Bringing Home the Family Engagement Priorities: Part 2

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

Keywords: family engagement, direct service priorities, communities, elevating family voices, decision-making, inclusion, family cultures, federal policy, shared responsibility

Abstract: Building upon the TX SenseAbilities' series focused on the Family Engagement Report, this article highlights Direct Services Priorities 4-6. All of the priorities are intended to drive systems change with families recognized as vital leaders in the efforts. For more details on the Family Engagement Report, please see the entire 2023 Special Issue of TX SenseAbilities on Family Engagement: Lessons Learned From Our Families published in August 2023.


In the August 2023 Special Issue of Texas SenseAbilities, we presented foundational insights into the Value of Family Engagement: Identifying Unique Needs and Priorities of Families with Children Who Are Deaf-Blind (Family Engagement Report). If you haven’t dived into this special issue yet, it’s a must-read—filled with the real experiences and needs of families that are sparking a nationwide movement. We’re not just sharing their stories; we’re inviting you to be part of the change. Take a moment to reflect on the definition of family engagementit’s not just words; it’s a guiding light for us as we lead the charge in making big, impactful changes to how we partner with families in creating possibilities for children and young adults who are blind, have low vision, and are deafblind. It’s a call to action, and we want you with us every step of the way!

This issue hones in on the Direct Services Priorities 4-6 outlined in the Family Engagement Report. We are pleased to share articles written by individuals and families, including articles about some of our family organizations. Their stories accentuate the importance of these priorities and serve as the powerful driving force for family engagement in the state of Texas.

Excerpts from the Family Engagement Report:

A Bit About the Priorities 

The Family Engagement Priorities emerged from a five-month visioning process facilitated by the National Center on Deaf-Blindness to illuminate state-level priorities and national-level supports for families of children who are deaf-blind. This work generated two types of priorities: 

  1. The Direct Service Priorities are intended to drive the work of technical assistance providers as they partner with families in navigating supports and systems. 
  2. The State and National Priorities for Systems Change outline the next steps intended to expand synergies in services for families with individuals who are deaf-blind.

Direct Services Priorities 4: Empower and honor the family as the child’s primary teacher and champion.

Families can only advocate for the services that they know exist. Clarity around local, state, and national supports, organizations, and offerings empowers families to make informed choices for their child who is deaf-blind and their family (including extended family members and others who assume responsibility for supporting the individual who is deaf-blind).

What this looks like in practice

  • Deliberately planning to reach ALL family members 
  • Having the parents be key players in assessment and IEP processes 
  • Giving families access to research and data in bite-size formats
  • Providing professional development for families to share who their child is
  • Formalizing partnerships with university training programs and professional development providers to infuse more content about the importance of family-school partnerships

Direct Service Priority 5: Strengthen family and self-advocate voices, stories, and confidence.

Strengthening family and self-advocate voices involves starting where they are, directing them to high-quality resources, helping them confidently share their story (i.e., find their “voice”), and assisting them in their advocacy journey. Every family has something to offer and teach others.

What this looks like in practice

  • Deliberately planning professional development for ALL family members
    • Supporting self-advocates as they explore their interests, engage in their IEP process, become self-determined, and share their stories
    • Supporting families to share their voices/experiences with families of children with other disabilities and families whose children do not have a disability
    • Providing leadership training for families to help them know how to advocate for systems change and action plans 
    • Providing an honorarium to families to attend training relevant to their child
  • Deliberately planning ways to involve families in systems-level work

Direct Service Priority 6: Deliver meaningful information in multiple modalities and transformative ways to reach families in all of their diversity, preferences, and needs at key moments in their personal journeys.

With an equity mindset, offer a variety of opportunities to enable families to participate and engage. This involves helping families navigate key transitions across their child’s life to empower them to celebrate successes and milestone achievements, reflect on lessons learned, and plan for the future.

What this looks like in practice

  • Preparing families to define plans and appropriate supports to advocate for their child
  • Collaborating as a network to disseminate information in a myriad of languages and formats to meet the growing diversity of the population
    • Creating visual resources using a variety of languages to meet the needs of families by incorporating pictures and minimal text
    • Including a question on forms about the family’s preferred mode/form of communication 
  • Applying adult learning strategies to increase family reach and engagement
  • Thoughtfully planning activities with an equity mindset 
    • Ensuring that native-speaking groups have facilitators who speak their language
    • Including language interpretation in family event offerings 
  • Offering family-driven, person-centered planning sessions
  • Recruiting allies from all cultural backgrounds to foster trust and safety
  • Posting state deaf-blind project information, such as contact information, in visible locations on partner organization websites.
Next Article

BOLD: Blindness Outdoor Learning and Development

Family Wisdom