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Excerpts from the Council for Exceptional Children DVIDB (http://community.cec.sped.org/DVI/dbportal)

Abstract: This article provides information on the deafblind portal on the Council for Exceptional Children's web site.

Key Words: Council for Exceptional Children, deafblind, blind, visually impaired


The Council for Exceptional Children, the Voice and Vision of Special Education has established a professional home for deafblindness in the Division on Visual Impairment and Deafblindness. This portal promotes partnership in professional development and advocacy. It provides an opportunity for university/college instructors, students, teachers, interveners and families to learn about and share current developments and innovations in deafblindness. The portal features news and events and has a Deafblind Community Google Group.

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By: Cyral Miller, TSBVI Outreach Director

Abstract: The Unified English Braille Code (UEB) creates updates to literary Braille in English. Braille readers and teachers need to become familiar with the changes that have been recently adopted.

Key Words: Effective Practices, blind, Braille, literacy, reading, UEB


Reading and writing literary braille in English is undergoing an important change. What's coming is a modified braille system known as the Unified English Braille Code, or the UEB. The UEB is based on the English Braille American Edition so current braille readers will not have to relearn how to read; there are differences in some contractions and new formatting and punctuation rules as well as some new symbols. Think of it as a system upgrade rather than a brand new code. The United States is a relative newcomer to this code. Even though it was first discussed in 1991 by the Braille Authority of North America, UEB was subsequently adopted by most English speaking countries that are part of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) but not until 2012 did BANA vote to adopt UEB for literary braille - a vote that included maintaining the use of Nemeth code for mathematics and science notation . Since that historic vote, there have been national and state implementation groups actively designing timelines for changes to be phased in by braille producers, test developers and producers, transcribers, teacher preparation programs in their curricula, staff development training materials and other systems involved in braille for reading and writing in English. Information for this article and many resources are available at the BANA website: http://www.brailleauthority.org.

Why change the code?

In addition to the "complexity and disarray" involved in navigating between multiple codes that Drs Cranmer and Abraham Nemeth cited in their call for unifying English braille codes in 1991 , the growing use of computers since that initial discussion have led to both increased capacity to access braille, new kinds of computer-related terminology to convey, and greater need for easy print-to-braille software systems. There have been multiple adaptations to braille rules needed to accommodate the increasing requirement to express new kinds of information and print formats all while using the same 6 dots. Over the years, different English-speaking countries had evolved their own specialized rules and transcription formats. This limited access across nations even when the language was the same and the internet has broken down many geographical boundaries. The use of computer terms such as URLs had not been foreseen in the development of literary braille codes.

When does this start?

Switching all the interlocking systems that are part of producing braille materials is not an overnight process. On the national level, it was determined that a goal will be to have made substantial progress in implementing UEB for general use by January 4, 2016 (Louis Braille's birthday!). The American Printing House for the Blind, a major producer of braille and educational literacy materials, published its timeline for transition to UEB in July 2014, which states that APH will begin producing new textbooks in UEB in the school year 2015-2016. Other states and other producers have been developing their own plans. Texas held a statewide stakeholder group meeting in November 2014 and will publicize state-related timelines by early in 2015. On their website, BANA states that it "recognizes that the implementation of UEB will require major adjustments to the infrastructures that produce, deliver, and teach braille, as well as time and strategies for braille users to become familiar with changes in the code. BANA continues to work with leaders throughout the field to build a carefully designed timeline and coordinated plan. Detailed timelines are under development by individual organizations, and transition efforts are now being initiated."

It's important to remember that even while UEB is being phased in, many existing published materials are going to be in active use for many years that are not in UEB. There will clearly be a transition phase where different braille codes will be in use at the same time. The timelines that are being developed in each state are meant to ensure the smoothest possible transition, and that students and prospective VI professionals in training will be tested in the codes in which they have been taught.

What are the main differences between UEB and the code we are currently using in the US - the EBAE?

A comprehensive document that outlines the changes in the code is available at: http://www.brailleauthority.org/ueb/overview_changes_ebae_ueb.html

The most obvious changes are dropping 9 contractions: by, into, to, ble, com, dd, ation, ally and o'clock. The 'snugglers': A, and, for, of, the, and with will now be spaced separately. In general, the UEB is built on the logic that a symbol must stay the same in all contexts, so there are changes in punctuation and formatting in order to eliminate for example, that a period at the end of a sentence is noted with dots 256 but then that same set of dots is a dd symbol when found in the middle of a word. In print, the use of different visual and graphic organizers has become increasingly important for understanding the information on a page (or online). There are therefore other changes with UEB that are designed to provide information about the print formats to the braille reader. For example, there are unchanging symbols for backslash, bullet, and tilde, dagger, open and closed brackets, and new ways to indicate that a whole selection is in italics or bold or underlines. Web and email addresses can be written in UEB, with no switch over to computer code. These are just a few sample changes.

