Monday, May 1, 2017

Public Comment to TEA in Favor of Teacher of DeafBlind Certification

To State Board for Education Certification at Texas Education Agency,

We, as people in the state of Texas, have an unique opportunity to clarify and rightfully promote the needs of DeafBlind children.

I am a Deaf mother of three completely different and fascinating children, my oldest son is Deaf, my daughter is hearing, and my youngest son is DeafBlind. It is my passion as a parent who has seen the light of what is tried and true, to contribute to the efforts of recognizing best practices, intervention, educational and communication support that is needed to make a difference in the growth of children in our low-incidence disability community. All of this started when my husband and I realized, before our son Orion’s birth in July 2010, that he would be DeafBlind. I took off into the DeafBlind horizon of information and resources on the Internet and enjoyed meeting educators and fellow parents. Here I will share what is just a scratch on the surface and why we must encourage certification for Teachers of the DeafBlind (TDB).

Deafblindness is not just about the absence of sight and sound. It is so much more than the sum of these two parts. It is better described as “information-gathering disability,” rather than, “He can’t hear and can’t see.”

Even with the collaboration between a teacher of the Deaf (TOD) and a teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI), the duo would still miss the practical intervention, educational and communication needs of a child who is DeafBlind. Yes, the DeafBlind child’s hearing etiology and listening aids may be the same as a child who is only Deaf or Hard of Hearing; and the same child’s vision etiology and visual correction, if any, may be the same as a child who is blind or visually impaired. The obvious similarities with blind children and deaf children end where the combined impact of DeafBlindness is considered. DeafBlindness is its own separate disability. That’s why there needs to be a certified Teacher of the DeafBlind involved to provide expert guidance to the child’s educational team through the DeafBlind “overlap” of the Venn diagram of the deaf circle and the blind circle.

After my youngest son was born in Maryland, people remarked to me that half the battle was won because we were fluent in American Sign Language. My husband and I quickly learned that knowing sign language was not even close to half the battle and maybe just a very small single-digit percentage of it.

We started county early intervention services when Orion was 3 months old. The interdisciplinary early intervention team of a TOD, a TVI, physical therapist, occupational therapist and audiologist were helpful, but they really shone when they could grow on the support and constructive feedback from a DeafBlind specialist from our state DeafBlind project! I always looked forward to that DeafBlind specialist’s monthly visits because we would get our DeafBlind-specific questions finally answered and learn additional strategies to help our son develop physically and cognitively. Ideally, the Deafblind specialist would be there every single home visit but she had the whole state to serve.

Orion started attending school at Texas School for the Deaf after we moved to Austin when he was 2 years old. His teacher, originally trained as a Teacher of the Deaf, started taking workshops and online courses in DeafBlindness. The difference she was making with Orion over the next few years was constantly growing. This was because her efforts were focused on DeafBlindness and not on adding more blind or visually impaired-specific training to her resume. She has since moved onto new opportunities but her heart has “DeafBlind kids” stamped on it and she is still in touch with us.

Now Orion is almost done with his first year at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) as a 6 year-old. My husband and I felt the school year started off well because Orion was picking up the routines, figuring out the classroom and getting to know at his own DeafBlind pace his teacher, teacher aide and whatever IEP service provider was in the room to give services. Everyone in the classroom were good at what they do- interacting with Deafblind kids with Deafblind intervention strategies.

I have observed and inquired various TSBVI personnel their source of DeafBlind know-how by learning on the job right there on campus over the years, they’ve attended workshops on various topics that applies to DeafBlindness and Active Learning, presentations and demonstrations by DeafBlind experts from around the world, and the enriching guidance of the personnel in the Texas DeafBlind Outreach department is right there on campus, too. Orion’s classroom teacher is also mentored by a Teacher of the DeafBlind who participated 5 years ago in TSBVI's pilot program training future TDBs. This TDB’s office is just a few doors down the hallway from Orion’s classroom.

TSBVI clearly encourages and nurtures the interactive growth of DeafBlind skills and knowledge. We need to make studying to become a certified Teacher of the DeafBlind available as a professional goal on the state level. This way Orion’s school age DeafBlind counterparts, statewide, can benefit from the same level of expectations and proficiency.

Orion has been making tremendous progress this past year, there’s nothing magical about it. It’s DeafBlind strategies being used appropriately, thus our son Orion is thriving in his own DeafBlind way.


Heather Lightfoot Withrow
Austin, Texas