In This Issue
No Teacher Left Behind: Training Teachers to
Meet the Challenge of Accessing the General Curriculum for Deafblind
Communication Portfolio: A Tool to
Increase the Competence of Communication Partners of Learners Who Are
Ready for Partnership: Collaboration
Between NFADB and State Deaf-Blind Projects
Personal Retrospective: Roberta Reid
DVD Review: Sensory Perspectives
Communication During Physical Activity: A
Review of Strategies
For Your Library
Teacher Left Behind: Training Teachers to Meet the Challenge of Accessing the
General Curriculum for Deafblind Students
for the Blind
The Individuals with Disabilities Act
(IDEA) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) have changed educational practice for
students with disabilities. All students are now expected to study the general
education curriculum—fundamental academic subjects such as
English/language arts, math, science, and social studies—and to
demonstrate knowledge of the curriculum through extensive testing. This change
for special education students also signifies a transformation for their
special education teachers. In order for students with disabilities to
participate effectively in the new system, their teachers must learn about the
general curriculum content and redesign their educational practices.
Traditionally, special education teachers focused primarily on goals and
objectives related to skills such as orientation and mobility, Braille reading,
use of technology, and activities of daily living. Now, all special education
teachers responsible for instruction in a general curriculum core subject area
must be highly qualified in that area and be able to demonstrate knowledge and
skills beyond specialized learning strategies and therapy. This article
describes how a training program developed by the University of Massachusetts
Boston helped teachers of deafblind students at Perkins School for the Blind to
learn how to align the curriculum they already use with the Massachusetts
general curriculum in order to ensure meaningful participation for their
students. It is a program that can be adapted for use in other states to
educate teachers who work with students who are deafblind.
Education Reform in
NCLB mandates that all students be measured on
their knowledge of the general curriculum, but states can design their own
curricula and assessments. In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Education Reform
Act of 1993 (MERA) requires that all students participate in a standards-based
academic curriculum focused on English/language arts, math, social sciences,
and science and technology. It also requires that all students pass a rigorous
test based on these curriculum frameworks in order to receive a high school
diploma. About 40 percent of states have similar student-based accountability
measures. Other states hold schools and districts (rather than students)
In Massachusetts, as in other states, students
with substantial disabilities were previously exempted from large-scale
assessment programs. With the passage of MERA, Massachusetts created one set of
curriculum expectations for all children. Children with disabilities are now
held to the same academic curriculum standards and expectations as their
Meeting the Challenge
To provide an opportunity for special education
teachers to learn about the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, the Center for
Social Development and Education (CSDE) at the University of Massachusetts
Boston designed a 12-credit graduate certificate professional development
program called Charting the Course: Adapting the Curriculum Frameworks for All
Learners. CSDE is a research and training institute dedicated to promoting
quality education and social development for students at risk for academic and
social failure. The certificate program was created by CSDE associates, all of
whom are practicing special-education administrators, under the leadership of
Gary Siperstein, CSDE Executive Director. It contains six 2-credit modules that
address the following topics:
Module 1: Education Reform
state and federal laws that have led to recent changes in educational practices
in the United States. MERA itself is assigned reading material.
Module 2: Special Education Reform
Reviews the history of special education practices, ranging from
institutionalization to the right to a free, appropriate education to the right
to participate in the general education classroom and curriculum. The book
Educating One and All (McDonnell, McLaughlin, & Morison, 1997) was a key
source for the development of this module.
Modules 3 and 4: Curriculum Frameworks and
Adaptations for Students with Disabilities
Describe how to connect
curricula currently being used by special education programs with the state
curriculum frameworks in English/language arts, mathematics, science, and
Module 5: Assessment
Teaches the skills
teachers need to determine the types of accommodations that students with
disabilities must have in order to participate in the Massachusetts
Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). It also describes how to use a
portfolio assessment format for students who will participate in MCAS through
MCAS-Alt, the state alternate assessment model for students who cannot show
what they know and can do through standard administration, even with
Module 6: Philosophical Steps to
Pulls together all of the elements teachers need to
formulate a personal and professional view of education for students with
disabilities in a changing educational environment.
The program was designed to be highly interactive.
