In a conversation I had with Jay Gense, director of the National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB), he estimated the incidence of deafblindness for children and youth birth to 22 years old in the United States is around .01%.

The incidence in Texas is slightly higher at about .017%.  This means that out of the 4 million plus students in public education in Texas, around 750 are identified as having both hearing and vision problems.  Here is a different perspective:  4 million miles will take you around the Earth at the equator 161 times.  It is almost exactly a 750 mile drive from Houston to El Paso.  Quite a difference (And you thought Texas was so big!).

One of the lessons I have learned from looking at the Deafblind Census is that no two of the students are alike.  There may be 79 students who are considered deafblind as the result of CHARGE Association but beyond that etiology, they are all different.  Some spend most of their time in general education settings, some in special education settings.  Some have a cochlear implant, some have little or no residual hearing.   Some have no vision, some read print.  Some need an intervener, some don’t.  Some are under the age of 3 years, some are 21 years old.  All are different.  All have their unique educational and personal needs and circumstances.

Yet, maybe all students with deafblindness do have something in common: a need for information given in a way they can understand and use and a need for partners who can communicate with them.

This brings me to the idea of “high touch”.  High touch was a concept coined in the 1980’s to contrast with “high tech”.  The idea was that there are some jobs where it was better to have human contact rather than use technology.  It strikes me that working students who are deafblind is a high touch profession.  There is no technology that can replace human contact when it comes to education for students who are deafblind.  I believe that only another human can quickly “read” a student with deafblindness, assess the situation, and make adaptations that will result in the student getting quality information and communication opportunities.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that every student with deafblindness needs full -time one-on-one support.  But it does mean that each student with deafblindness needs consistent support for her or his unique needs in any given situation.

The Annual Deafblind Census will be filled out by districts in Texas in the month of January.  As districts fill out this information, it may be a good time to be thinking about the unique needs of each student and how they are getting met.  How is a given student’s communication needs met?  How is a given student’s need in the area of visual, auditory, and/or tactual access to information met?  Who is providing the high touch to this low incidence group of learners?  Want more information about the census?  Visit the Deafblind Census.

Jim Durkel
APH Materials Coordinator