The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has awarded the Teaching Research Institute at Western Oregon University a five-year, $10,500,000 grant to operate the National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NDCB). The center will serve as a national hub for professional development, resources, and information to serve children who are deaf-blind, their families, educators and other professionals that serve them.
D. Jay Gense, NCDB director, notes that the new national center will “positively impact the lives of children and students (ages 0-21) who are deaf-blind, as well as their families, across the nation. Deaf-Blindness is the lowest of all low incidence disabilities in the United States. Serving the needs of children who are deaf-blind is highly specialized, and we are proud to receive this funding from the U.S. Department of Education to provide needed national resources.”
Currently there are approximately 10,000 infants, children, and youth who are deaf-blind residing across the country. Almost 90 percent of these children experience additional disabilities, such as intellectual disability or significant orthopedic impairment, in addition to their dual sensory impairment. Notes Gense, “Many people think of Helen Keller when they hear ‘deaf-blind’. However, many children with deaf-blindness have additional disabilities that significantly impact the complexities inherent in providing quality educational services and supports. Expertise is needed not only in vision and hearing, but a host of other areas as well.”
A positive trend that has occurred over the last 10 years is relative to where these children are educated. Not long ago, the vast majority of children with deaf-blindness spent all of their school time in specialized schools. Today the majority of children receive their education in their local neighborhood school. The percentage of young children ages 3-5 educated in a regular early childhood education setting has more than doubled in the past decade. Over 60 percent of the children and youth in school age special education are receiving their education in local schools, with 65 percent of elementary school aged children being served at least portion of their day in a regular classroom in their local school. Gense explains “This is a significantly positive shift, but it also means that personnel in these schools need specialized professional development to meet the needs of these children. The continuing trend toward educational placements in inclusive settings is significant and positive for children and families. The trend does, however, have profound implications on the needs for information, resources, and access to expertise in deaf-blindness being available at a local level.” The National Center on Deaf-Blindness is designed to work with each of the State Deaf-Blind Projects to assist these teachers and other service providers, and to assist each state in developing systems that promote the use of evidence-based interventions and instruction for infants, children, and youth who are deaf-blind.
“The Teaching Research Institute has a 20+ year history of providing professional development services, conducting research, and serving as a national hub for deaf-blindness,” stated Dr. Ella Taylor, director of the Teaching Research Institute. “The National Center on Deaf-Blindness is a part of TRI’s Center on Deaf-Blindness which includes the nation’s largest repository of books, journals, and other resources focusing on deaf-blindness as well as the Oregon Deaf-Blind project which provides assistance to children, their families and educators within the state.”
The National Center on Deaf-Blindness will work collaboratively with the Helen Keller National Center (Sands Point, NY) and Perkins School for the Blind (Watertown, MA). In this new national center role NCDB will partner with each of the State and Multi-State Deaf-Blind Projects (OSEP funds 54 such projects across the country) to provide technical assistance and supports to each of the projects, to families, and to State Education Agencies, local school districts, and early childhood providers responsible for early intervention and education services for the country’s children who are deaf-blind.
WOU’s Teaching Research Institute houses seven Centers focused on informing and facilitating change in educational and human service systems to improve the quality of life for all individuals. Funded through external grants, the Centers conduct programs of research, develop evidence-based interventions that are provided through technical assistance and professional development, and increase system capacity to effect change. TRI has over a 50-year history at Western Oregon University.