Overview of the DeafBlind Immersion Experience

Overview of the DeafBlind Immersion Experience

2 men on a video call and words that say Overview of the DeafBlind Immersion Experience
Overview of the DeafBlind Immersion Experience (DBIE)
Video Transcript

Welcome to the DeafBlind Immersion Experience here at the Helen Keller National Center. I’m Michael Richards, the coordinator of the program. One of the first things as we begin working with an individual is formation of the team. We really can’t have our DeafBlind Immersion Experience without a team, and we’ve had anywhere from two individuals up to six or seven, and the team members can be a family member, teacher, a job developer, job coach, home staff, all the people that would be relevant to the participants well-being and training. One of the cornerstone philosophies of our program is person-centeredness and discovery. We start that well in advance of our week-long training through our phone calls and meetings to really derive what works for that person, what doesn’t work, what are their preferences?

That’s really an important piece of our training and development with you all. We focus on training and functional skills at home, at work, and in the community.  The training is really a hands-on coaching for the staff and for family members, so working alongside you to develop best practices and techniques when working with the individual, and we are open to people of all ages.

We have had individuals from high school transition age on up to seniors, and you’ll note as I spoke about team, there is a nice photo there and with the team on it including the participant, a young man, his mother, his teacher, and the instructor at DBIE, Jessica, and myself and we’re all out enjoying a meal after a long day of training.

You should also know that our training extends from morning until, late in the evening providing. The training that takes place in the day is supported through the evening activities. For example, maybe planning a budget, a basic budget for what you want to go out and buy in the evening, or making a choice via your preferred communication mode about what you’re going to eat or what restaurant you’re going to go to using a communication card at the restaurant or at the place of recreation, that is all included in our DeafBlind Immersion Experience.

One of the guidelines that we do use for our program is in addition to Person-Centered Planning and Discovery is the Pre-Employment Transition Services aka PRE-ETS, which is used in high schools, but we apply it to all of our individuals. The four components of that are: The job exploration, the work-based learning, the workplace readiness training, and the self-advocacy. You’ll see a picture here on the slide of one of our participants working with our staff, Jessica, at the Hilton Hotel laundry, and that was identified as a preference for him because he’d like the industrial machines that were there at that place and he took a lot of time to explore those in advance of actually working.

For job exploration, as I said, the process really begins before we spend our week together, and really discovery and ascertaining what is going to work best for that person. We always start with the Personal Futures Planning and Discovery Process, having a couple of Team meetings to discuss those preferences and the experiences.

And then once we do have that, meaning Jessica and I and other team members sitting down to do the matchmaking for the job ideas and then developing a work schedule that we draft and then we deliver to the team so that they can review it and make sense of it and let us know if it needs any revision.

That takes place in advance of our week that we would spend together. In the picture there, you’ll see a young lady who participated recently in the program and was provided with a variety of work assessments in the community, and she was open to all of those and this particular picture shows her standing there with her cane at the GAP clothing store where she was responsible for stocking the shelves on the floor with the various jeans and sweaters and learning how to fold them properly according to the GAP standards.

One of the other components is Work to Base Learning, the actual on the job site, at the community integrated sites, and here we have availability for community integrated sites as well as some on campus work. If we travel to your home community, we would need to have those setup and planned in advance, and we would work with you and your team to put that together and at the site, or in advance we really try to break down and do a task analysis of the job duties involved so that we could provide the instruction, and identify the strengths of the person as well as where they’re going to need that support in each step of the task. In knowing what their strengths are, we’ll know where the support is needed as opposed to not. Of course, providing the instruction in the person’s preferred communication mode, and some might need total communication, or we may use objects symbols on developing communication cards that would be available in the non-signing environment that will be in the future for that person, so they can communicate with their co-workers or ask their supervisor for need assistance, or “Where’s the break room?” All of those kinds of things. And then working on the soft skills.

And you’ll see in the picture there that a participant working in the cafeteria, which was a preferred environment for him, and he’s there with his apron and his uniform working with myself, and he had opportunity to do a variety of tasks including the industrial dishwasher and portioning out fruits and serving foods and that was a great experience for him.

And workplace readiness training, all the things that an individual will need to be successful at work is part of what we would work on while here. Independent Living skills are necessary. Grooming, time management, waking up on time with your alarm clock, making your own lunch. One of the examples of that was a young lady who was here, who had some great work potential and work skills, but was having a struggle managing her own grooming routine independently, and we believe she had the skills, and her mom indicated she felt like it was just a prompt dependency kind of thing. So, we came up, she used some introductory basic Braille and we were able to make up some cards that mapped out each of the steps of her grooming routine, and short of a week of her finishing the DBIE experience. I received an email that she was successfully using those cards, and becoming much more independent with her grooming routine and that she was filled with a lot of self-confidence with that and she can move on and focus on her other skills.