What kind of training will be available in UEB, who will teach it and what reference materials will be produced?

As noted above, at both the national level and the state level, there are groups seeking to develop training materials. There are already a number of useful training tools developed by other countries that switched to UEB before the US. Several of these are listed at the BANA website:

In Texas, the TSBVI has begun producing webinars with introductions to UEB and there are plans for offering online study groups for teachers as well as instruction for braille producers in the near future. Look for the archived webinars at the On-the-Go section of the TSBVI http://www.tsbvi.edu. The Education Service Centers will be offering training at the regional level as well.

Will UEB be available through refreshable braille displays? How will they be updated?

All braille translation software, such as Duxbury and Braille 2000 allow both UEB and English Braille American Edition (EBAE) braille for translation embossing. If a student uses a refreshable braille display, such as the Focus Blue, Braille Edge 40 and Brailliant with any screen reading program (including JAWS and VoiceOver) they can easily switch between UEB and EBAE. Notetakers such as BrailleNote, BrailleSense and Pacmates with refreshable braille displays also can switch between codes. The Mountbatten and other electronic braillewriters have support for entry and output in UEB.

Can I try UEB to see what it is like?

Of course! Go to the BANA website and look for the section with example documents in UEB: http://www.brailleauthority.org/ueb.html

I have questions! Where do I turn?

At this time, the very best source for a wide variety of resources on the UEB is the BANA website. BANA committees are developing new materials and keeping the site current. Each state will have a UEB implementation plan. The Texas plan will be posted widely on the ESC 11 Statewide Leadership for Blind and Visually Impaired Services Network webpages, on the TSBVI website, and other ESC VI related sites.


A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals

Family Wisdom

All About The Eye Doctor, by Megan Rose Elliott
Abstract: An eight-year-old talented young lady with a visual impairment shares with others what it is like to go for an eye exam.

Coming Home to Disability: One Sibling's Story, by Elizabeth Lewis
Abstract: Through the lens of anthropology, the author shares her journey toward embracing being part of the disability community as both sibling and professional.

The Texas Statewide Conference on Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: A Parent's Perspective, by Molly Roberts
Abstract: A parent shares her and her experience attending the Texas Statewide Conference on Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing with her son.

Travels to San Diego: A Family's Experience at the NOAH Conference, by Andrea Wade
Abstract: A parent describes the benefits of her family attending a national conference that is specific to her child's eye condition. The wide variety of session topics offered strategies to use at school, home and in the community so that her child will be included in activities.

Enchanted Rock Adventure, by Diego and his mom, Veronica Alvarez
Abstract: A proud mom shares her son's story about his rock climbing experience.

Effective Practices

UEB is coming to Texas! (What is it and what does that mean?), by Cyral Miller
Abstract: The Unified English Braille Code (UEB) creates updates to literary Braille in English. Braille readers and teachers need to become familiar with the changes that have been recently adopted.

Intervener Basics: Myth, Legend, and Reality, by David Wiley
Abstract: There are some misconceptions associated with using interveners to provide support to students with deafblindness in educational settings. The author attempts to clarify intervener myths with the realities of the intervener model.

News & Views

Building Statewide Capacity through Electronic Media, by William Daugherty
Abstract: Superintendent Daugherty explores the opportunities and benefits of distance education through broadcast technologies.

Leadership Training, by Barbara J. Madrigal
Abstract: In this article Assistant Commissioner Madrigal discuss how the Division for Blind Services, TSBVI and Educational Services Centers work together to provide quality training to help family members become well-informed competent leaders.

AFB Press Launches NEW book, ECC Essentials: Teaching the Expanded Core Curriculum to Students with Visual Impairments, Press Release
Abstract: This article provides information about a new resource on the ECC available from AFB Press.

2014-2015 TSBVI Outreach Programs Update, by Cyral Miller
Abstract: In this article, Ms. Miller shares information about the new and exciting things happening at TSBV's Outreach.

Deafblind Portal, excerpts from the Council for Exceptional Children DVIDB
Abstract: This article provides information on the deafblind portal on the Council for Exceptional Children's web site.

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By: Cyral Miller, Director of Outreach, TSBVI

Abstract: In this article, Ms. Miller shares information about the new and exciting things happening at TSBVI's Outreach.

Key Words: TSBVI, trainings, study groups, SenseAbilities, blind, low vision, CVI, Braille


As educational systems change, so too do the supports local programs need from TSBVI Outreach. We have added a few new types of assistance you can request from TSBVI Outreach Programs. If you don't see what you need below, please give me a call or send an email and I'll see how we can help. You can reach me at 512-206-9242 or .

New strategies:

On the go training - TSBVI is able to share training after the live event, by posting on the www.tsbvi.edu website. This greatly increases access to training to a 24/7 option! Starting no later than the beginning of 2015, we will launch a new online registration system that will simplify registration, tracking training and getting credit and certificates. With new staff Andy Weir and Nathan Widener joining Kendra Dorty and Kate Hurst in Outreach, and a new webmaster, Stacey Rayos, taking over the TSBVI website management, our ability to offer web-based options and to make those available quickly in accessible formats will significantly increase. Contact Kate Hurst at if you have questions.

