CEC Competency Based Dialogues to Support Students with Deaf-Blindness

Posted on October 28, 2015


Amy Parker - NCDB Coordinator of Professional Development and Products

Amy Parker photoOver the past few years, professionals and families in the field of deaf-blindness have been engaged in renewed dialogues about the need for local-level interveners and trained teachers that serve students who are deaf-blind.  Some exciting examples of these national conversations have been captured in NCDB’s Intervener Services Recommendations that were published in 2012 and in the 2014 Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Visual Impairment and Deafblindness Quarterly issue on deaf-blindness.  Themes about the need for qualified teachers, interveners and efforts to promote these roles were also prominent at national gatherings such as the 2012 NFADB Symposium, the 2014 Texas Deafblind Symposium, and the 2015 CHARGE Syndrome International Conference in Chicago. Through the collective efforts of family and professional leaders, language about the need for qualified teachers, interveners, and state plans related to serving students with deaf-blindness, was added to the Cogswell-Macy Act which was recently re-introduced in Congress.

The words “renewed dialogues” are appropriate because there have long been voices in the field of deaf-blindness that have called attention to the need for trained teachers and interveners.  In 2008, there was a significant step forward when leaders began working with the Council for Exceptional Children to develop specific knowledge and skills competencies for teachers serving students who are deaf-blind and for interveners (Zambone & Alsop, 2009).  The publication of these competencies offered members in our low-incidence community a way to describe the needs of students and to begin to work on paths to establish national recognition for these roles.

Johanna, teacher and Christoper, student engage in a conversation using hand under hand communicationThe competencies for teachers serving students who are deaf-blind and for interveners provide a valuable framework for systematic training for personnel, and, importantly, they provide legitimacy for educators who serve the rarest of the low incidence disability groups. Only a handful of state systems formally recognize teachers with certificates in deaf-blindness or trained interveners, yet national competencies have been developed within a respected international organization that provides standards for special educators. From this standpoint, it is worth exploring the role of a national technical assistance network that is funded to serve students who are deaf-blind and to ask ourselves what roles we may play in supporting dialogues for teacher and intervener competencies. 

Over the past three years, a few highlights of our network based efforts to promote interveners and teachers include:

  • Development and dissemination of a national definition of intervener services, including clarification of the occupational role of the intervener. The definition was based upon a synthesis of materials. See the full technical report for a description of the synthesis process:
  • Development of a participatory network approach to co-create Open, Hands, Open Access (OHOA) Deaf-Blind Intervener Learning Modules on an accessible learning platform. Eighteen of 26 modules have been produced and released to the community. Many state partners are using the modules to offer high quality outreach, training and technical assistance to teachers and teams.  The modules are also being used to bolster current intervener training programs as well as launch new programs.
  • A partnership between NFADB and NCDB to host cohorts of families in OHOA Module 3- The Role of the Intervener in the Educational Setting.
  • Ongoing development of an e-portfolio performance-based assessment process for interveners with network partners that is aligned with the CEC competencies for interveners
  • Hosting conversations with personnel preparation groups and technical assistance providers to explore opportunities for creative partnerships in teacher training

Student and teacher using hand under hand to communicate about objects displayed in a calendar system

In the realm of personnel preparation, some university partners in the past 3 years have received new funding related to training specific teacher cohorts in deaf-blindness at the master’s and doctoral levels. It is also encouraging to see that some university partners have received specific funding to examine how teachers in the areas of Blindness/Visual Impairments or Deaf/Hard of Hearing might increase their knowledge and skills in serving students who are deaf-blind. Researchers have encouraged technical assistance providers to use asset-based approaches to build upon areas of strength in professional learning communities (Blase, Kiser, et. al, 2013; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). In this vein, our technical assistance network must continue to look at examples of strength and partnerships within our states and regions for supporting teachers and interveners. To nurture opportunities for strengths-based growth, we must look for ways to develop new teachers and interveners by supporting comprehensive training programs while, concurrently, developing the knowledge of service providers currently supporting children. Our competencies give us a framework for engaging in those conversations and building those individual and systemic capacities.

The power of a network comes from our collective energy and focus to build an infrastructure that better serves students who are deaf-blind and their families. The CEC Knowledge and Skills Competencies for teachers and for interveners gives the field a way to focus on what is essential for service providers who interact with students who are deaf-blind in schools across the country.  Also it is important to acknowledge that competencies, far from being carved in stone, evolve from the needs of the students themselves that are defined by both practice and research. As with any field, competencies must be explored and revisited as our own knowledge evolves. Through the engagement with organizations like the CEC, and the concerted attention of the technical assistance network, family organizations, and university partners, we have an opportunity to provide students who are deaf-blind with greater access to quality instruction and supports. Together, we may truly promote a system of education for students who are deaf-blind that supports their achievement, participation, and quality of life across the nation.


