Adapted from Transition Guide for Youth Who Are Deaf-Blind
Source: Deaf-Blind Program, South Dakota Center for Disabilities
We all experience transition in our lives as we move from one environment or period in our lives to the next. For young people, one of the most exciting periods of change comes when they finish school and look to the future as young adults, often moving out of the safety of home to new adventures in employment and/or post-secondary
education. Transition services and planning are as vital to young people who are deaf-blind as they are to other youths. People with other disabilities as well as those who are deaf-blind need opportunities to:
In addition to the global transition needs stated above, some areas of need are unique to those people who have a combination of vision and hearing loss. These needs vary from individual to individual and can vary between environments. For example, a teenager who is deaf-blind may move easily around the home she has lived in all her
life but may struggle and become fearful in new environments. People who have had hearing and vision problems since birth or early childhood often have gaps in their knowledge or experience base which have nothing to do with intelligence or skill level. This applies to the young man going off to vocational school, living in his own
apartment for the first time, who thought the refrigerator was broken since there was no food in it.
Self-determination is an underlying concept for successful transition. It is the inherent right of people to assume control of and make choices that have an impact on their lives. It refers to personal attitudes that facilitate an person's identification and pursuit of goals. The expression of self-determination is reflected in personal attitudes of empowerment, active participation in decision-making, and self-directed action to the achievement of personal goals. People learn how to take control of their lives when provided opportunities to be involved in choice-making, decision-making, problem solving, setting and attaining of goals, and development of self-awareness. The factors that can influence a person's growth in self-determination include:
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) include transition planning by age 16 or earlier, if appropriate. This plan should reflect a student's interests and preferences, current accomplishments and skills, what they still need to learn, as well as what they want to do in life. This can include a range of goals - everything from the type of career the student would like to pursue to the kind of living situation he or she hopes to have. Person-centered planning is a way to identify a student's individual goals and to help students, families and professionals craft plans that will support students as they strive to achieve their dreams. At its best, the person-centered planning process can strengthen the transition to post -school activities by:
Communication skills for people who are deaf-blind can range from spoken, written and/or signed formal language all the way to using behavior cues as the only means of expressing wants and needs. It is imperative that all forms of communication by a person who is deaf-blind be respected and that they are in an environment which encourages both their expressive and receptive communication attempts. This standard should also be used when planning for the future.Â What settings will provide the richest communication environment? What supports need to be in place to facilitate communication such as interpreters, interveners, adaptive equipment, etc.? How will others in the environment learn the communication methods used by this person?
When planning for the future of a person who is deaf-blind, safe and independent travel must be addressed. For some people, this may mean ensuring that the environments in which they live and work are safe and that provisions are made to teach the person the layout of the area and how to navigate within it, whether by walking or using assistive mobility equipment. For other people, travel planning may involve finding employment and/or housing along bus routes and providing extensive instruction to the person on the use of public transportation.
Many people who are deaf-blind use a variety of devices and specialized computer technology to assist them in independent living and employment. Some of these items may be familiar to the student who is deaf-blind because they have used them for years, other may only be needed once the person has left home. It is important to provide opportunities prior to adulthood to experience and experiment with a variety of assistive technology to determine which devices will be most appropriate and useful for the person. Devices used since childhood should also be re-assessed to determine if they are still the most appropriate or if more up-to-date technology or more age-appropriate items are available.
As a person who is deaf-blind leaves the education system, there may be a tendency to assume that any vision and/or hearing they have will remain stable and that any assistive technology they already use will continue to be appropriate. This can be a dangerous assumption. There are syndromes and disorders (such as Usher's Syndrome, diabetes, etc.) where one or both of the sensory losses are slowly progressive, leading to significant further loss of vision or hearing into adulthood. Also moving into a different environment after many years in the same home or school may uncover previously unrecognized vision or hearing disorders (such as beginning to work in a workshop with machinery for someone who cannot tolerate background noise).
Employment opportunities are often limited for people who are deaf-blind for a number of reasons. One of the reasons may be that people who are deaf-blind often have limited life experiences that have not allowed them to see and interact with a wide range of jobs. Sighted, hearing children see a myriad of people working throughout their childhood, many very incidentally. Think for a moment about a trip with mom and dad to the grocery store. During the trip, the child may see bus and cab drivers, police officers, firefighters, store clerks, stockers, managers, delivery people, etc. In addition, they see many more employment opportunities portrayed in movies and on television. As they get older, they have opportunities to "practice" for future employment by doing chores around the house and providing services for others outside their own home such as babysitting, lawn mowing, etc. These early experiences may evolve into part-time paid employment before the person graduates from school. Many of these incidental and practice experiences are not available for people who are deaf-blind. Starting as early as possible, it is important for a child who is deaf-blind to build a knowledge and experience base regarding employment. This can begin with exposing the child to a variety of community experiences so they have interaction opportunities. As he/she moves into adolescence, providing opportunities for paid employment is a vital component of building that knowledge base. This can be a daunting task, especially in rural areas where jobs for people in general may be hard to find.
Another challenge for a person with deaf-blindness in finding employment is a lack of understanding of their own interests and abilities and no sense of their own powers of self-determination. These self-limiting perspectives can be extremely detrimental to transition success and addressing them should begin in childhood.
Research has shown that people with disabilities often times have reduced opportunities for social networking and participation in community activities. Barriers may include limited communications skills, physical limitations, and/or cognitive impairments. When completing person-centered planning, special attention should be devoted to this area as for many of us it is our relationships that are the most meaningful thing in our lives. People who are deaf-blind should be provided this same opportunity. One way to assist a person who is deaf-blind in making social connections with others is through the use of a third party trained to provide communication assistance. When working with children and adolescents, this person is typically referred as an intervener. Adults often utilize Support Service Providers (SSPs) for the same purposes. These can be paid or volunteer positions that can provide a communication bridge using an person who is deaf-blind's method of communication. They can also serve to provide the person with necessary visual information about the environment and other people. They can share some of the important social cues the person who is deaf-blind may be missing, such as facial expression, body language and vocal inflection. An intervener or SSP is different from an interpreter, who is a trained and certified professional with a strict code of ethics which does not allow for the kinds of services that the intervener/SSP needs to provide.
We are not afflicted just because we cannot see or hear. If we can love, work, play and help others to be happy . . . we are capable of attaining all precious things.–Helen Keller