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Helen Keller National Center - Expanded Field Services to building bridges & capacity along the way


Greetings everyone !

The need for skilled and knowledgeable providers in this field continues to be challenge. This need is pervasive and as young adults exit the schools and spill into adult services  families bear the brunt. We have invited Cathy Kirscher a regional representative and Judy Knisely a former rep who is now assuming the role of DB Specialist. 

Cathy has been a regional rep in two regions and as an HKNC affiliate with a specialized focus on mental health issues. She first was posted in the Northwest Region and has been the representative in the Southwest Region since 1999. During her tenure , she secured initial funding from the San Diego Foundation to develop an SSP program in San Diego county  that ran for six years. She is very involved with the iCanConnect Program in this region , and is now helping to expand services in the SW region with two new DB Specialists in Arizona and Hawaii and the development of the Community Services Program in S. California scheduled to begin in spring 2019 

Judy became the regional representative for region 5 in February 2015 and in 2019 became the first DB Specialist for HKNC in this new developed position.Prior to this Judy served as the deaf-blind specialist for one of HKNC's affiliate programs, Ohio Deaf-Blind Outreach Program where she provided assessments , outreach , counseling , advocacy and direct services to individuals in need of independent living , job development , braille and transition services.

Questions and comments are not only welcomed they are encouraged !


Mike Fagbemi

Posted Month Ago by Mike Fagbemi

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Comments (18)

Hi Ellen,

Yes, we are just in the development and hiring phase of setting up this specialized program in S California. We have one Placement Specialist staff position left to fill, and we have additional interviews set up this week and next. Staff will join HKNC starting April 1st, and we are hoping services will begin in early May, if not before, dependent on finishing all of the required paperwork through the CA Department of Rehabilitation (DOR).

The HKNC NY CSP team has been wildly successful with job development and placement, as Mike F pointed out, and they have nearly 20 years experience. We hope to emulate their model here on the west coast, and be equally successful developing and supporting employment options for DB individuals in this area. Cathy

cathy kirscher

Posted 15 Days Ago by cathy kirscher

Cathy- is the Southern California Community Services Program something new?

Ellen Condon

Posted 16 Days Ago by Ellen Condon

HKNC Deaf-Blind Specialists and Job Development
As with long term support services; the involvement of the HKNC Deaf-Blind Specialist will depend on established state services. In some cases, the HKNC Deaf-Blind Specialist will take the role of lead Job Developer, in others they will work collaboratively with an established Job Developer in the area. The HKNC Deaf-Blind Specialist, Deaf-Blind Project, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and other supports will determine what approach will best serve an individual in their specific location.

Judy Knisely

Posted 16 Days Ago by Judy Knisely

I would like to provide a little more information about the Helen Keller National Center Deaf-Blind Immersion Experience (DBIE) that Mike referenced below.

DBIE is an innovative assessment and training program for individuals who are deaf-blind and have intellectual disabilities in addition to the staff and family who support them.

The program length is five (5) days - Monday - Friday

Included for individual:
Completion of a Lifestyle Assessment
Development of an Individualized Communication System
Low Vision and Audiology Functional Assessment
Identification of Environmental Modifications

Support Staff / Natural Supports will receive:
Hand-On, in-the-moment staff training and mentoring
Training in alternate communication systems that meet the need of the individual
Train now how this communication system will be used in the home and employment sites
Development of an Action Plan to incorporate successful strategies and activities

Please reach out to your local HKNC Regional Representative regarding this program.

Judy Knisely

Posted 16 Days Ago by Judy Knisely

Hi Mike
Good point about transition age youth who require long term supports as a result of their additional disabilities. This support will be vital; looking different in every state. Each state has it's unique set of services and funding sources. It will be a primary objective of the HKNC Deaf-Blind Specialist to assist the individual and their team in identifying local options for who will not only provide this service but who will fund that long term service. HKNC Deaf-Blind Specialist will work directly with community providers to increase capacity and train specific to match the support needs of the individual and employer.

Judy Knisely

Posted 16 Days Ago by Judy Knisely

Hi Mike, The S California Community Services Program (CSP) will be funded with fee-for-service contracts with the CA Department of Rehabilitation (DOR). We do anticipate that Pre-ETS funding will be used for transition-age students and encourage all students to apply for services through Vocational Rehabilitation. Together, we can help with the transition plan and the goal of employment for every student who is interested. Cathy

cathy kirscher

Posted 17 Days Ago by cathy kirscher

Hi Cathy , The CSP program which has been enormously successful in NY seems like a great fit for so many states. I am not familiar with how it is funded. Do you anticipate the use of Pre -ETS funding to support job exploration , work based learning etc. to increase opportunity and improve outcomes for DB youth ? The prospects are exciting for this expansion of the HK field services arm.

