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Summer 2003 Table of Contents
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Transition: It's All About Collaboration

By C. C. Davis, Regional Representative, Helen Keller National Center, Dallas TX

It doesn't seem that long ago since the Texas Symposium on Deafblindness_the one where we celebrated communities and connections. This article is about some of those connections.

For some time now, many a thoughtful professional in our deaf-blind community has felt that some deaf-blind students graduating from high school could benefit from some additional preparation for life-sort of a post-graduate program to prepare for a post-secondary educational program or community living.

The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) (TCB), Helen Keller National Center (HKNC), the Deaf Blind with Multiple Disabilities Program (DB-MD Waiver) of the Texas Department of Human Services (DHS), and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired's (TSBVI) Deaf-Blind Outreach program have been working together to provide just such an experience for graduating deaf-blind students.

Efforts began with identification of students who would benefit from participation in the HKNC comprehensive rehabilitation program, located in Sands Point, NY. The HKNC regional representative visited with the students over time and helped with the assessment of their appropriateness for HKNC's program. Information on HKNC's program was provided to each student's family and school personnel. TCB's vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselors, transition counselors, and deaf-blind specialists were also contacted; information was provided to them, and decisions were made with regard to eligibility, VR plan development and the appropriateness of referral to HKNC.

Once a student was in the referral process to HKNC, a team was formed to help follow the student's progress and to provide transition planning. A potential long term community service provider was identified through the DB-MD waiver, and contact persons from that organization were brought in on the team effort. The team followed the student from early referral, through the training program at HKNC, and into the transition phase back to Texas. While the student was in training at HKNC, periodic telephone conferences were held to go over the student's progress, plot necessary changes and enhancements to the HKNC program, and eventually, plan the transition of the student to placement in the community.

HKNC not only trains the deaf-blind person in community living skills, but also provides comprehensive reports which provide detailed suggestions for communication, mobility, residential supports, employment, recreation/leisure, environmental modifications and other areas. HKNC provides a variety of work experiences for students to help identify interests, strengths, weaknesses and special considerations.

As the student nears completion in HKNC's program, which can take up to a year, plans are made to put recommendations and supports into effect. HKNC center staff returns to the state with the student to work with key provider personnel who will provide ongoing support. The provider agency staff is oriented to the student's needs and training is provided for a few days. The HKNC center staff and regional representative are later available by phone to follow up and answer any questions by the provider.

TCB deaf-blind specialists and counselors follow along with the entire process. TCB pays for the initial supported employment service to get the student actively employed. HKNC's regional representative and the TCB's deaf-blind specialist maintain contact on the case and provide periodic visits for on-site training, technical assistance and reviews of the student's situation. TCB and the deaf-blind waiver residential provider often continue to work with the supported employment provider to sustain necessary long term supports. HKNC, TCB, and the DB-MD waiver provider have been collaborating to assist in implementing the recommendations made for the student.

The collaboration has not always been easy, and much has been learned about what needs to be done, and what some of the pitfalls can be. Learning how to communicate effectively has been an early challenge. The DB-MD waiver provider staff often has no, or little, experience in deaf-blindness; consequently, significant training is required. Periodic training provided by David Wiley with the TSBVI Outreach program has been important in addressing this deficiency. Turnover of the staff in the waiver program (both direct care and case managers) is a chronic issue for some providers in some areas of the state, a situation that is common in other states. This makes it challenging to sustain a high level of expertise in the service provision. The DB-MD waiver is an indispensable assistance to deaf-blind persons with multiple disabilities, but it is a program that will take time to achieve the level of service quality that is customary and expected in most educational programs and at HKNC. Information on the DB-MD waiver can be found in the fall 2001 issues of SEE/HEAR.

The exciting aspect of this collaboration is the manner in which the effort continues to address problems and deficiencies. The Texas Interagency Task Force on Deafblindness has been a part of this cooperative venture, as it assists in setting up a continuum of quality services across all ages, problem solving gaps in services, maintaining dialogue with stakeholders, and looking for opportunities to work together to leverage resources. The collaboration between TCB, DHS, TSBVI and HKNC is largely an outgrowth of a strong sense of community among service providers on the Task Force who have an interest in deafblindness.

The effort is far from over. Problems crop up on a daily basis, and caring minds and hearts have to get together to try to problem solve in order to create a better support system for deaf-blind people transitioning from educational programs. Resources are sometimes limited, and there seems to be a continual need for training and re-training, but as time goes by, the capability of many provider agencies is improving.

For further information about these collaborative efforts, or programs and services, please contact:

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Last Revision: August 20, 2003