Study groups - It can be hard to incorporate new techniques into your teaching. TSBVI Outreach is facilitating a wide range of study groups this year. These are regularly scheduled, short (typically an hour or 1 1/2 hours) online gatherings to delve into topical areas in bite-sized portions. Participants can share how they have introduced a new active learning strategy, model their CVI assessment and ask for feedback from peers, discuss a portion of the Sensory Learning Kit, or learn a new technique to produce quality braille graphics. You can find a list of study groups and register to attend at http://www.tsbvi.edu/on-the-go-learning/webinar-listings.

Increasing online presence - You may already be noticing that TSBVI is making major changes to the http://www.tsbvi.edu website. The Outreach pages now focus more on helping you find your way to our services. Most of the informational postings are moving into redesigned resources and on-the-go (formerly distance) learning sections. We will continue our wonderful partnership with the Perkins School for the Blind on the Paths to Literacy website, found at http://www.pathstoliteracy.org. We will be posting more accessible web-based trainings, and increasing our social media presence with Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, among others. The blogs for assistive technology and orientation and mobility will continue to be posted - look for them to move to a new location on the new website.

You can still get the TXSenseAbilities newsletter online - sign up at http://www.tsbvi.edu/tx-senseabilities to get notified as each new issue comes out. If you prefer a paper copy, there is a subscription option as well, free for parents of children with visual impairment and/or deafblindness. This year we will go to a twice a year publication schedule.

Topical initiatives:

Low Vision - Students with low vision often appear to need less direct instruction and while getting by academically, may graduate school missing critical skills to access their world. Dr. Cindy Bachofer, certified low vision therapist and TVI, is now working with Outreach Programs to provide a new level of statewide support in the area of low vision. We anticipate a statewide conference in May, bringing Low Vision on the Road to selected regional areas, evidence based strategy recommendations and new resources to increase access for students with low vision. Contact Cindy Bachofer at with your low vision questions.

CVI clinics - TSBVI Outreach is partnering with Diane Sheline to offer up to three clinics for young children with cortical visual impairments at participating regional ESCs. The clinics will be for babies, 0-3 years. CVI Intervention is very successful in this age range and we would like to assist Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments to start interventions as soon as possible. The TVI will come with the parent(s) and child, and develop, with support, a draft CVI assessment report following the Christine Roman template, including a description of the child's CVI characteristics as well as appropriate interventions to try. Contact Sara Kitchen () and/or Ann Rash () with your CVI questions.

Braille Production support - Producing braille in proper formats takes special skill. Transcribers and TVIs and COMS all across the state struggle to match formats to the diverse learning media now being presented to students at earlier ages. With the coming of the new UEB code, there are new formats to master. A study group and trainings focused on these skills are available this year, and new materials to support braille production are under development. Contact Pat van Geem in Outreach () or Sue Mattson in Comprehensive Programs () with your braille production questions.

New people and new positions - There have been some shifts within Outreach and new people coming in to take the place of those who left. The TX Deafblind Project had a lot of changes: Holly Cooper is now providing technical assistance for infants & toddlers with deafblindness, while Matt Schultz and Adam Graves have joined the TX Deafblind Project for school-aged program support. Also, Chris Tabb has moved into the Outreach Programs as our newest statewide O&M consultant, and will be on his own after Ruth Ann Marsh leaves at the end of November. Sharon Nichols has returned to a primary focus on assistive technology and can help you with AT questions and tech loan requests.

Some things don't change. While increasing our online efforts, we know that sometimes, it is the personal interactions that make the most difference. TSBVI Outreach staff is still available to provide one of our highest rated services, on-site school consultation at your local program, as well as trainings on a wide range of topics. To request a visit, to ask for family support, or to request training, please go to http://www.tsbvi.edu/outreach.

We look forward to working with you this year!

By: Elizabeth Lewis

Abstract: Through the lens of anthropology, the author shares her journey toward embracing being part of the disability community as both sibling and professional.

Keywords: family wisdom, sibling, deafblindness, disability community, anthropology


There's an old saying among anthropologists that you have to spend time in another culture before you can truly understand your own. The unspoken footnote to this bit of wisdom is that you won't understand either place until you come home. The foreign makes the familiar intelligible in new and previously impossible ways.

I first experienced the feeling of "coming home" to disability as an undergraduate researcher in Ghana. Pushed by my parents and encouraged by a family friend who was an international deafblindness expert, I had been careful to set everything up in advance for my short-term project on blindness and social stigma. Our friend's stories of working with families and educators on deafblindness issues in Asia and Africa dazzled me, and I was curious about following in her path, even for only a short period. It would be the first of many research experiences with disability after growing up with a younger sister, Katie, who has CHARGE syndrome and deafblindness.

