DBMAT: 50 Years and Counting as a Gold Standard Family Organization

Authors: Edgenie Bellah, Family Engagement Coordinator, and Heather Withrow, Transition Consultant, Texas Deafblind Project, Outreach Program, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)

Keywords: family organization, family leadership, advocacy, community, systems change, DBMAT, Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas, Texas Deafblind Project

Abstract: In September 2023 the Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (DBMAT) celebrated its 50th year as a family organization. The Texas Deafblind Project invited the community to share their reasons for being grateful for this vibrant and impactful family organization. Enjoy the compiled submissions that capture DBMAT’s contributions and accomplishments over the past 5 decades.

The year 1973 was marked by significant events around the world. It marked the end of the Vietnam War, the unfolding of the Watergate Scandal, the birth of the Internet, and the release of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” The Rehabilitation Act, the first federal law to address civil rights for people with disabilities, was signed into law. Babies born during the Congenital Rubella Syndrome were celebrating birthdays that ranged from 8 years old to 18 years old. The United States was still two years away from PL 94-142, the federal legislation that secures the right for children and adults with disabilities to receive a free and appropriate education.

Several notable events occurred in Texas that year. The oil boom continued, Southwest Airlines was founded, Houston experienced severe flooding, and the University of Texas football team won the Southwest Conference. The Texas Legislature passed the Educational Opportunity Act in 1973, aiming to reform education in the state and improve school funding. Especially significant to our community, a group of families came together to officially form the Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (DBMAT). 

What was started 50 years ago has grown into a family organization that has made a tremendous impact on Texas and our country. To learn more about the robust DBMAT journey, we invite you to read DBMAT—Early Days to Present written by Pat McCallum, founding member and past president of DBMAT.

In September 2023, DBMAT members came together at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired for their annual conference to celebrate being 50 years strong. An accomplishment this significant deserves to be honored all year long. We invited the community to share their reasons for being grateful for this vibrant and impactful family organization. We’ve compiled 50+ of these submissions for your reading pleasure. 

1. The Texas Interagency Task Force for Future Services to Deaf-Blind was established in 1979 to represent parents’ views. This group has continued to the present, and is now known as the Texas DeafBlind Task Force. It is co-chaired by the current DBMAT President.  

2. Advocating for a Governor’s Study on Deaf-Blindness led to the legislative advocacy agenda used to create the Deaf Blind with Multiple Disabilities (DBMD) Medicaid Waiver program.

3. Subsequent legislative advocacy efforts resulted in the expansion of the DBMD Medicaid Waiver to include people of all ages and the provision of home/community interveners. 

4. DBMAT led the efforts in planning and establishing group homes for adults who are deafblind; at least one is still serving the Texas community. 

5. They participated as founding members and served as a model family organization for the National Family Association for Deaf-Blind (NFADB).

6. They also participated in NFADB initiatives such as the Affiliate Network; Family Advocacy, Training, and Education (FATE), and the National Deafblind Agenda. 

7. They connected and engaged with families across Texas through the DBMAT Regional Coordinators program, which was a collaboration with the Texas Deafblind Project.

8. Partnering with other family organizations and families helped secure funding and resources for the Blind Children’s Program when the program budget was about to be slashed. 

9. They advocated and secured 100 additional slots for individuals to receive DBMB Medicaid Waiver services (estimated in 2013). 

10. DBMAT’s advocacy during the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Sunset process protected services for children and adults during the transition of programs.

11. DBMAT responded to the needs of families in the Houston area by establishing the Touch Base Center for DeafBlind. 

12. They also advocated for Texas to have the Teacher of Students who are Deafblind (TDB) certification and informed families of the importance of having qualified personnel be part of students’ educational teams (TDB and Interveners). 

13. Hosting the annual Christian Knapp Memorial Golf Tournament raised intervener scholarship funds. 

14. DBMAT awarded 82 Intervener Scholarships as of September 16, 2023.

15. They co-authored A Family’s Guide to Interveners for Children with Combined Vision and Hearing Loss.

16. DBMAT also served as development collaborators for multiple Open Hands—Open Access modules.

17. They represented families in the creation of the Texas State Plan for Educating Students who are Deafblind. 

18. They serve on multiple advisory committees, including the Texas Action Committee for the Education of Students with Visual Impairments and the Texas Deafblind Project. 

