A Missouri agency that helps blind people prepare for the workforce, and find a job, is among the most successful in the country.

Almost 80% percent of the blind or visually impaired people that get vocational rehabilitation through the Department of Social Services in Missouri achieved their job goal in 2009. Nationwide, that average is at 66%. The Rehabilitation Services for the Blind program helps participants evaluate their options, and then offers training and support to help them reach their goals.

“For a career, to become employed in a job that interests them and a job that they’re able to do successfully and that meets their individual aspirations and capabilities,” Mark Laird, the Deputy Director of the Rehabilitation Services for the Blind

Laird says those employment goals vary.

“Determining a vocational goal often times results in working with an individual to uncover what their interests are, to uncover what their capabilities and abilities are, what their strengths are. What their priorities, concerns, and resources are regarding careers,” Laird said.

Laird says the hundreds of Missourians that use the program each year come from different backgrounds. Not all of them need help entering the work force.

“If an individual comes to us that is already employed but something in the employment situation has changed, either with their vision or something in the employment environment itself has changed, that is creating a barrier to them being successful in the job they have. It’s our job to determine what is needed to compensate, accommodate or remediate that kind of barrier to employment and then provide that service either directly or indirectly through funding,” Laird said.

More than 500 Missourians got or kept their job last year after going through the program. Laird says he has a loftier goal for the program, too.

“Just to help employers, blind and visually impaired individuals themselves, and the general public help change attitudes about capabilities of blind individuals. I think those changes, in many ways, can be seen as the cornerstone for helping individuals who come to us be independent and successfully employed in careers that fit their interests and their abilities,” Laird said.

There are 24 agencies nationwide that solely serve the blind. Missouri’s Rehabilitation for the Blind is the only one that met or exceeded all of its performance standards last year.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports [1 min MP3]