Blase, K., Kiser, L., & Van Dyke, M. (2013). The Hexagon Tool: Exploring context. Retrieved from

CCF National Resource Center. (2010). Strengthening Nonprofits: A Capacity Builder’s Resource Library. Delivering training and technical assistance. Retrieved from

National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness. (2012). Recommendations for Improving Intervener Services. Retrieved from

Parker, A. T. (Ed.). (2014). Deafblindness: Growing a professional home with DVIDB [Special issue]. Visual Impairment and Deafblind Education Quarterly, 59(5). Retrieved from

Zambone, A. M., & Alsop, L. (2009). Ensuring access to highly qualified interveners and teachers: Establishing intervener and teacher specialized professional associations in Council for Exceptional Children. Division on Visual Impairments Quarterly, 54(3), 44-47.

Photos feature Johanna Borg from Texas and her student, Christopher.  

Comments (9)

Ira, you have summarized a core challenge in identifying teacher competencies because of the complexity and heterogeneity of the population of students that we serve. I agree with you the competencies do provide a nice framework. It would be WONDERFUL to have your ideas shared at CEC when the competencies are revisited and updated. Also we would love to have your help in this initiative effort! Thank you!

Amy Parker

Posted Nov 13, 2015 by Amy Parker

Hi! I'm Ira Padhye - the new Project Coordinator for the Virginia Project. I have some personal experience with being a part of the Teacher Prep Program that specializes in Deaf-blindness. I got my Deaf-blind training through the Boston College Severe Special Needs Program. A majority of us who completed the specialization worked in the Deafblind Program at Perkins School for the Blind. Having that Severe Special Needs training proved useful to us because the students in the Deafblind Program are considered to fit under the bigger umbrella of "Severe Special Needs". Being a part of a state project, I've seen that the students that we serve have a wide range of needs. We have students that fall under each umbrella of "Severe", "Moderate" and "Mild". I think that is why we have had such a hard time coming up with one prep program that prepares educators for all of our students' needs - because there are a wide array of them. But these CEC Competencies are excellent and I think universities can use these competencies as the pillars in creating an effective teacher prep program.

Ira Padhye

Posted Nov 13, 2015 by Ira Padhye

Adam, as you summarized in your comment, "using the CEC competencies as our basic guide when developing programs for personnel prep, will help us provide a degree of uniformity in language and understanding when we are attempting to design and define the desired outcomes of various personnel prep programs throughout the country." I want to emphasize again that I believe the CEC competencies can also provide uniformity in language and understanding as we design and implement technical assistance across state projects to personnel who have gotten initial training in personnel preparation training programs but need additional skill development now that they are working with the children. Hope this conversation continues and it clearly reflects how personnel preparation programs and technical assistance projects, working collaboratively, can ensure our nation has qualified personnel in our field.

Linda McDowell

Posted Nov 9, 2015 by Linda McDowell

I also wanted to add that we are learning SO MUCH from practicing interveners through the eportfolio development process. Each intervener has been through a systematic training program and is using artifacts to demonstrate knowledge and skills. Our practicing teachers also have much to share with us about the competencies. I hope we can engage more practitioners in dialogues about the competencies as they are refined and updated in the future.

Amy Parker

Posted Nov 5, 2015 by Amy Parker

Thanks so much for your partnership and encouragement, Adam!

Amy Parker

Posted Nov 5, 2015 by Amy Parker

Thank you Amy and Linda for hosting the adobe room on this topic and for bringing attention to the importance of keeping the CEC competencies in mind when discussing and building preparation programs for interveners and teachers. As you so eloquently pointed out, because we are such a small field it is so important for us to agree on essential issues such as the knowledge and skills that new professionals should demonstrate in order to obtain in order to be considered qualified personnel. Of course every state will have it's own set of needs and challenges that will need to be addressed when training and implementing interveners and Teachers of students with deafblindness into their educational system. However, as this post explains so well, by using the CEC competencies as our basic guide when developing programs for personnel prep, it will help us to provide a degree of uniformity in language and understanding when we are attempting to design and define the desired outcomes of various personnel prep programs throughout the country.

Adam Graves

Posted Nov 5, 2015 by Adam Graves

Thank you Donna! I know you are doing great things with interveners and already have some amazing partnerships with personnel prep. Appreciate your leadership!

Amy Parker

Posted Nov 4, 2015 by Amy Parker

Thanks Amy! I will share this with our Advisory Committee meeting for MD/DC!

Donna Riccobono

Posted Nov 4, 2015 by Donna Riccobono

Thank you, Amy, for highlighting exciting successes across the field from the past few years - addressing the need for quaffed personal to serve students who are deaf-blind (both interveners and teachers.) The importance of the CEC Competencies is clear to me - they unify our field (those preparing interveners and teachers and those providing TA to practicing intervenes and teachers) - by defining the knowledge and skills we all desire to see in personnel - "qualified" to be serving student who are deaf-blind. Indeed the CEC competencies helped the Intervener work group define qualified personnel throughout the Initiative work (the IEP Guide development, the OHOA modules, e-portfolio production, etc) and now as we consider engaging in additional activities - TA projects in partnership with personal prep programs - the Competencies can help define the critical roles we all play in supporting both practicing teachers as well as teachers who are being prepared to be qualified and available for children.

Linda McDowell

Posted Oct 31, 2015 by Linda McDowell

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