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By Jenny Lace, Education Specialist, Texas Deafblind Project

Abstract: Several southeastern states annually collaborate to host an event for youth with deafblindness and their families. Teens participate in workshops, learning self-determination, leadership, career, and adult life planning skills, all while developing community with other young people who are deafblind.

Keywords: deafblind, teens, young adult, self-determination, leadership

I recently had the opportunity to take an inspiring trip as an education specialist in the Texas Deaf-blind Project. It was my second Annual Southeast Regional Teen/Young Adult Deaf-Blind Retreat and Parent Event. In 2009 the Georgia Sensory Assistance Project hosted the retreat, and this year the Florida Outreach Project was the host. Presenters and mentors with deafblindness addressed topics related to transition, self-determination, leadership skills, social skills and self-advocacy. Separate sessions featuring transition planning issues were offered to the parents, with opportunities to share experiences. Many stayed an additional day for a group trip to Busch Gardens, where the roller coasters and water rides were the favorite activities.

Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Deafblind Outreach (TSBVI), Texas Deafblind Project, and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Division of Blind Services (DARS-DBS) sponsored one teen from Tyler, Texas and her parent to attend this retreat. Attending the event were 20 deafblind youth, six of whom were mentors and presenters; nine parents; 19 staff; and 47 interpreters and support service providers. There was sponsorship from Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Representation also included the National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB), Helen Keller National Center (HKNC), and The American Association for the Deaf-Blind (AADB). The retreat was held at a Rotary Club camp in Brandon, Florida on Martin Luther King weekend, January 15-17, 2010. Perfect timing for deafblind teens and young adults to articulate: “I have a dream…”

Photo of the group

Florida and Georgia participated in annual retreats alternating hosting the event in the prior deafblind projects grant cycle (2003-2008). In the current grant cycle (2008-2013) additional state projects in the southeast area are participating and exploring hosting the annual retreat in their respective states. In the event that AADB has a conference during the current grant cycle, projects will sponsor deafblind youth to the American Association for the Deaf-Blind national conference pending funding.

Many of the presenters/mentors with deafblindness taking the lead at the retreat in Florida have attended this annual event in the past as younger participants. Several have expanded their leadership skills by becoming involved in other projects and programs, including:

  • Deaf-Blind Young Adults in Action (DBYAA), participating in the Policy Process in Washington, DC., meeting congressmen and senators culminating in an invitation to the oval office to meet with President Obama, June 2009. For more information about future DBYAA opportunities, contact Amy Parker at Texas Tech University.
  • Participation at the 9th Annual Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Conference in Uganda, Africa in Oct. 2009, including visiting schools for the deafblind in Africa.
  • Participation in Global Explorers.
  • People to People Student Ambassadors.
  • Enrolling in institutes of higher education, graduating from college, and securing employment (Visit Jason’s Journal Blog).

It was amazing to see students change in confidence and self-awareness in just a couple of days! Feedback from participants included the following comments:

  • Keep going and never give up. Try harder.
  • …not letting anything big or small get in my way to achieve my goals.
  • I can easily help other people.
  • I will advocate for myself and be my own person.
  • I learned more about Braille, cane use and tactile sign.
  • I need to take responsibility for myself to become successful.
  • …cool, convenient, helpful technology…
  • What a wonderful world it really is! And that there are wonderful people in this world who really care.
Photo: on a bus, student with hand over another signers hand. Photo: group on a roller coaster

This annual retreat is a wonderful opportunity for deafblind youth to develop friendships and deafblind community, plan for their future, and practice self-advocacy and leadership skills. It is great to see lasting connections develop through emails, Facebook, and repeat attendance at the annual retreat. I also have made lasting connections in the deafblind community and appreciate this experience.

Youth 15 years of age through 22 years of age with both vision and hearing loss and who have a formal communication system, who are on a career path to work, technical school, or college are invited to apply to attend future retreats. If you are interested in applying, nominating and/or sponsoring a student for this opportunity in the future, please contact me.

Web And Contact Information

American Association for the Deaf-Blind –

Deaf-Blind Young Adults in Action –

Amy Parker –

Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Division of Blind Services –

Global Explorers –

Helen Keller National Center –

Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Deafblind Outreach (Texas Deafblind Project) –

Jenny Lace, Texas Deafblind Project – 512-206-9389 or

National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness –

People to People Student Ambassadors –

Jason’s Journal blog –

Photo: girl and boy wearing event t-shirts