That’s really important and one of the areas that we work on of course, and communication skills in whatever mode the person needs in order to manage at work. As I said, you would need some communication cards, that could be even used for the taxi or the Paratransit all of those things that would need to be worked out. Well, maybe some people would use technology. We had one individual you use the choice work app to sequence out his tasks and rather than having someone prompt him, he was able to use that to know what he needed to do and to check and to move it into the Finish column and, some people might use object symbols just to know what their task is going to be.

Those are all areas that we would explore and work on developing, so that the team can take that home with them and then put it into use and apply it in the everyday life at home. And of course, mobility safe travel and navigation is absolutely necessary in order for a person to work, and there you see a young lady who for the first time is using a cab where she had some communication cards with her in addition to using her voice and, she was able to get to work by using a cab for the very first time, so that was really great.

And then finally, self-advocacy, which a lot of the folks that we’re working with are going to need support in all these areas, but especially with self-advocacy. The team would really look at and highlight all the strengths in every area.

I think it’s really important to communicate expectations. Expectations will always yield positive results, and confidence, and continue strength and independence, so if you don’t have expectations, that’s not going to happen and you’re going to be left in a prompt dependency world.

So, communicating expectations will bring about results and encouraging Independence along the way and for the self-advocacy just like the young girl who was very excited and her confidence was boosted by the fact that she was able to independently complete her own grooming routine by using the cards that would be encouraging the independence and the reinforcement that was involved.

Just getting that positive feedback, and that can be different things for different people. For some, it could just be the positive praise, for others, for work – earning a paycheck, which would be new for some people. We had one individual who got a job when he completed the program and sent me a copy of his first paycheck and talked about, things he was going to buy, so setting that up and maybe that could even be making a money thermometer. Somebody has an item that they want that’s $50 and then they can just see how money is going up into that savings account. So, all means of positive reinforcement.

You will see in the picture there a young man who was participating in the program, In the kitchen and we were using a vibrating timer for the first time and he was very excited. You see him with a smile on his face, as well as myself because he knew that he would be able to know what time his brownies were finished baking by feeling the vibrating timer as opposed to needing assistance with that. That Independence is self-motivating for some people. The other part of self-advocacy also will be using communication cards in the community to be a respected member in getting what you want, whether it’s an order at a restaurant, or a transaction at the drugstore, whatever it be, but you’re being able to advocate for yourself and being a respected member of the community.

The application of DBIE, all the things that we work on in advance of the week that we’re together, and during the week that we’re together, we’re co-developing an action plan with the team throughout that experience.

That action plan is then translated into the written report with all the recommendations, and also a short video that we put together that highlights all the experiences, the vocational sites that the person has worked at, and all the activities. That can be a tool for the team, as well as for agencies that the team might be using, whether the person is in a community residence, and maybe had or has community habilitation staff that may change. These will be teaching tools that can go with the person and be used. One of the individuals took the video and made a presentation to a group of parents of DeafBlind children, and explained about our DeafBlind Immersion Experience.

That is part of the application, also our community of practice, we have quarterly meetings, and all participants who have completed the program, all their teams are welcome to be involved in our community practice where we share resources and support one another, and discuss various topics.

Additionally, in the community of practice sometimes It’s derived that a need for follow-up may happen and that happened recently where we had a family member request follow-up because of the fact that there was a changeover in staff, and so we were able to then have a conference call with that team, and a lot of the things that we had worked on had kind of fallen through. This was from one of the first students a couple of years ago, but we were able to bring that team more together and sending them object symbols and also right now we’re plotting another visit and figuring out how we can do that to really work with the new team members and revisit and bring them back to what can really happen for that individual.

So those follow up via calls or emails, visits. It’s always available to everyone. You’ll see in the picture there an individual who is working on their object symbol schedule board, setting up their routine for the day and the work and other activities that they would be involved in with their staff.

Finally, the acronym of team as I noted at the beginning of the session, nothing can really take place without the team. That’s the only way that we would have success and so the T for “tackling trials together” the E for “everyone’s effort energizes” “acknowledging another’s assets” and for “measuring minute Milestones” because our measurements and our strides forward will be unique for each person. I view it as moving forward from wherever you’re at, and that’s really the progress. So, what might seem small or minute to others is really important to that individual.

You will also see a picture of a team here and the team is on the conference bike and riding around at Helen Keller and on the team, you see the participant, and his mom, and his teacher, the recreational specialist, and myself, and that was a very enjoyable leisure activity for everyone, but it really gives a picture of “Team.”

Thank you so much and If you would like if you have questions or want further information about the DeafBlind Immersion Experience, please email me at That’s, and we can answer any of your questions. Thank you. [End of Transcript]

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