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from the Winter 98 issue
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

1997 Deafblind Project Directors' Meeting

by Cyral Miller, Director of Outreach, TSBVI

Each year in the Fall, the Federal government, with the coordination and planning of a national technical assistance project (this used to be TRACES and now is NTAC), brings all state and multistate deafblind technical assistance projects together to discuss grant procedures, deafblind related research and best practice, and most importantly, to share with each other how we are addressing the needs of students with deafblindness and their families in our very different states. Marty Murrell, Project Director; Roseanna Davidson, Census Coordinator; Robbie Blaha, Deafblind Outreach Consultant; and I attended this year. There are 48 state and multistate projects (The TSBVI Deafblind Outreach Team and Project Access from Texas Tech have this function in Texas), two pilot projects in Montana and South Dakota, 5 demonstration projects, 3 national research validation and implementation projects, and the DB-LINK, National Clearinghouse for Children with Deafblindness. The gathering of all the directors and coordinators of these projects is a wonderful opportunity to hear what is happening across the nation.

The recent reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and proposed regulations to Parts A and B were a major topic this year. For the past several years, the main issue has been whether IDEA would be reauthorized, and if so, whether deafblind specific grants would be retained. There had been rumors that all categorical programs (those based on specific disabilities like autism or deafblindness) would be eliminated. Luckily, the National Deafblind Coalition and other advocacy groups were very active. They were able to maintain a Federal commitment to at least the current level of funding for deafblind technical assistance. The wording now is less directive than in the past, as there is no longer a specific line item mandating designated state and multi-state technical assistance projects to provide that technical assistance. We will have to be watching the next set of proposed regulations in Spring, which will deal with rules for Discretionary Programs, to see how our programs will be defined, and remain vigilant to ensure quality technical assistance for this population.

There were several speakers from the Office of Special Education Programs, including Tom Hehir, Director, Ray Miner, Associate Division Director, and Lou Danielson, Director of the Research to Practice Division, who indicated that the future will only remain secure for projects like ours if we can measure the positive impact of technical assistance, or in other words, if we can prove that these programs actually help children and their families in significant ways. We know that in education at all levels, outcomes and accountability are important issues that are being explored. Here in Texas, measuring student success in public education is typically based on TAAS test scores, drop-out rates, and absenteeism. For students who do not take the TAAS, alternative assessment is being required. For example, a new tool called the Regional Student Progress Indicators is being currently piloted to assess progress of students with visual impairments on a regional basis. Measuring the outcome of technical assistance is not a new process: for example, you may have filled out evaluation forms after workshops, on-site visits, or from this newsletter. On the national level, there will be work done to determine how all projects across the country will be measured. We believe that having qualified professionals to assist programs and families as they pursue quality programming for students with deafblindness is valuable - we hope to be able to demonstrate such clear success that people in Washington agree!

The Federal government has also been re-evaluating its role in training new teachers. The new IDEA defines an active Federal role for low incidence disability areas, like blindness, deafness, and deafblindness, in supporting long term, ongoing, regionally based programs to ensure an adequate supply of appropiately trained personnel. A grant has been awarded to a consortium including AER and CEC to study the need for specialized personnel in the field of vision and deafblindness, and Roseanna Davidson will be very involved in that effort.

The second focus of the conference was on sharing results of recent research in the field of deafblindness. Michael Giangreco discussed his study of the use of instructional assistants with students in general education classrooms. He highlighted the need for adequate training and support for these assistants in order to ensure appropriate programming for the students. (The research is published in Exceptional Children, Vol. 64, No. 1, pp 7-18, from the Council for Exceptional Children.) Teachers and families often feel a need for extra personnel to support their students. Unfortunately, many times these staff are given little direct training on their roles, very little direction on how best to facilitate learning for the student(s) they are assisting, and yet lots of responsibility to carry out complicated IEPs. Giangreco's observations suggest that more time needs to be given to how instructional assistants, families, classroom teachers, and related service teachers interact and design programming strategies to ensure more effective education.

The second research report was from Lori Goetz, on a national task force which looked at results for students with deafblindness in inclusive settings in different states. Again, the importance of planning for effective team efforts, ongoing training, and appropriate supporting for staff was emphasized. This research has not yet been published.

A third focus for the Deafblind project directors was sharing models used in various projects. There were a variety of short presentations in small sessions, including "The Use of Intervenors" (Robbie Blaha presented with that panel), the "Deafblind Census", "Transdisciplinary Teaming Strategies", "Early Intervention", "Psychoeducational Evaluation", "Transition to Adult Life", "Use of FM Systems", and others. We also had discussion groups to share what we were doing on topics including service delivery models, Usher Syndrome Screening, intervenors, transition, and inclusion. In particular I was looking at other states to see how they use regional models to support their deafblind project staff. In all states it is clear that there is too little money and too few qualified people for the task: I left feeling very proud of the kind of support that Texas has available for our deafblind children and their families, both of money and the incredible people we work with every day across the state who are making a positive difference in the lives of children with deafblindness.

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