On the first day of my project, I hopped a taxi from my temporary home at a local hostel to the office of the Ghanaian Association of the Blind. It was rush hour and Accra's streets were packed. People selling gum, cigarettes, and compact discs wove their way between stalled traffic at lights, along with children and adults begging for money. I noticed adults with physical disabilities crawling on the sidewalks, flip flop sandals positioned carefully on their hands and feet to protect them from the rough ground. I had been told of this and had even seen pictures, but the image still shocked me.

I arrived at the Association of the Blind and tried to make my way through the complex in search of the appropriate office. As a 21-year-old white American woman, I stood out. People were curious. Two men in their twenties approached me. They were not verbal, so they began signing to me. Although I did not understand most of what they said, we all grinned widely as we tried to communicate across the layers of barriers. They led me around the facility to the office where I was to meet an internationally respected disability expert, and we said our goodbyes. I recall a feeling of utter naturalness and comfort. It hit me: I was in the right place, in every sense.

This was the first time I truly felt the universality of my position as a person who grew up in the disability community. Until then and, indeed, for many years after, my feelings about disability in my academic and professional life were marked by ambivalence. While part of me perhaps always knew I would end up dedicating my career to disability issues, I was reticent – scared, even – about committing. Was I really ready to welcome disability into my work life, since it would always be a fixture of my personal world? And, if I didn't want to be a special education teacher or service provider, what could I possible do?

cominghome 1I had been immersed in disability worlds since the age of four, when my sister was born. Although we did not receive a proper diagnosis for many years, Katie had CHARGE syndrome, a rare genetic condition found in about one in 10,000 births. I grew up surrounded by children with disabilities and their families. I visited the local parent resource center with my mom, helped my parents flip through binders of special education law during our struggles to obtain appropriate school services, and I accompanied my parents on countless visits to doctors, specialists, and therapists.

As a stereotypical older sibling, it was my job to help and I took pride in it. Still, as is typical, I became less involved as I got older. I was busy with high school stuff – classes, extracurriculars, and friends – and then I went away to university. My love for Katie was unwavering, yet I noticed a growing public-private divide in my relationship with disability. It had become something that was confined to my family life, but my academic and personal realms were increasingly separate. Or were they? Although I felt that way at the time, looking back I can see clearly that I flirted with disability issues as a vocation throughout college. I simply wasn't ready to commit, nor did I know where I fit in.

During my semester in Ghana, I was shocked by the genuine interest – curiosity, even! – that my peers and professors showed for my research. It had never dawned on me that people who were not personally connected to disability might care. As a sociology and anthropology major, I had no idea that disability was even a viable area of study. I did not know of any scholars in traditional academic areas who focused on disability, nor had I read or even heard of any books or articles on the topic. While gender, sexuality, and race were fair game in terms of identity politics, disability somehow remained in the shadows. Even if I'd been ready to pursue an academic career researching disability, I did not yet know it was an option. I had no models.

In the years that followed, I largely forgot about disability outside of my family life. I worked abroad briefly after graduation and then returned to the U.S., where I embarked on the typical life of many in my peer group. I lived in a large city filled with countless restaurants and bars, worked diverse jobs of various interest levels, hung out with my friends, and met the incredible man I would later marry. For the first time in my life, I eschewed all things serious. I didn't even do volunteer work! And I was totally and utterly bored.

Young and relatively mobile, I took my meager savings and moved to South America in search of more. After a position as a preschool English teacher in Ecuador ended, I wandered down to Bolivia in search of volunteer work and adventure. I began helping out at a residential center for children with disabilities – many of whom had been abandoned – and also orphans. When I first toured the facility, I once again encountered that unmistakable sense of knowing. Disability was home.

The experience opened my eyes in new ways to disability realities I had not encountered. I saw multiple children whose disabilities – physical and intellectual – were inseparable from abuse in their former homes. Most of the kids never learned basic living skills, much less anything academic. Well-meaning and overworked staff, many of whom were just teenagers themselves, tied children to wheelchairs to keep them in place.

I will never forget the day that my now husband, who was with me, realized that his favorite student could walk with assistance and did not need to stay in her wheelchair. Little Magdalena, who was known for giving wet, sloppy kisses on the cheek, spent her mornings over the weeks that followed dancing with my husband. She loved him. We marveled at her secret abilities and wondered what else she might have been able to do with adaptive technologies, educational funding, and family and community support.

I came back to the U.S. with a new sense of direction. I began an interdisciplinary Master's degree program and promptly fell in love with a class on the anthropology of disability. I had not known the topic even existed! I finally encountered disability studies literature, as well as social science and humanities works on disability. I was hooked.

cominghome 2I read everything I could find, wrote a thesis about parent advocacy efforts, and set out to find my dream job in disability. Unfortunately, it remained elusive and I wandered elsewhere, dedicating myself largely to issues of education, migration, and human rights. As always, I was drawn in by the individual faces and stories behind broader lived experiences, yet I had little interest in working my way up a nonprofit ladder. I wanted to stay in the thick of it, to immerse myself in life histories and absorb everything people would reveal. After years of fighting it, I gave in: it was time to get a PhD in cultural anthropology.

