By Sharon Wiatt Jones
Interveners for the Deaf and Blind. “The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me” (Helen Keller). Helen Keller lost her sight at the age of 19 months after contracting a serious illness. Uncontrollable by the age of six, her parents sought alternatives to placing her in an institution. Alexander Graham Bell considered teaching deaf children to be his “true vocation” and was instrumental in identifying Anne Sullivan as Helen’s teacher. (Experimentation with hearing devices was influenced by the inventor’s deaf mother and wife.) Sullivan taught Helen Keller an alphabet sign language by finger spelling into her palm, a method that was developed by medieval monks.
Approximately 1.2 million Americans have combined hearing and vision losses, according to researchers at Mississippi State University. These scholars found that intensive and early intervention, from infancy until the age of three, is critical for the deaf-blind to achieve integration into society. Those with loss and/or serious impairment to hearing and vision are often medically fragile and need help from professionals with highly specialized skills. The number of visually impaired is expected to double by 2030 due to aging of the baby boomer generation.
Support Service Providers (SSPs) facilitate access of the deafblind to their environment, whether moving from place to place or communicating basic needs. Many SSPs are family members or volunteers. Interveners arrange educational and environmental accommodations for the deafblind. Training for interveners varies from certification to master’s degree programs. Other professionals who work with the dual sensory disabled are deafblind special education instructors/case managers, SSP coordinators, braille transcribers, deafblind advocacy specialists, access technology specialists or consultants, rehabilitation teachers, orientation and mobility specialists, and low-vision therapists. Opportunities in this field are growing faster than the supply of qualified applicants. In addition to canes and service dogs, assistive technology for the blind includes scanners, and software (GPS, PDAs, computer games, notetakers, and Braille embossers).
Parent Educator. The role of parent educator has expanded since its emergence in the 1960s and 1970s. Originally targeted as early intervention for children at-risk due to poverty, disabilities, or teenage pregnancy, this training is now mandated for parents by divorce courts in more than 35 states. Some states require filing of a formal parenting plan for joint custody: an agreement to visitation rights, residential schedule (including holidays, special occasions, summers), religious training, decision-making, childcare, relocation, and access to relatives. Some form of educational support services are available in many locations for parents going through various transitions (separation and divorce, remarriage, adoption, foster parenting, military deployment, new immigrants and refugees, pregnant teenagers).
Parents in families undergoing trauma, such as domestic violence may receive special programming. The Neighborhood House in St. Paul, Minnesota, serves refugees, immigrants, and low-income parents from more than 50 ethnic groups with teen parent educators and family workers (for support and education). Boys Town trains family teaching couples, residential consultant, and in-home family consultants. Bellevue Women’s Care Center, in the Schenectady, New York area, offers a class titled, “Before Your Baby Basics,” with success in reducing premature births. Other goals of the program include reducing incidents of child abuse, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and shaken baby syndrome.