It focuses on clearly describing current practice and actively planning the
best ways to match students’ needs with state curriculum
Training Teachers at Perkins
School for the Blind
Teachers at Perkins School for the Blind were the
first group of educators to participate in the training course. Perkins, the
oldest private school for the blind in the United States, has been in operation
for 175 years. The school provides educational services to students, including
day and residential educational programs at the Perkins campus in Watertown,
Massachusetts, as well as a variety of state, national, and international
outreach programs. The Perkins School for the Blind Deafblind Program serves a
wide range of students with varying needs. Many students have other
disabilities in addition to deafblindness. The program is internationally known
as a leader in the education of deafblind children. Perkins’ goal is to
offer the best education possible for each learner, and the school prides
itself on the quality of its programs and the professional integrity of its
Twenty-six teachers and other staff members from
Perkins participated. They represented the full range of Perkins programs:
Deafblind (serving students ages 3–22), Lower School (ages 5–14),
Secondary Services (ages 14–22), and Outreach (to individuals of all ages
who are served within the community). Six staff members from the Deafblind
Program participated—two administrators and four teachers.
Training sessions were based on the course modules
from Charting the Course: Adapting the Curriculum Frameworks for All
Learners and were offered over the course of one school year. Each began
with a full-day Saturday session and were followed by a series of after-school
meetings. This schedule provided a concentrated introduction to each topic and
ample time between sessions to apply new information.
Each module followed a consistent pattern. At the
beginning, participants discussed their knowledge about the topic of the module
for that session, created a list of questions about things that perplexed them,
and expressed their frustration and concern about the changes they and their
students faced. Each module concluded with a project that teachers could use
right away to help them begin to transform their current practices to match the
content and focus of education reform.
In Modules 1 and 2, participants examined the
critical foundation elements of education reform—MERA, IDEA, and the
history of recent changes in special education—and explored the impact of
each element on current educational practices.
When working on Modules 3 and 4, they examined the
curricula already used by each Perkins program and compared them with the
Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. The philosophy of the Deafblind Program is
to offer an individualized curriculum based on the needs of each child.
Instructional content is developed through the use of several different types
of curricula. Most students begin with a unit-based curriculum organized around
themes such as readiness skills for reading and math (matching, sorting,
sequencing); social skills, gross and fine motor skills, and community
experience; early science concepts; and music, art, and multisensory concepts.
Students move from this to a functional academic, academic, or vocational
curriculum. The process of aligning existing curricula with the state
curriculum frameworks was possible once the outcomes of each of these curricula
were described. Using a model developed by Heidi Hayes Jacobs (1997), the
participants mapped their current curricula onto the state frameworks. As a
result, they were able to review the standards and make connections to the
curriculum they used everyday in their classroom. They were happy to find that
they were already teaching many of the curriculum framework standards.
During Module 5, participants linked the
state’s assessment program to the individualized education program (IEP)
format and to the way student performance data was already being collected at
Perkins. The assessment model of McTighe and Wiggins (1999) and the guidance of
Thurlow, Elliott, and Yssledyke (1998) about the participation of students with
disabilities were essential resources for this section.
Although the curriculum program officially lasted
only one year, it resulted in far-reaching and unanticipated outcomes that have
transformed the Perkins community.
Curriculum and Assessment
The program provided structured, extended time to
explore and become familiar with the state curriculum frameworks. The practical
nature of the modules inspired teachers to begin a number of new projects. For
example, one teacher selected poems for early literacy learning from the
state’s English/language arts curriculum framework and adapted several
short poems to meet the language-level needs of her students.
Faculty members who participated in the program
also created tools to help them manage the work of aligning their curricula
with the state standards for English/language arts, math, science, and history.
These included checklists used to identify standards from the state curriculum
that were directly related to outcomes in curricula already used at Perkins.
They also created a database of the state standards to make it easier to locate
specific standards in the curriculum frameworks. This is much more efficient
than reading through the curriculum frameworks each time a teacher needs to
make decisions about instructional content for a specific student.
Increased knowledge of the general curriculum
helped teachers move beyond apprehension about the Massachusetts Comprehensive
Assessment System (MCAS) to analyze the way participation in the standard MCAS
was affected by a student’s disability. They identified test items that
require visual or auditory experiences that deafblind students cannot access.