19. DBMAT leads the Texas Deafblind legislative efforts. 

20. And, they provide annual DBMAT family conferences, a favorite for families and professionals!

Christian Knapp, The Great Motivator Award for Individuals who are Deafblind

Since 2005, DBMAT has recognized the notable accomplishments of individuals who are deaf-blind who are role models or improve the quality of life for people who are deaf-blind and have other disabilities. Recipients of the “Christian Knapp, The Great Motivator Award” include:

21. Christian Knapp (2005)

22. Lee Ann Bryan (2006)

23. Joanne Rand (2007)

24. Caleb Thompson (2008)

25. Chris Palasota (2009)

26. Preston Fansler (2010)

27. Brett Priddy (2011)

28. Jaceson Welch (2012)

29. Christopher Hartman (2013)

30. Rachel Allen (2014)

31. Caitlyn Caulfield (2015)

32. Gabby Caldwell (2016)

33. Jarvis Thomas (2017)

34. David Candelaria (2018)

35. Kersten Harmon (2019)

36. Skye Givens (2020)

37. Rebecca Hinds (2021)

38. Danny Gregory (2022)

39. Valentina Franco-Avila (2023)

Olivia Cruz Award for Family Members

The DBMAT “Olivia Cruz Award,” established in 2005, recognizes family leaders who have made a significant contribution to the lives of persons who are deafblind and their families. The award highlights the work of parents who have emerged as leaders in the community. Families who receive this award may do some of the following:

  • increase the number of families involved in DBMAT
  • regularly get out in the community to advocate for all persons who are deafblind and have other disabilities
  • promote the work of DBMAT with the media and elected officials
  • lead efforts to improve or reform school and community services
  • work behind the scenes, doing the nuts-and-bolts tasks that make DBMAT function effectively 
  • provide a model for future family leaders through their selfless acts

Winners of the Olivia Cruz Award include: 

40. Hartman Family (2005)

41. Bud and Lynn Freeman (2006)

42. Welch Family (2007)

43. Knapp Family (2008)

44. Khan Family (2009)

45. Cyndi Hunley (2010)

46. Givens Family (2011)

47. Daley Family (2012)

48. Mary Smith (2013)

49. Wayne Thompson (2014)

50. Gina Sotiroplous (2015)

51. Sewell Family (2016)

52. Withrow Family (2017)

53. Avila Family (2018)

54. Hinds Family (2019)

55. Becky Harmon (2020)

56. Tish, Carrie, and Yesdy Smith (2021)

57. Ferry Family (2022)

58. Potts Family (2023)

The Everett Bryan Award for Professionals

The DBMAT “Everett Bryan Award” was established in 2005, in honor of the late Everett Bryan who was a long-time supporter and steady worker for DBMAT. This award recognizes professionals and volunteers whose dedication and achievements have improved the lives of people who are deaf-blind and have other disabilities. They include: 

59. Craig Axelrod (2006)

60. Helen Porter (2007)

61. C.C. Davis (2008)

62. Gay Belamy (2009)

63. David Wiley (2010)

64. Jenny Lace (2011)

65. Rachel Simpson (2012)

66. Cyral Miller (2013)

67. Edgenie Bellah (2014)

68. Robbie Blaha (2015)

69. Steve Schoen (2016)

70. Lisa Braziel (2017)

71. Johanna Borg (2018)

72. Linda Litzinger (2019)

73. Chris Montgomery (2020)

74. Fran Laware (2021)

75. Gloria Authement (2022)

76. Kate Borg (2023)

In addition to all the awards given by DBMAT, a poll was posted in DBMAT’s Facebook group, inviting anyone in the group to vote. There were six items, and voters could vote for multiple items. As of January 25, 2024, the following statements were affirmed in response to the question, “In what ways has DBMAT helped Texas?” Answers are listed from the Most to Almost the Most: 

  • Connects families to DeafBlind-specific information (education, transition, state agencies, Medicaid waiver, etc.) 
  • Family conference weekend gives a space for families/DeafBlind loved ones to be themselves! 
  • Unites families in Texas. 
  • Advocates for the needs of DeafBlind loved ones/families. 
  • Provides intervener scholarships. 
  • Connects service providers, educators, interveners, and agency staff to DeafBlind-specific information. 

Personal Reflection Time

The authors request that readers please pause for a moment to reflect on their personal story, woven into the 50-year timeline of DBMAT. What major events in the world and your life shaped your personal story? If you’re a family member, how did they shape your child/children’s personal stories? Your family and your community? If you’re a professional, consider also how major events in the world and in your personal story shaped your profession and your professional life. 

Building a Strong Future

The authors also note that as they look towards the future, they are thankful that their DBMAT friends are leading the way. Let’s celebrate how this powerful family organization lives out the famous words of Helen Keller, “Alone, we can do so little. Together, we can do so much.”

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