ assumptions and practices found in texts used to educate them. This research critically analyses practitioner-educational texts over a 20-year period from 1981.
My critical discourse analysis revealed the institutional construction of vocational rehabilitation discourses, and the hidden nature of much of its knowledge and practices, which are centred on a bio-medical ideology that ‘vision impairment’ is an individual biological anomaly or deficit. This ideology not only dominated discourses of vision-impaired people’s vocational rehabilitation, it was the only ideology contained in those discourses.
My identification of practitioners’ bio-medically oriented knowledge as their core knowledge, and the limits of that knowledge, is a significant contribution of this study, because it indicates directions for change or reconstruction of discursive and other practices of vision-impaired people’s vocational rehabilitation. Such a reconstruction of rehabilitation practices, I argue, should include exploration of non-biological factors that may impair vision-impaired people’s employment opportunities, which, in turn, may lead to increasing their rate of employment.