Building Graduate Students’ Knowledge of Deaf-Blindness Through Experiential Learning at the 2017 Midwest Transition Institute

                              Carol Wetherell - Indiana Deaf-Blind Services Project - June 2018

Preparing a young adult for college, a career, and independent living can be challenging for any family that thinks about a good quality of life for their child. It’s easy to imagine how challenging this preparation must be for a family whose child is deaf-blind and transitioning from high school to the real world. What will they do for work? Where will they live? What supports will they need to be successful? Staff at state deaf-blind projects that provide technical assistance (TA) to families, educators, and service providers are constantly thinking of ways to find answers to these questions and improve the educational and post-school outcomes of children and youth.

Young adults who are deaf-blind face many of the same issues experienced by their non-disabled peers, but these common issues are always exacerbated by the disability. A responsibility that professionals in the Deaf-Blind TA Network take seriously is to train, educate, and build the capacity of diverse audiences, whenever possible, to assure that deaf-blind students are afforded access to information, inclusive practices, equity, and opportunities, while raising expectations of families and teachers. The Indiana Deaf-Blind Services Project would like to share with you one TA strategy that we believe helped improve the capacity of providers in Indiana to support and advocate for deaf-blind youth. 

In the summer of 2017, our project hosted the first regional transition institute in the Midwest. As host, we needed resources in the form of interpreters, volunteers, and skilled project staff to guarantee the young adult participants’ access to information, the environment, and peers. In preparation for the institute, staff from our project, which is housed at Indiana State University, offered a 3-credit graduate course on working with individuals who are deaf-blind. Ten students, all working towards a master’s degree in speech and language pathology, enrolled. The class met three times to receive training focused on deaf-blindness 101, O&M, and the specific etiologies of the young adults who would be attending the institute. Students also worked through modified versions of a selection of the Open Hands Open Access (OHOA): Deaf-Blind Intervener Learning Modules and participated in support service provider (SSP) training.

The students then attended the institute and were paired with youth participants to support engagement in activities, action planning, team building, and recreation. For many, it was their first experience working with a deaf-blind person. The opportunity to provide this type of experiential learning to our students is a cornerstone of Indiana State University’s philosophy. The course allowed for total immersion in an area in which most of the students had little or no experience. 

The intended outcome for the course was to provide a learning opportunity that the students most likely would not have otherwise received. One of the student’s, Brianna Schuster, shares some of her experiences and perspectives in these videos. She and a classmate were paired with Aubree, a young woman with deaf-blindness, who impressed them with her independence and authenticity. Brianna was very well-informed about Aubree’s disability and the accommodations she needed to be successful.

I feel that I have come out of this weekend a better professional. My perception of what a disability is and what it means has changed. My expectations and hopes for my clients have changed.                                                                                          - Brianna Schuster

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