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Spring 2005 Table of Contents
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2005 Texas Symposium on Deafblindness: Awards, Learning Opportunities, and Community Building

by David Wiley, Texas Deafblind Project, TSBVI

Abstract: A report on the proceedings of the 2005 Texas Symposium on Deafblindness and awards given to leaders among those involved with deafblindness.

Key Words: New & Views, Symposium, training, families, networking, awards

On February 26-27 the Texas Deafblind Project hosted the 2005 Texas Symposium on Deafblindness. The event was attended by close to 400 family members and professionals associated with children and youth who are deafblind. The symposium provides an opportunity for Texans who are involved with deafblindness to learn from some of the nation’s leading authorities in the field, as well join together to network and support one another. This year’s symposium kicked off with awards presented to people who have been leaders, demonstrating a commitment to improving the lives of Texans with deafblindness and their families.

The “Trailblazer Award” is given to family members who, through their actions in meeting challenges for their own children, provide an easier path for other families follow. This year’s recipients are the Welch family from Big Spring, Texas. Paul and Susie Welch worked as active partners with their son Jaceson’s schools in creating a meaningful and creative educational plan throughout his school years. Jaceson and his parents were pioneers in practices such as including a student with multiple disabilities in regular education classes and community-based instruction. Jaceson became a well-known and popular member of his high school community. The Welch’s will always cherish the memories of Jaeson escorting his date the senior prom, and the entire senior class rising to applaud as he walked the stage at graduation. In recent years the Welch’s have become active in the Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (DBMAT), and Paul currently serves as president of that family and professional support organization. Through their leadership roles, Paul and Susie work together with the DBMAT officers to organize the board of directors, plan the annual family conference, and make everyone feel welcome and involved. Paul’s father, Leo Welch is a community leader through his work with the VFW, and has assisted Jaceson in doing volunteer work in the community as well. For his continuous support and involvement with Jaceson, Leo shared the award with Paul, Susie, and Jaceson.

The “Intervener Award” was presented to Helen Porter. Helen has began working as a interpreter and aide with Lee Ann Bryan in school in Amarillo in 1978, before the term “intervener” was commonly used. Lee Ann is now 40 years old, and Helen still supports her as her intervener/SSP through the Texas Medicaid Waiver for People with Deafblindness and Multiple Disabilities. During these years, Helen has also continued working in the schools with other students who are deafblind. With Helen’s support, as well as the support of her wonderful family, Lee Ann is now a woman who takes full advantage of community life by continuing to learn at Amarillo College and pursuing her many interests. Lee Ann was a keynote speaker at this year’s symposium, and of course Helen was there, providing the support she needs, and providing inspiration to the other interveners in attendance.

The “Marty Murrell Award” was present to Tish Smith for demonstrating excellence in educating students with deafblindness. Tish is an SLP who has provided communication services at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired for many years. During this time she has served dozens of students who are deafblind with diverse abilities and needs. She has excelled at direct services to students, consultation, and training classroom personnel on appropriate communication techniques and strategies. Among her numerous special projects is work on a process for improving the quality of interactions with students who are deafblind, which she presented with her colleagues at this year’s symposium.

The “Ann Silverrain Award” was presented to Steve Schoen for his long-term commitment to improving the lives of Texans with Deafblindness. Steve recently resigned his position with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) where he served as the administrator of the Texas Medicaid Waiver for People with Deafblindness and Multiple Disabilities. Steve took over a deafblind community living program almost fifteen years ago in another agency, before moving to DADS in state agency reorganization. At that time, the program supported fewer than 30 people in three group homes. Steve had the vision and ability to convert the program to a “Medicaid Waiver”, and in doing so increased both the resources and service options available to people. The Waiver program now provides the support needed by over 140 Texans with deafblindness to live in their own homes, with their families, or in small groups in the community. Through it all, Steve has been an advocate for maintaining appropriate specialized services to people with deafblindness, and for improving community services with deafblind specific training for direct-care staff, and outcome-based monitoring of service providers. After retiring from state government, Steve has volunteered to help the Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (DBMAT) as their Executive Director. He will use his knowledge and experience to assist that organization in trying to acquire additional funds for activities and a permanent paid support person.

After the awards, Joe McNulty of the National Coalition on Deafblindness, and Director of the Helen Keller National Center in New York, informed participants about recent legislative activity, stressing the need for advocates to make sure policy makers know their concerns. Our own Robbie Blaha presented a fascinating keynote on the ways children with deafblindness develop concepts, and how we can help them learn. The break-out sessions included many informative sessions by speakers from around the nation such as: Tim Hartshorne from Central Michigan University; David Brown and Maurice Belote from California Deaf-Blind Services; Sandra Davenport, a Clinical Geneticist from Minnesota; Cathy Nelson from the University of Utah; Tanni Anthony from Colorado Services for Children with Combined Vision and Hearing Loss; and Barbara Miles, a consultant on deafblindness from Vermont. The program also included numerous speakers from around Texas. The closing keynotes were again a highlight of the symposium. The Knapp family from Missouri City shared the joys and challenges they experienced as their son Christian progressed from a premature infant into a young man who is continuing to learn and grow. Lee Ann Bryan from Amarillo and Rose Yanez from El Paso shared their personal experiences and accomplishments as young women who haven’t let sensory impairments slow them down.

Over 100 people attended the Friday evening family social hosted by DBMAT. Family members got to meet and support one another, as well as tell their stories to invited legislators and other policy makers. This event epitomized a theme of the entire symposium–building communities and connections with others who have similar experiences and concerns. I spoke with many participants who can’t wait for the next symposium in 2007, for another chance to learn and touch base with this wonderfully supportive community.


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