There are many deaf-blind people in the United States who experience both vision and hearing losses. They experience communication barriers and limited opportunities for employment and education. Transportation and information about their environment is difficult to access.
A beneficial service to deaf-blind individuals is a network of skilled, trained people called Support Service Providers or SSPs. They are specifically trained and hired to work with individuals who have both hearing and vision losses.
Support Service Providers do not fill the roles of personal care attendants, sign language interpreters, or caregivers. They do not make decisions for deaf-blind persons. SSPs provide visual and environmental information, sighted guide services, and information accessibility to empower deaf-blind individuals so they can make informed decisions.
With the assistance of SSPs, deaf-blind people can get and keep a job, do job-related tasks such as reading job announcements and memos and traveling for business. They can also participate in the political process by voting, run errands, read mail, make purchases, and do tasks anyone can do. Deaf-blind people who have SSP services available are no longer isolated by barriers to information and businesses and they can participate more fully in society.
The Deaf-Blind Service Center, located in Seattle, Washington, has a model SSP program. Deaf-blind people living in Seattle have received the services of trained SSPs for the past 20 years. Other states want to duplicate this model, but they need training and money to set up SSP services. Research results show that (as of this writing in June 2010) only Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, and Utah provide statewide SSP services to their deaf-blind citizens. Only nine states, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Washington, and Wisconsin have some SSP services in local cities or counties.
The need for national SSP services became an important goal after the 2003 American Association of the Deaf-Blind (AADB) Convention in San Diego, California. During this convention, members informed the AADB Board about their concerns and the need for SSP services nationally. The Seattle Deaf-Blind Service Center staff and Board members also approached the AADB Board about the idea of becoming partners to work on establishing national SSP services.
After meeting with members of Congress, the Deaf-Blind Service Center began applying for grants to set up the National SSP Pilot Project along with the American Association of the Deaf-Blind in Silver Spring, MD and the Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point, NY as supporting partners. The partners agreed that the Seattle Deaf-Blind Service Center would be the lead agency and would take responsibility for the administration of monies for the pilot project.
After a few years of trying to obtain funds, through the office of Washington State Senator Patty Murray, DBSC received enough funding for Phase I to develop a curriculum called “Providing and Receiving Support Services: Comprehensive Training for Deaf-Blind Persons and Their Support Service Providers.” This project began in July 2008 and was completed in June 2010.
The curriculum, “Providing and Receiving Support Services: Comprehensive Training for Deaf-Blind Persons and Their Support Service Providers,” was published in June 2010 and is available in four formats: regular and large print and Braille grades 1 and 2. All formats are available as a free download from this web site.
As we neared completion of the curriculum, it became clear to us that a fifth avenue of providing the curriculum was necessary. We called this fifth avenue a “tactile publication” where leaders in the deaf-blind community came to three or four meetings in select locations in the United States to receive information about the curriculum and establishing an SSP program. These meetings were held in Boston, Massachusetts, Columbus, Ohio, Rochester, New York, and in Washington, D.C. In addition, various tactile publications were provided to agency representatives by videophone nationally and in-person in Seattle.
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