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Back to School: Planning Educational Supports for Individuals who are Deaf-Blind

“The challenge was that it took us – the family and the school district – a long time to learn about deaf-blindness, and that time was lost to my son. His education was delayed… I would hope that every school district would have somebody trained and ready for when a deaf-blind child comes into their school district because it’s not fair to the child to have to make them wait.”                                                                                                                         – Vivecca Hartman

BY Kristi Probst | September 2022 | Category: Education

Back to School: Planning Educational Supports for Individuals who are Deaf-Blind

One of the significant challenges facing children who are deaf-blind and their families, is locating educational personnel – teachers of the deaf-blind (TDBs) and interveners – who have training in deaf-blindness. An intervener is a paraeducator who has received specialized training in deaf-blindness. According to the Intervener Services and Interveners in Educational Settings Definition (www.nationaldb.org/media/doc/NCDB_Intervener_Services_Definition.pdf), interveners “provide access to information and communication and facilitate the development of social and emotional well-being for children who are deaf-blind.” This includes facilitating access to the environment and helping with safety and social interactions. Educational interpreters may work alongside interveners in classrooms, but have a different role. Where an intervener provides access and may assist the student as they develop receptive and expressive language, an interpreter translates visual and spoken language into sign language and vice versa. Additionally, the interpreter is not responsible for the student’s learning whereas an intervener facilitates learning and skill development (Probst & Morrow, 2019).

“Having an intervener has helped my son, Alex, tremendously. She has bridged the gap in Alex’s world and his environment…She has brightened not only his life, but the whole family’s life, and given us an understanding and a way to communicate, and everybody is so much happier.” – Diane Foster

When the educational team determines that a child who is deaf-blind is unable to gather information via vision and hearing, they should consider how intervener services could play an important role, in providing access to that information and supporting the child’s communication, concept, and social development. Whether you are planning for the next school year, evaluating the current individualized education program (IEP), or reflecting on the past year, it is never too late (or too early) to consider the appropriateness of your child's services. Many parents have shared how impactful it was for their child to have the services of a trained intervener. To hear more from the parents quoted in this article as they talk about the specific impact an intervener has had on their child who is deaf-blind, see the videos posted on the National Center for Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) webpage Parent Perspectives on Interveners (www.nationaldb.org/national-initiatives/iqp/parent-perspectives-on-interveners)

School districts and families may struggle to locate experts in deaf-blindness, but a number of helpful resources are available. Each state has a deaf-blind project that provides technical assistance and support to improve services for children from birth to 21, who are deaf-blind. To find out more, visit the NCDB website and locate your state’s deaf-blind project at www.nationaldb.org/state-deaf-blind-projects. Project staff can provide expertise in deaf-blindness through training and support for educational teams.

Due in part to the lack of recognition of intervener services in many states, a majority of school districts do not have trained interveners readily available. In some cases, districts have been known to employ a paraprofessional and offer them intervener training while on the job. In addition, several universities have intervener training programs:

  • Central Michigan University Deafblind Intervener Undergraduate Certificate: https://lf.globalapp.cmich.edu/degreeConc/UCERT/DBI
  • Utah State University Deaf-Blind Intervener Training Certificate: www.usu.edu/online/degrees/certificate/deafblind-intervener-training-certificate/?ref=online.usu.edu
  • San Francisco State University/California Deaf-Blind Services Intervener Training: https://cel.sfsu.edu/intervener
  • Shawnee State University Intervener Technical Certificate [Ohio] www.shawnee.edu/intervener-technical-certificate

Another avenue to obtain intervener training is through state-specific training cohorts provided by a state deaf-blind project. No matter how an individual accesses intervener training, the “gold standard” for high-quality training for an individual working with a student who is deaf-blind is coursework in deafblind intervention paired with coaching by a professional trained in deaf-blindness. Once an individual has received training, they can choose to pursue a national certificate (NICE; www.nationaldb.org/national-initiatives/iqp/national-intervener-certification-eportfolio) or credential (https://nrcpara.org/intervener).

A resource that helps teams determine the need for an intervener as part of their related services and supplementary aids and services, is the “Are Intervener Services Appropriate for Your Student with Deaf-Blindness? An IEP Discussion Guide” at www.nationaldb.org/media/doc/Intervener_Services_IEP_Team_Discussion_Guide.pdf

“Sometimes, as a student with deaf-blindness, although he’s very able to communicate, if he misses something, he doesn’t know what he’s missed. He doesn’t know what he hasn’t heard or what he doesn’t see sometimes. And so, it’s very important for the whole team to come together, and to be there to help with those missing pieces for that information that he is missing, so he’s better able to access better information and continue to grow as a learner.” –Patti McGowan

Before examining whether intervener services are appropriate for your child, the IEP team must have an understanding of interveners and what they do. It is quite possible that your district and possibly your state, do not recognize interveners or have a familiarity with the position. Further, someone on the team must have expertise in deaf-blindness. If you are in a state that recognizes TDBs, this professional, ideally, should be on the IEP team and/or provide consultation to the team, as should the intervener. However, only three states (Illinois, Texas, and Utah) recognize and provide endorsements for TDBs.

Lastly, in order to make an informed decision about intervener services, it’s important that the team have comprehensive evaluation data, including data from individuals with expertise in deaf-blindness. Without meaningful information, it is difficult to identify the unique needs of a child who is deaf-blind and determine whether intervener services are appropriate. 

Regardless of the extent of your child’s combined hearing and vision loss, take time to explore the appropriateness of intervener services, when considering what supports will be appropriate for your child and enhance the educational experience.  

strong supports   :   intervener services 

National Center on Deaf-Blindness Information and resources about TDBs and interveners
www.nationaldb.org/national-initiatives/iqp 

The Open Hands, Open Access:

Deaf-Blind Intervener Learning Modules were created to increase awareness, knowledge, and skills related to intervention for students who are deaf-blind and in educational settings. They are free and useful for anyone interested in learning about deaf-blindness and intervener services.
www.nationaldb.org/products/modules/ohoa/ 

Office of Special Education Programs Letter Provides informal guidance on the use of interveners as a related service.
https://sites.ed.gov/idea/idea-files/osep-letter-aug-2-2018-letter-to-linda-mcdowell-ph-d 

References 

Probst, K. M., & Morrow, S. M. (2019). Supporting individuals who are deaf-blind: Interpreters, interveners, and support service providers. https://rid.org/supporting-individuals-who-are-deafblind/ 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kristi Probst is the Initiative Lead for Interveners and Qualified Personnel for the National Center on Deaf-Blindness. Her undergraduate and graduate degrees focused on educating students with sensory disabilities (deaf/hard of hearing and visual impairment), and her doctoral studies concentrated on educating students who are deaf-blind. Her 10+ years of clinical, classroom, and early intervention experience working with individuals with disabilities have influenced her research and writing. Kristi regularly writes and speaks about meeting the needs of children with sensory disabilities and additional disabilities at local, national, and international conferences. 

Read the article here.