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The Solution to Opticianry Shortages is Hiding in Plain Sight

Not only will it provide a new audience with a rewarding career but help address the industry’s lack of diversity.




CALIFORNIA OPTICIAN RUBY Garcia, executive officer for the California State Society for Opticians (CSSO), is advocating for her sector and the national optician board testing process to be more accessible to people with learning disabilities. The CSSO enrolled its first cohort for people with disabilities in a pre-apprenticeship optician program in April 2022 through a joint program with Orange County and Chabot College.

Ruby’s desire to help disabled people become opticians is driven by her family background. Her brother David was born with a disability and has limited speech. By day, Ruby works for JCP Optical, and as the executive officer for the CSSO, she’s also at the helm of a project close to her heart: helping people like her brother David enter a rewarding and well-paid career.

“Intellectually, he’s a 14-year-old, but he can function as an adult, driving semi-trailers, telling me about road directions, and he’s always on top of the news, ready to explain that to me. He’s a faithful worker and respected,” said Ruby.


“He taught me how to be patient with people and kind-hearted,” she added.

While she hasn’t pushed him to become an optician, she’s been in the sector long enough to know people with disabilities can do her work.

“Most opticians sit about 80% of their time at work, and the majority of functions are repetitive, so many people with disabilities could easily learn the career practices of optician work,” she says.

Plus, being an optician is enriching work with a diverse consumer base, added Ruby: “The beauty of our jobs is that we meet the entire world of people who need vision correction.”

Spotlighting Diversity

Among her peers though, she’s not seeing that diversity, which worries her, particularly since the sector is facing staff shortages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates job openings for opticians will grow 6% each year in the decade leading to 2030. A hurdle for would-be opticians is to pass the American Board of Opticianry exam, but it’s not compulsory. California hasn’t fared well in the past, with a passing rate of 40% years ago compared to the current 89%. Those national exams are “sometimes too challenging,” Ruby said.


Addressing Shortages

CSSO is working with Ready, Willing, and ABLE — a program aimed at creating long-term employment opportunities for Californians with disabilities — for the pre-apprenticeship program using online training, which is accessible for learners with disabilities, with each module available in visual, audio, and specially structured. That means students can review the learning materials as often as they like to help knowledge stick. Ruby expects the first cohort to graduate in 2023. This year-long training aims to open doors for people with disabilities to find work as apprentice opticians.

They’re supported through Zoom meetings to encourage group discussions — on topics like ethics and time management — and to hear from and quiz doctors from eyecare practices. Ruby’s also running five “traveling labs” where students will meet potential mentors. Once hired, they’ll become registered apprentices earning $18 an hour.
Ruby is working to realize her dream of helping people with disabilities find rewarding careers as opticians, while also setting an example of how to address the lack of diversity in her sector.

Deborah Williamson is vice president of special projects and operations at the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation America (IWSI America). She currently is the Project Manager of IWSI America’s Ready, Willing and ABLE program to establish registered apprenticeships for individuals with disabilities.


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