Spotlight on Key Topics: Access to the General Education Curriculum and Communicative Competence

A girl with deaf-blindness working on a puzzle, a boy with deaf-blindness sitting by a sighted-hearing classmate holding a piece of paper that says, 2x3 and a boy with deaf-blindness sitting at a table with a teacher and sighted-hearing classmates working on an art project.

Two important goals of state deaf-blind projects and the National Center on Deaf-Blindness are to:

  • Increase access to and progress in the general education curriculum for children who are deaf-blind
  • Improve the communication skills of children with deaf-blindness to support lifelong learning
                                                                                                                     (Department of Education, 2018)

This page provides an explanation of these topics as well as links to helpful resources. As part it its Assessment, Planning, and Instruction Initiative, NCDB will be developing new products on these topics in the coming years.

Access to the General Education Curriculum

The general education curriculum is the “subject matter provided to children without disabilities and the associated skills they are expected to develop and apply. Examples include math, science, history, and language arts” (CPIR, 2017).
The importance of meaningful access to the curriculum for students with disabilities is highlighted by this passage from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:

Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible. [IDEA Section 1400(c)(5)]

Resources on Accessing the General Education Curriculum:
Communicative Competence
Communication competence is closely linked to access to the general education curriculum. It is defined by the National Center and State Collaborative (2013) as the “use of a communication system that allows students to gain and demonstrate knowledge,” which is essential if students are to participate and make progress in the general curriculum. More broadly it can be thought of as the ability to express a variety of messages, with a variety of people, in a variety of situations (Bruce et al., 2016).

Because students who are deaf-blind have limited opportunities “to learn communication skills through observation and imitation,” they struggle to develop language (Bruce et al., 2016, p. 425). Building communication requires intensive intervention beginning early life. The fields of deaf-blindness and special education for students with intensive support needs have a wealth of information on high-quality practices related to communication. Much has been made available on the NCDB website via the links below.

NCDB Library Resources

OHOA Modules


Bruce, S. M., Nelson, C., Perez, A., Stutzman, B., & Barnhill, B. A. (2016). The state of research on communication and literacy in deafblindness. American Annals of the Deaf, 161(4), 424–443.

Center for Parent Information & Resources [CPIR]. (2017). Contents of the IEP. Retrieved from

Department of Education (2018). Applications for new awards; technical assistance and dissemination to improve services and results for children with disabilities—state technical assistance projects to improve services and results for children who are deaf-blind and national technical assistance and dissemination center for children who are deaf-blind. Federal Register, 83(162), 42266-42275.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Title 20 U.S.C, §§ 1400(c)(5).

National Center and State Collaborative. (2013). NCSC’s Commitment to Communicative Competence. Retrieved from

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