Whitehouse High School junior Dalton Volkman began his school days with a goal much like others in his class. He would learn all he could over the next 13 years, maybe go to college and begin a career.
A roadblock came up called Retinitis Pigmentosa around age 10. That would not stop this determined young man.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, RP is a group of eye problems that affect the retina. This condition changes how the retina responds to light, making it hard to see. People with RP lose their vision slowly over time. Usually, though, they will not become totally blind.
“Dalton started having vision issues at age six,” his mother Kelly Volkman said. “Dr. Bain told me at age 10 that he knew it was Retinitis Pigmentosa but it wasn’t until Dalton was in high school that we did DNA testing. It took 12 months for first test to come back then another 18 months for the second test to actually confirm the diagnosis of RP in November of 2016.”
Most recently Volkman, along with five other area students, were given an opportunity to work alongside employees from the East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind as part of a program called Careers on the Horizon which is a job-readiness opportunity for blind and visually impaired high school students.
Over a five month period these students worked directly with Lighthouse employees who are also blind or visually impaired.
Job shadowing allows students to explore a different career area each month such as marketing, accounting, customer service, human resources, production and operations, and information technology. In mentoring, students stay with a career path for all five months of the program and dig deeper into what it takes to do the job.
“I believe that students who do not know their career path can see that job options are not as limited as they might think, and those who have something in mind for their future can get a chance to see what lies in store for them,” Cesar Lopez, IT Desktop Support for East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind said. “The program is an excellent opportunity to being one step closer in deciding what you do or don’t want to do for a career.”
Each year Volkman is learning as much as possible with the vision he currently has so that he can have the strongest skills possible as he looks to the future.
Lannette Burlingame, teacher of students with visual impairments for Whitehouse ISD, said the Volkman applied for and was accepted into the job shadowing program last year and after applying this year for the mentoring program, was accepted again.
“He requested to work in the IT department because he is pursuing technology as a career someday,” Burlingame said. “He was partnered with a visually impaired IT specialist who showed him ways to work in the field using specialized equipment and software designed for individuals with visual impairments.”
Volkman said the Careers on the Horizon program has been a great benefit to him.
“It allowed me a great opportunity to see how people with a visual impairment work in the same work force that I plan to someday,” Volkman stated. “I feel like I gained more confidence knowing that someone with a visual impairment can do what I want to do.”
While he has completed both programs, Volkman still participates in other activities offered through The Lighthouse and other agencies. He also participates in lessons and activities through his VI training at the school which are focused on career education and independent living skills.
“As a teacher of students with visual impairments, it is my responsibility to address the skills of the Expanded Core Curriculum or the ECC” Burlingame said. “The ECC covers nine specific areas of development. These areas are Compensatory Access, Social Interaction, Sensory Efficiency, Orientation and Mobility, Recreation and Leisure, Assistive Technology, Independent Living, Career Education and Self-Determination. Dalton’s participation in the Job Mentoring Program through The Lighthouse has certainly enhanced many areas of learning in the ECC through real-world experiences. Dalton not only sharpened his career education skills and technology skills throughout this process, but he also sharpened his social skills and his ability to be self-determined. He has gained the confidence that he can in fact live independently someday as a contributing member of the workforce and the community no matter what may happen with his vision. I appreciate The Lighthouse and their support of this program which has truly made a positive difference in my student’s future.”
Careers on the Horizon has sponsorship opportunities available for the 2017-2018 session. For more information visit www.tylerlighthouse.org and click on the “Get Involved” tab.