Increasing Recognition and Use of Interveners and Teachers of the Deafblind: Utah
As a result of more than 20 years of advocacy and systems development efforts, Utah has the most highly developed system for intervener training and support in the United States. Interveners are part of a broader system of services for students who are deafblind (outlined in state law, state regulations, and an extensive interagency agreement) that includes:
- Training programs for teachers of the deafblind (TBDs) at the University of Utah and Utah State University that lead to an endorsement in deafblind education from the Utah State Office of Education
- The Utah Deaf-Blind Project provides intervener training
- State funding for a deafblind education specialist at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind (USDB) to help oversee services for children and youth who are deafblind throughout the state
- A requirement for LEAs to refer students with suspected vision and hearing loss to Utah Deaf-Blind Services for determination of appropriate IEP services
Within this system, teachers of the deafblind play a critical role with respect to providing quality services. They have the expertise to credibly discuss the unique needs of students and provide input into the need for an intervener.
Teachers are employed by USDB and provide consultation and direct services to school districts throughout the state. They supervise interveners, assure that appropriate instructional strategies are implemented, and are key to making sure students get what they need, which may not be a full-time intervener. Teachers of the deafblind work primarily on an itinerant model, but USDB also has special classrooms for students with deafblindness. Interveners are also employed by USDB.
All students who are identified as deafblind in Utah have a teacher for the deafblind, but not all have an intervener. Once a student is determined to be eligible for deafblind services, the level and intensity of deafblind services depends upon student need and is determined by the IEP team.
Adoption and maintenance of services for children and youth with deafblindness was the result of sustained advocacy efforts by both families and professionals.
Advocacy by Families
In the early 1990s, SKI-HI Institute at Utah State University received a federal grant for a pilot program that used interveners in home-based early intervention services. This created opportunities for participating parents to see firsthand the impact of interveners on the lives of their children. A number of these parents worked together on advocacy efforts once the program ended. They formed the nucleus of subsequent family groups that advocated for intervener services.
Shortly after, this group of parents and others formed a broader family advocacy group that with the support of the Utah Department of Education, SKI-HI Institute, the Utah Deaf-Blind Project, and the Utah Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities, focused legislative advocacy efforts on funding for intervener services. This resulted in legislation for a one-time intervener pilot program and the establishment of a legislative task force to develop a state plan to address the needs of individuals with deafblindness aged birth through 21 (see Deaf-Blind Perspectives Fall 1995 for a fuller explanation). Once established, the intervener program was moved to USDB.
A number of important strategies were critical to the success of these advocacy efforts. Parents . . .
- Took the time to establish relationships with their state legislators
- Testified to the legislature and brought their children with them
- Regularly attended annual legislative days with their children
- Were supported by both advocacy organizations and professionals in the field
Some of the parents had previous advocacy and systems change experience.
Advocacy by Professionals
Professionals have been and continue to be active partners with parents in advocacy efforts:
- Professionals in the original grant program at SKI-HI Institute provided services to families and supported their efforts to organize
- The Utah State Office of Education, SKI-HI Institute, and the Utah Deaf-Blind Project partner with families in advocacy efforts
- Utah’s Deaf-Blind Advisory Committee plays a critical role in raising and maintaining the visibility of intervener services
In addition, USDB organizes an annual advocacy and awareness event called School on the Hill, attended by students (accompanied by their interveners), teachers, and parents. Students with significant needs are always included in the activity. Legislators are invited to a lunch and are contacted in multiple ways by students, parents, and teachers to increase the likelihood they will attend.
Legislative Steps and Processes
As noted above, the first legislative step was a two-fold piece of legislation that funded an intervener pilot program and established a task force.
Money was then allocated to pay for interveners, teachers, and supervision through USDB. Over the years, the system has changed to provide a more comprehensive training program for interveners, better qualified teachers of the deafblind, and more training and technical assistance to LEAs and communities. Over time, an annual parent conference was established to provide parent-to-parent training on legislative issues.
The system for serving students with deafblindness in Utah continues to have areas of need, most notably a high intervener turnover rate.
Legislation, Regulations, and Governing Documents
- Initial legislation establishing the task force and intervener pilot program.
- Utah regulations and administrative code that govern Utah School for the Deaf and Blind services, including details about interveners.
- Interagency Agreement Between the Utah State Office of Education, Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, and Local Education Agencies.
The Utah Administrative Code specifies that all interveners must complete a one-year intervener training. They then have the option of applying for national certification. The 60-hour training program, which is based on the Council for Exceptional Children's intervener competencies, uses an inservice/professional development model with the following features:
- A combination of face-to-face and online components
- A practicum that includes a competency-based assessment tool (practicum hours are in addition to the 60-hour training schedule)
- Ongoing monthly TA/consultation from a teacher of the deafblind (OHOA Modules are used to fill in gaps as needed)
The Utah Office of Education has applied for state funding to support interveners going through the National Intervener Certification E-Portfolio (NICE) process.
Teachers may obtain a bachelor’s or master’s in deafblind education from the University of Utah or Utah State University. They are then eligible for a deafblind endorsement through the Utah State Office of Education. The endorsement is attached to their special education teaching license. The University of Utah program is a face-to-face program that began in 2013.