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Profile of and Interview with the American Association of the Deaf-Blind

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Updated February 18, 2011

Since 1937, the American Association of the Deaf-Blind (AADB) has been looking out for the needs of deaf-blind people. AADB started as the American League for the Deaf-Blind, helping with housing for deaf-blind people, and expanded into providing Braille services. By 1979, the League had changed its name to the AADB.

Brief Profile of AADB

Today AADB has a website with information for deaf-blind people and their families. The website also showcases role models, via a "spotlight on the deaf-blind community." AADB publishes The Deaf-Blind American, and an e-newsletter, The AADB E-News. AADB's site also includes an event calendar for deaf-blind people.

Interview with AADB

Modern technology has done a lot to improve life for deaf-blind people, but there are still challenges. About.com interviewed Elizabeth Spiers, Director of Information Services for AADB.

Q: What are the top issues for the deaf-blind community?

A: Our members have identified two top issues: increasing the number of trained support service providers (SSPs act as a link between deaf-blind people and their environment) around the country, and obtaining accessible, affordable technology. We are working on these issues now.

Q: Are you doing anything regarding the need for interveners for deaf-blind children? (Interveners are specially trained individuals who work with deaf-blind children to help them interact with their environment and acquire language.)

A: AADB focuses on adults. We have collaborative relationships with the National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness, and staff are on the advisory boards of two state deaf-blind projects. [The NCDB has information on interveners under DB-Link Info Services, Selected Topics].

Q: Are there enough interpreters for deaf-blind people?

A: There is a need for more trained interpreters to work with deaf-blind people. Some need tactile interpreting. Others need close up visual interpreting and still others need to track their interpreters’ signs (hold their hands on interpreters wrists to follow signs). Currently, RID does not have certification for deaf-blind interpreters. Both RID and AADB are working jointly on a National Task Force for Deaf-Blind Interpreting. This task force is looking at ways to train interpreters to work with deaf-blind individuals, and to increase the number of interpreters qualified to work with deaf-blind people.

Q: Recently, the Deaf-Blind Communicator was released. Have you had a chance to try it? Will the Deaf-Blind Communicator reduce the need for SSPs?

A: I myself have not tried the Deaf-Blind Communicator but know other people who have tried it. Most of them have said they are very pleased with it. The DBC will make it easier for deaf-blind people to communicate directly with other people. However, the DBC will not replace the need for SSPs. A deaf-blind person may still need an SSP to drive them to the store, and read price information for food, for example. The deaf-blind person could use the DBC or a similar device to communicate with the store clerk, but an SSP would still be needed for other visual and environmental information.

Q: Do you have any advice for sighted people on how to talk to deaf-blind people accompanied by SSPs?

A: I myself usually will watch the conversation for a moment or two to get an idea of how the deaf-blind person communicates. Then I would touch the deaf-blind person lightly on the shoulder or arm to let her know I am there and want to talk to her. Then I would wait for the person to put her hand over mine and then I can start a conversation. Sometimes the SSP will let the deaf-blind person know I want to talk to her and then the deaf-blind person will put her hand over mine. If the person doesn’t sign but uses speech, for example, I will begin talking with her.

Q: Is there a shortage of SSPs?

A: Yes, there is a shortage of SSPs around the country. (The Helen Keller National Center has a list of SSP programs.) There are approximately 18 programs around the country, which leaves 32 states with no SSP programs at all.

We are currently focusing on educating legislators on SSPs. For example, sign language interpreters are pretty much recognized everywhere. However, SSPs are not as recognized yet. The term itself is used within the deaf-blind community. They are where interpreters were 30 or 40 years ago. We want to have SSPs recognized the same way interpreters are recognized.

Q: Is there any way deaf-blind people can enjoy television?

A: Yes, deaf-blind people can enjoy television. Deaf or hard of hearing people with low vision can sit close to the television and read captions. Others (such as those with Usher who still have good central acuity) can read captions if they sit in a position where they can see captions best. Blind people or those who cannot see the captions (who are hard of hearing) can benefit from personal assistive listening devices with the television so they can hear the sound better. Fully deaf-blind people do not have access to captions yet (especially if they are braille readers). However, some deaf-blind people can watch television with the assistance of SSPs, who can interpret the dialogue and action. I know one fully deaf-blind person who is an avid football fan with the assistance of an SSP.

Q: Any issues with service dogs for deaf-blind people we should be aware of?

A: A few of our members have had difficulty finding a guide dog school that would train dogs to work with deaf-blind people. There is at least one guide dog program, Leader Dogs for the Blind in Michigan, who trains dogs to work with deaf-blind individuals.

Read more about deaf-blindness at the About.com deaf-blind hub.

Readers Respond: Deaf and Blind - Losing Hearing and Vision

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