Five years later, I can finally say that my old ambivalence is gone. I have immersed myself in the formal study of disability and am pleasantly surprised by the support I have received from the academic community and beyond. I spend my days researching, reading, writing, and talking about disability issues, and I am lucky to be involved with some fantastic local organizations. I have conducted research in Central America and the U.S., presented papers at multiple conferences, and I am in the process of writing a dissertation on family experiences with complex or unidentified diagnoses. It has been a long road, but it all circles back to Katie.

Every aspect of my work is informed by my own experiences as a sibling, and I am honored and humbled by families' willingness to grant me a small window into their stories. I feel so lucky to be part of a nascent but growing group of social science and humanities scholars working in the area of disability. I am also steadfast in my commitment to generating scholarship that reaches beyond the walls of academia. I hope that my work will be read by families, organizations, professionals, and policy makers. As a sibling-researcher, these are not abstract aims. I literally think about them every morning as I sit down to write or each time I meet with other families. These goals animate every step I take.

cominghome 3I still do not know how I fit into the dominant perceptions of what it means to be a sibling of someone with disabilities. My parents were warned when Katie and I were young that I would likely be jealous or resentful of her, since she would receive so much attention because of her disabilities. This always struck me as ridiculous, even as a child. Did experts really think that I was selfish enough to resent my parents' attempts to find new therapies or educational techniques? Although other siblings have criticized my outspokenness on this issue, I remain adamant. Do I think siblings should be allowed to feel jealous, anxious, or confused? Of course! All siblings have the right to these feelings, regardless of whether disability is in the picture. As the sister of someone with disabilities, however, I have never appreciated the assumption that my sibling relationship was fundamentally marred by resentment and jealousy. Because, for me, it was never the case.

Another concern was that I might develop so-called problem behaviors and act out in response to our family's struggles. In reality, I never felt like that was an option. My family had our hands full and simply didn't have room for me to do poorly in school or get into trouble. As an adult, I am not convinced that this pressure was a bad thing. Did I miss out by pushing myself to make good grades and not get caught up in boys, partying, or risky behaviors as a teenager?

The discourse on siblings still hinges on a curious paradox: whether we are too good or too bad, we will still be pathologized. Our behaviors are all too often explained in terms of our sibling status. This is an extremely problematic gap in understandings of who we really are as a diverse group of individuals with different goals, anxieties, and hopes, who happen to be unified by our sibling status. Can I explain many aspects of my personality in terms of my experiences with Katie? Yes, but that doesn't make those explanations correct, nor does it reveal anything about how I might have turned out in a different family context.

Even today, I struggle to express my childhood feelings about Katie's disabilities for one simple reason: Katie was normal to me. I knew nothing else and, even in the earliest weeks of Katie's life, when we did not know if she would survive nor did we understand the complexity of her intellectual and sensory disabilities, I was fiercely proud of her. She was my sister. She was the only sister I had, the only sibling relationship I would ever know.

As I prepared to enter high school, my family became involved in a heated dispute over Katie's educational rights. I do not recall speaking to any of my friends about it until my final year of school, but that silence was part of a broader social protocol. My peers and I restricted our conversations largely to things like boys, clothes, and gossip. I later learned that some of my friends had faced serious family struggles during that time – addiction, mental illness, infidelity, domestic violence – yet we didn't discuss these experiences until many years later. Perhaps disability had less to do with my silence that I used to think.

Even at the peak of my family's legal battle to meet Katie's educational needs, the only profound feelings of sadness and anger I had were never directed at Katie, but always toward the failure of the institutions we relied upon to meet our needs. The key is that these needs were all of ours. I learned early that the perfect family's depicted on television are nothing but fiction, and in reality we all have our struggles. I realized, too, that we live in a world in which people are literally cast aside. This was probably the hardest thing to process as a teenager, and I recall a palpable sense of grief for the naïve optimism I saw in many of my peers.

cominghome 4Looking back, the biggest emotional struggle for me as a teenager was my lack of a network of other siblings to relate to. Not only did I have no one to talk to who could truly relate to my experiences, but I had no models. This was before the days of Facebook and disability listservs, and I would not learn of Sibshops until years later. The only sibling support groups in our area were for brothers and sisters of kids with autism, so that didn't work.

Without anyone to follow, I simply did the best that I could. I winged it. Once I began college, I made an explicit effort to open up about my experiences with Katie from the start. I learned very quickly that people were genuinely interested in hearing our story, and my previous silence lifted.