Mike Fagbemi

Posted 19 Days Ago by Mike Fagbemi

Hi Judy - A majority of transition age youth require long term supports as a result of their additional disabilities. I am wondering what role might a DB specialist serve here relative to job development and work place supports. I could see some intersection with the HKNC Deaf-Blind Immersion Experience (DBIE) but most will not have an opportunity to participate in that program unfortunately. Thanks

Mike Fagbemi

Posted 19 Days Ago by Mike Fagbemi

How can our families access these new DB Specialists?
Individuals, family members, and professionals should reach out to their Helen Keller National Center Regional Representative. To find contact information for your HKNC Regional Representative go to:

Judy Knisely

Posted 25 Days Ago by Judy Knisely

Hi Cathy and Judy. Thank you for answering questions and providing information in this forum. I was thrilled to learn about these new DB Specialists. As the Director of Outreach with the CHARGE Syndrome Foundation and also as a parent of a young adult daughter with CHARGE syndrome, I witness firsthand the challenges facing our young adults as they age out of children's services and try to navigate the adult service world. Many need the expertise and 1:1 assistance to help with job assessment, job skills, job development and job find. There has been a huge disconnect between adult services and the needs of our population - especially for those with deaf-blindness and developmental disabilities. This new program has so much potential to help bridge these gaps. How can our families access these new DB Specialists? I'd love to advertise it more with our CHARGE community.

Sheri Stanger

Posted 28 Days Ago by Sheri Stanger

HKNC DBS and Transition - very good question. Each state will be unique to that states need; how we can best collaborate, increase capacity and provide Deaf-Blind transitional students with service that equal services offered to all other students in the state. Our objective is to provide opportunities that match the interests of students; providing them the much needed "hands on" experiences they require to make informed decisions about futures planning.

Judy Knisely

Posted 28 Days Ago by Judy Knisely

HKNC Deaf-Blind Specialists is a: Job Developer for individuals with combined vision and hearing loss. Resource for individuals, families and vocational rehabilitation counselors.
* Specialize in employment opportunities
* Provide communication support and training to individuals, employers, co-workers and family members
* Offer feedback and expertise related to techniques for alternative communication strategies
* Investigate transportation options to safely travel to and from work
* Explore technology solutions in the workplace
* Connect Deaf-Blind job seekers with local, state, and national resources
* Collaborate with vocational rehabilitation agencies, and educational transition teams for youth (age 14-21) to adult services
* Deliver one-on-one direct services to support successful outcomes for individuals who are Deaf-Blind to work and thrive in the community of their choice

Judy Knisely

Posted 28 Days Ago by Judy Knisely

Hi Mike,

The regional reps for HKNC work in large geographical areas in each region, and with large numbers of consumers, families and agencies. We provide consultation, information, referral in the local community and sometimes to HKNC NY. We have never been able to provide individual direct service. The addition of the Deaf-Blind Specialists adds that needed direct service component, especially as it pertains to employment. I am excited to see how this new service develops, and to see how employment options improve for DB individuals in their home communities. Cathy

cathy kirscher

Posted 28 Days Ago by cathy kirscher

Hi Patti, One way families can learn about new HKNC services and beyond, is by signing up for the free newsletter, CONNECT, which holds a wealth of information. Here is a link to the latest

The other way to spread the news and find out more is through the Regional Reps in each region. If you aren’t sure who your rep is, there is a list here on the NCDB website as well. Cathy

cathy kirscher

Posted 28 Days Ago by cathy kirscher

Excellent! So needed!

Susanne Morrow

Posted 29 Days Ago by Susanne Morrow

Thanks Cathy - How different will the roles of the DB specialist and regional reps be? A great need for the db network of families and state projects is building local capacity. The possibilities are exciting.

Judy what can you say about the transition ?

thank you both for your time and expertise

Mike Fagbemi

Posted Month Ago by Mike Fagbemi

Hi Cathy! This is great information and service! I know many of us will be following this forum to learn more information and especially how to share this information with families.

Patti McGowan

Posted Month Ago by Patti McGowan

Sue Ruzenski, HKNC Executive Director, shared information about our expanded field services in the latest issue of Connect newsletter:

"This is a time of transformation at HKNC! Many exciting doors are opening as we cross the threshold of expanding our field services across the country. We are grateful to the federal government for the additional funding allowing growth and innovation with state and local partners.

The funds from the government have been earmarked to expand HKNC’s ability to address the gaps in services and strengthen options for the provision of services to individuals at the local level. The growth in our field services includes:

National Deaf-Blind Specialists

HKNC is creating ten (10) deaf-blind specialist positions throughout the country. The primary focus of the deaf-blind specialist will be to provide individualized services to consumers to assist with achievement of employment outcomes in keeping with our mission of supporting a person’s desire to live and work in their community of choice. The deaf-blind specialist will also offer training and technical assistance to families and service providers and will assist the HKNC regional representative to build capacity within the state. The first six deaf-blind specialist have been hired in Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Ohio and Washington. Additional positions are in process.

Community Services Program (CSP) Expansion

HKNC will replicate the New York State Community Services Program in S. California. The CSP offers training to consumers in their homes, communities and at work. Services include job development and coaching; skills of independent living; orientation and mobility; and adaptive technology. The S. California CSP team will be comprised of qualified staff who will work cohesively to support consumers with achieving their employment and independent living goals."

I will share additional information on the duties of the DB Specialists, as this forum gets going. Let us know if you all have any specific questions or comments about these expanded field services for HKNC.

cathy kirscher

Posted Month Ago by cathy kirscher

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