Increasing Recognition and Use of Interveners: Minnesota
Through regulatory processes and individual advocacy, Minnesota has developed intervener services in schools and the community for individuals who are deaf-blind.
Advocacy by Families
Before concerted efforts around interveners existed in Minnesota, there were a few educational interpreters who identified as interveners working with academic students in school settings, but they did not have formal training in deaf-blindness. There was also a teen group that met bimonthly and was supported by individuals who acted as interveners.
One of the early drivers behind the use of interveners in Minnesota was from a family that had moved from Utah where their child had an intervener. They wanted the same service in Minnesota. Simultaneously, another child—an emergent communicator—became the first student in Minnesota to have intervener services listed on their IEP as a related service. At that time, there was no training program for interveners and the person who served this student did not receive formal training.
In the early 1990s, the Minnesota Department of Human Services agreed to bring in John and Jacqueline McInnes from the Ross McDonald school in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, as consultants. Their strong beliefs, clarity on the impact of interveners, and advocacy for the role led the DHS Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division to write a proposal to the legislature for a pilot for community intervener services for children (the Canadian spelling, "intervenor," was used in the legislation). In 1998, a group of parents advocated for the program to the state legislature and the legislature funded the program through the Minnesota Department of Human Services. This project became a community intervener program that has been refunded annually. The state awards the money through an RFP process to an agency, currently DeafBlind Services Minnesota, that provides community intervener services as well as support service providers for adults. Interveners in this program are trained by the Minnesota DeafBlind Project (the state deaf-blind technical assistance project). State funding pays for both the services and training.
As families received intervener services in the home and community through the state-funded program, they saw benefits for their children and continued to advocate for intervener services in their school districts. Additional information on Interveners can be obtained from the Minnesota DeafBlind Project.
Advocacy by Professionals
As a result of the strong community intervener program, the segway to interveners in the education system was more easily achieved. The Minnesota DeafBlind Project has a highly developed training program for interveners that has created a cadre of well-trained interveners to serve children in school and community settings. Currently, there are approximately 100 interveners working in schools and around 40 in the home and community (in 2016, Minnesota had 364 students on their deaf-blind child count). Development of the training program began in 1999 when the project collaborated with a group of state deaf-blind projects on a program and materials for training interveners and running a train-the-trainer model. By 2003, the project had started its own program consisting of six weekends of training designed to cover the CEC intervener knowledge competencies. The expectation is that participants are currently working with a student who is deaf-blind, but others are allowed to participate if a school district is trying to develop additional interveners to provide substitutes and coverage.
The training is offered every year by the Minnesota DeafBlind Project in collaboration with the Minnesota Low Incidence Projects. Forty people will be trained during the 2017-18 school year. The fee is $400 to cover ancillary costs that cannot be covered by grant funds. The state deaf-blind project guides interveners through the National Intervener Certification E-Portfolio (NICE) process using a trained coach. Since 2003, the project has also been training interveners for the community intervener program administered by DeafBlind Services Minnesota and has offered advanced intervener training during the summer for interveners who were previously trained and are currently practicing.
Minnesota has a regionalized low-incidence service delivery structure (Minnesota Low Incidence Projects) that allows for the delivery of technical assistance and support for students with low-incidence disabilities, including those who are deaf-blind. This system consists of regional low-incidence facilitators (RLIF) who provide the structure and financial support for activities within 11 regions. Each low-incidence disability has a state-funded, low-incidence specialist (LIS) who acts as the interface with the state department of education and the RLIFs. The RLIFs and LISs meet monthly to discuss policies and current issues. These meetings create an opportunity to share and disseminate information about all low-incidence disabilities statewide.
Technical assistance and advocacy within the IEP process is used to create change at the district level. Successes and efforts in this area include:
- “Intervener” is a recognized related service in the state IEP database. This allows districts to list the service on an IEP even though there is no specific intervener state education regulation.
- Supporting families to advocate for a “trained” intervener during the IEP process has defined the role and helps to avoid issues of seniority.
- When families have the service of a home and community intervener they are more likely to be able to advocate for intervener services in the school setting because they have a greater understanding of the role and its benefits.
Ongoing Adoption and Advocacy Work
Minnesota continues to work on developing services for individuals with deaf-blindness and, like many states, faces a number of challenges in doing so. The lack of a state regulation for interveners in educational settings necessitates an ongoing technical assistance and grassroots advocacy approach to building services. The Minnesota DeafBlind Project, along with the Minnesota Low Incidence Projects, families, and service providers continue to work with districts to build programs for students, as well as recognition and support for intervener services. There is a wide range of levels of development in the districts. Examples of this systemic and structural work include:
- Created a separate union bargaining unit (Minnesota has strong unions) for interveners, to improve consistency of services to students who are deaf-blind. Seniority issues meant that ranking paraprofessionals were bumping trained interveners from positions with deaf-blind students when they were all at one unit.
- Residential school interveners advocated for a salary differential for trained interveners. Trained interveners are now paid $1.00 more per hour than paraprofessionals.
The state is working on formal recognition of both intervener and teacher certifications in deaf-blindness. There is some precedent in Minnesota for specialized licensing/certification. Currently, teacher licensure for TVI and TOD are infused with deaf-blind competencies and information on working with an interveners. However, precedence exists in the autism field where an autism specialization transitioned from a certificate to licensure. This path might work for deaf-blind licensure as well. The project is also exploring the possibility of moving its training program to a higher education model within the state.