Looking back at my circuitous path, I should have known that I was a researcher at heart. My passions are meeting families, hearing stories, writing what I see, and sharing these powerful disability realities with people who might not encounter them otherwise. My aim is, and perhaps has always been, to get the word out. I want to learn, witness, and disseminate.

I want to be part of a small, but growing, effort to push disability from society's margins and into mainstream discussions. I want to do everything I can to make sure that other siblings do not feel as isolated or singular as I did when I was younger, and to encourage scholars and journalists to take disability seriously – not as an object of pity or a source of stigma, but as a very real aspect of the human experience that will touch each of us in some way.

I want to tell Katie's story, to use my own family's experiences and those of others like us, to effect change and make people listen. It took me until now, as a married mother in my thirties, to really embrace this as my professional destiny, but I think I can finally say that my old ambivalence is gone. Let's do this.

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By: William Daugherty, Superintendent, TSBVI

Abstract: Superintendent Daugherty explores the opportunities and benefits of distance education through broadcast technologies.

Key Words: TSBVI, blind, visually impaired, deafblind, distance education, broadcast technologies, webinars


The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has been involved in a variety of broadcast and web based seminars and trainings for at least the past five years. We have learned much about how this is done, often through trial and error, and now have considerable expertise among the staff most involved with it. But we have long been aware that to do it well and on a larger scale, TSBVI needs to bring in more specialists who are trained in the area of media-based production and delivery.

As a special purpose school with a single focus of educating students who are blind, visually impaired or deafblind both on our campus and statewide, we have been given the opportunity to develop a wide-range of expertise on teaching methodologies and the supports needed to put them into practice. TSBVI has also been a hub of collaboration with the many outstanding educators across the state who are similarly interesting in sharing what they have learned with others trying to improve educational outcomes. The result of these factors is that there is an amazing body of knowledge which has developed in our state that often goes unnoticed and unknown because there is not a mechanism to disseminate it in a way that reliably reaches all of the people who would benefit from it. To address this issue TSBVI is seeking funding in the upcoming legislative session that will equip the school to move rapidly into an increased electronic media presence.

The Building Statewide Capacity Initiative is intended to use distance education and broadcast technologies to support schools and families striving to provide better school outcomes for students who are blind, visually impaired or deafblind across Texas. The vast geography of the state and the need to have access to high quality information wherever people live and on their own schedule, must be met with new service delivery models. The Initiative will develop and produce webinars, video broadcasts, training videos on demand, and other means to equip teachers and parents with skills and information necessary to support the highly specialized learning needs of these students. The Initiative will also provide direct instruction and support via on-line courses and webinars for students statewide modeled after, and managed by, the school's Short Term Programs (STP) Department. As such, its initial intent with students will be supplemental and at ISD request, just as STPs are today. Based upon ISD interest it is our hope to develop the capacity to expand this to more formalized approaches to help students and their teachers statewide to meet both academic and IEP goals.

Key in this initiative is a request for additional funding to ensure that Texas Tech and Stephen F. Austin State Universities are increasing their output of new Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments and Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists via stipends to replace those leaving the field. The Initiative will support these new educators once they are working in Texas schools using the successful statewide mentoring model long-established by TSBVI and the two universities. This is in realization that no initiative by TSBVI can reach its potential unless every one of our state's 9,127-and-growing students has adequate access to well-trained TVI and COMS regardless of where they live in Texas.

As with many things good that have come from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, it has been the input of statewide stakeholders that have driven it. This is especially true when those stakeholders have an interest in collaborating with TSBVI, sharing their energy and expertise for the benefit of all. We look forward to hearing from you about what you may already be doing in this area, and how we might work together to build the capacity of this promising way of communication within our community.

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By: David Wiley, Texas Deafblind Project, Austin, TX

Abstract: There are some misconceptions associated with using interveners to provide support to students with deafblindness in educational settings. The author attempts to clarify intervener myths with the realities of the intervener model.

Key Words: Effective Practices, deafblind, intervener, misconceptions, access


Over the last decade, trained interveners have become a more familiar model used in schools and communities across the U.S. to provide individual support to people with deafblindness. Though many people are now familiar with the word or job title, the practices surrounding use of an intervener in school settings may continue to be misunderstood. Some misunderstandings are understandable, as the use of the intervener model has some complexities, and there are many gray areas in the practice based on meeting the individual needs of students who are deafblind and the circumstances of the settings where they learn. Additionally, through the years efforts to simplify complex issues have resulted in a perception of "rules" about the use of interveners that don't fully capture the depth of the issues involved.

For the purpose of this paper, let's call these misunderstandings and over-simplifications "intervener myths." By myths I mean to say, there are things I have heard people express about what interveners can or should do that do not tell the whole story, or fail to account for individual differences. Clarifying some of these issues might dispel some of these myths.

What is an Intervener, and how are they used in schools?

Before getting to the myths, it might be best to start with the current ideas agreement what an intervener is. There is an initiative spearheaded by the National Center on Deafblindness (NCDB) to gather feedback and arrive at a shared understanding of intervener issues.

A definition of intervener developed through this initiative states:

Interveners, through the provision of intervener services, provide access to information and communication and facilitate the development of social and emotional well-being for children who are deaf-blind. In educational environments, intervener services are provided by an individual, typically a paraeducator, who has received specialized training in deaf-blindness and the process of intervention. An intervener provides consistent one –to-one support to a student who is deaf-blind (age 3 through 21) throughout the instructional day.

...an intervener's primary roles are to (Alsop, Blaha, & Kloos, 2000, https://nationaldb.org/library/page/2266):

  • provide consistent access to instruction and environmental information that is usually gained by typical students through vision and hearing, but that is unavailable or incomplete to an individual who is deaf-blind;
  • provide access to and/or assist in the development and use of receptive and expressive communication skills;
  • facilitate the development and maintenance of trusting, interactive relationships that promote social and emotional well-being; and,
  • provide support to help a student form relationships with others and increase social connections and participation in activities.

A definition like this goes a long way toward providing guidance to educational teams and community service providers utilizing the intervener model of support for people with deafblindness. However, some misconceptions or "myths" remain to be discussed.

Intervener Myths Dispelled

Myth # 1:
An intervener is a 1-on-1 support to provide more help for the person, or an "extra set of hands".

Reality:
An intervener is a related service that provides a person with deafblindness with access to information, interaction, and instruction he or she would otherwise miss due to sensory issues.

Any student in any school could benefit in various ways from a personal assistant. An intervener is more than a personal assistant. The intervener is essential for many students with deafblindness to gain basic access to and benefit from instruction and interaction. Explaining the need for a trained intervener should focus clearly on issues related to deafblindness: access to information, communication support, and promotion of trusting relationships.

The discussion questions found at the end of this article can illustrate these issues.

Myth # 2:
Every student who is deafblind needs an intervener throughout the school day.

Reality:
Every student who is deafblind must have consistent access to information, environments, communication, and instruction, in all instructional environments throughout the school day.

An intervener is one way to achieve this, but not always the only way to achieve this goal. There are several potential ways to insure access for a student with deafblindness:

  • Environmental adaptations such as preferential seating, enhanced lighting, or noise control.
  • Adaptive technologies.
  • Low staff : student ratios to ensure individual attention.
  • Communication rich environment.
  • Assign an intervener with deafblindness-related training.
  • Combination or all of the above.

The intervener is not intended to replace the other ways a student may gain access. The intervener model is needed when other solutions fail to ensure access to information, result in communication breakdowns, or create stress associated with lack of emotional support. The circumstances surrounding certain activities or settings during the day may make other solutions sufficient for full access in some situations, and an intervener necessary in others.

Myth # 3:
Interveners shouldn't work with other students, and shouldn't have to do work not directly related to their student who is deafblind, such as playground or cafeteria monitoring, because that is not their job.

Reality:
Access for the student who is deafblind is the intervener's number one priority. The intervener should not be asked to do something else if it interferes with this priority.

To effectively support a student with deafblindness, these intervener responsibilities should take priority over other duties:

  • providing access to the student who is deafblind by supplying information, supporting communication, and promoting emotional wellbeing;
  • meeting with team members to discuss issues and strategies related to the student;
  • meeting with teachers to become familiar with upcoming lessons in order to plan needed adaptations or modifications;
  • making or adapting learning materials for the student to use during lessons.

However, if the student is absent, receiving intervention from another person who is providing information and communication access, or engaged in independent work, the intervener may be available help in other areas.

Myth # 4:
No more than one person can provide intervention over the course of a day.

Reality:
Many students who are deafblind have trouble recognizing, trusting, and/or bonding with others, and have a need for great consistency in order to understand what is happening. For students that have these concerns, it is important that the intervener is someone they know and trust.

When trust, bonding, and relationship building skills are issues for the student, fewer people serving as intervener is helpful or necessary. But these issues need to be weighed against practical staffing issues, especially when the student has good relationship-building skills.

These issues should be discussed when considering intervener staff assignments.

Reasons it is beneficial to have only one intervener:

  • People with deafblindness have trouble trusting and bonding with people they do not recognize or know, leading to stress or anxiety.
  • The person who is deafblind may not yet have developed the social ability to deal with multiple people.
  • People who are deafblind depend on consistency and routine to help them recognize what is happening and know what to expect.
  • People who are deafblind often have unique communication systems and preferences that need to be used consistently.
  • Expressive communication for people with deafblindness who are emerging communicators may be subtle and difficult to recognize or understand for people who don't know them very well. This leads to frustration and missed opportunities to interact.

Reasons more than one intervener might be helpful or necessary:

  • If the person or situation requires long periods of continuous sign language, especially tactile sign, fatigue creates a problem.
  • If only one person acts as intervener, there may be problems if the intervener is ill or absent.
  • If the person can do well with an additional intervener, it may prevent any problems associated with emotional attachment.

Myth # 5:
Interveners don't do personal care activities or work in the home of the person who is deafblind.

Reality:
The role of the intervener is to support the person who is deafblind with access to information, communication, and emotional support. Interveners also teach skills to help increase the person's independence. These supports may be needed and provided in any location or during any life activity that happens to arise. Interveners do with, not for, the person with deafblindness.

Myth # 6:
Interveners work with children, particularly at school. Adults with deafblindness don't need interveners, and are supported when needed by Support Service Providers (SSPs).

Reality:
SSPs are supports used by adults with deafblindness who have strong skills related to independence and self-direction. Interveners serve a different role than SSPs. The service needed is less related to age and setting as it is to the individual needs, abilities, and independence of the person being supported.

Some differences in the roles of SSPs and interveners are:

SSPsInterveners
SSPs work at the direction of the person who is deafblind. If the person who is deafblind has difficulty organizing, planning, and initiating due to age, maturity, lack of experience, or additional disabilities, the intervener may help provide direction and encouragement so the person has opportunities for meaningful activities based on personal preferences.
SSPs provide the information needed so the person who is deafblind can make decisions. If the person who is deafblind has difficulty making or communicating decisions due to age, maturity, lack of experience, or additional disabilities, the intervener may help the person make good decisions based on the situation and the person's individual preferences.
SSPs supply information and facilitate communication so the person who is deafblind can use his or her skills effectively. Interveners help a person who is deafblind use their skills by supplying information and facilitating communication, but also teach the person new skills and knowledge, and new ways to use their skills and knowledge.

Conclusion

As interveners are utilized more regularly in school and community settings, questions about the practice will continue to asked, and understanding about the role will be refined. Individual solutions to providing the most appropriate support for people with deablindness will be discovered. Though these solutions may vary, principles of access, communication, and support should guide the process rather than preconceived notions found in "intervener myths."

Discussion Questions

Discussion of these questions about the student's needs associated with access to information, communication, and emotional support may help clarify the kind of adaptation and intervention needed for students in a school environment. (Adapted from an unpublished draft of "Determining the Need for an Intervener in Educational Settings," by the Texas Deafblind Project.)

  1. Does the student need assistance to effectively detect, gather, and/or prioritize information from communication partners and the surrounding environment?
  2. Does the student rely on the sense of touch or near vision to gain information, so that he or she is unable to reliably get information that other students get from a distance?
  3. In a group instructional setting, is it difficult for the student to gather information or follow a discussion?
  4. Does the student use equipment or adaptive aids, but not efficiently or effectively enough to keep up with the pace of the instruction being given?
  5. Is the student unable to orient him/herself to the environment or move to different learning environments without assistance?
  6. Does the student rely on communication methods not generally used or understood by many of his or her communication partners (teachers, staff, or peers)? Consider all the various environments the student accesses throughout the entire school day.
  7. Does the student often need individual intervention by a trained or knowledgeable support person in order to communicate effectively receptively and/or expressively?
  8. Does the student need a high degree of consistency in strategies and communication systems, so that working with numerous people during the day causes him/her confusion and frustration?
  9. Due to sensory isolation, does the student have difficulties in trusting, bonding, or relating and responding to a variety of people?
  10. Because of sensory impairments, is the student unfamiliar with certain common information, so that in order to fully understand concepts or common references used in instruction or conversation, the student frequently needs more explanation than that given to other students?
  11. Is the student unable to access the same information as classmates who are not deafblind?

Discussing these questions about the educational team can help identify the barriers to meeting the student's needs associated with access to information, communication, and emotional support.

  1. Does the student's need for effective deafblind-specific intervention strategies and communication methods require additional education and training for staff members? If numerous staff will need training, would it be more efficient to concentrate training on fewer specialized individuals?
  2. Does the specialized educational programming recommended through assessment and the IEP create a need for an additional trained support person? Before answering this question, examples to consider include, but are not limited to:
      • due to other demands in the classroom, does the instructor find it difficult to remain in close enough proximity so the student can maintain visual, auditory, and or tactile access to instruction;
      • due to the needs of other students, does the instructor find it challenging to adjust the pace of instruction so the deafblind student has enough time to get understandable information through either modified communication or tactile/close-vision exploration;
      • do any instructors have difficulty or unfamiliarity with the student's preferred communication modes (e.g. tactile symbols, sign language, tactile sign);
      • does existing staff find it challenging to schedule time for deafblind-specific material adaptation and equipment maintenance (e.g., communication aids, vision devices, hearing devices, etc.).
  3. Is it challenging to limit the number of individuals working with the student so that he or she can form trusting relationships?
  4. Is it challenging for the team to be consistent due to the large number of individuals working with the student?
  5. Is it challenging for the team to provide necessary background and fill-in information to help the student fully understand instruction and conversation across all settings?