They devised ways in which test items could be adapted or interpreted without
changing the intent of the test.
As they became comfortable with MCAS-Alt, the
state alternate assessment model, they realized that the portfolio alternate
assessment format could use data already routinely gathered for progress
reports. They felt more in control of the teaching-assessment process and more
confidant that they—and their students—could participate
Initially seen as distinct elements, curriculum
and assessment are now viewed as connected components of an instructional cycle
in which student learning is continually assessed. The student is at the center
of this cycle, and the goal is to always help them access grade-level
curriculum at their individual instructional level. The curriculum frameworks,
the IEP, and the school curriculum provide important information that guides
the shape of each student’s program. The information gathered through
MCAS and classroom assessment documents student progress and refines the focus
and direction of each student’s educational program. What began as a
cumbersome process has become second nature. As a result, higher-level academic
content is being offered for all students. Also, the efforts and
accomplishments of the Perkins community were acknowledged by the Massachusetts
Department of Education in commendations for the match between their
instructional program and the curriculum frameworks.
Professional Relationships and
Once teachers felt
confident of their abilities to master the elements of education reform, they
began to feel more comfortable sharing what they knew. A number of teachers
became experts on the curriculum frameworks and the assessment process and now
provide assistance and support to Perkins faculty members who did not attend
the training and to colleagues at other schools. At least two participants went
on to become instructors for the certificate course. Professional connections
that formed between staff members during the program have had a significant
impact on the Perkins community. Deafblind Program teachers feel more connected
with each other, and teachers and administrators more easily turn to one
another for help to solve problems or discuss program changes.
Participation in the program
also changed the way professional development activities are planned and
implemented at Perkins. Previous activities were typically designed to meet the
needs of individual program groups by focusing on their instructional
strategies and specific curricular issues. Faculty members from different
programs rarely interacted, and there was very little discussion of a general
curriculum. This was the first time that administrators and faculty from all
programs participated in one shared activity. It was so successful that a
process for continuing to provide cross-program professional development
opportunities was established.
The expertise of Perkins faculty in applying
elements of education reform to students with significant disabilities has been
acknowledged by other schools and programs as demonstrated by the
- Requests to assist other special education schools in
Massachusetts with their use of the curriculum frameworks;
- Requests to assist other schools along the East Coast to meet
the goal of access to the general curriculum for all students;
- Invitations to present at statewide conferences.
Through the support of the Hilton/Perkins
International Program, the model of curriculum access used at Perkins has also
been shared with and successfully used by schools in other countries, including
Russia, Argentina, Brazil, England, and Africa.
Participation in the
certificate program has transformed the Deafblind Program at Perkins School for
the Blind from a program with a very good specialized curriculum to one that
has embraced the general curriculum in a way that is competitive with strong
local school districts. It led to the establishment of important connections,
both within Perkins and with other institutions. The bond forged between
Perkins and the University of Massachusetts Boston, which developed the
training program, continues. We are all richer for these connections and
continue to work with each other to refine best practices for all students at
Perkins and at other schools.
Best of all,
special education teachers at Perkins discovered productive relationships
between standards-based curricula and specially designed instructional methods
for students with substantial disabilities. Teachers and students gained access
to the general curriculum and are now able to demonstrate what they know and
can do. The school is stronger for meeting the challenge.
The authors gave a
presentation about this program at the National Staff Development Council 34th
Annual Conference, Boston, MA, December 7–11, 2002. The conference paper
is available through ERIC (Byrnes & Majors, 2002) or may be obtained by
contacting DB-LINK: 800-438-9376, 800-854-7013 TTY, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Byrnes, M., & Majors, M. (2002, December).
Staff development designed to improve the achievement of students with
disabilities. Paper presented at the National Staff Development Council
34th Annual Conference, Boston, MA. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.
Jacobs, H. H. (1997).
Mapping the big picture: Integrating curriculum and assessment
K–12. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum
McLaughlin, M. J., & Morison, P. (Eds.). (1997). Educating one and all:
Students with disabilities and standards-based reform. Washington, DC:
National Academy Press.
Thurlow, M. L., Elliott, J. L., & Yssledyke,
J. E. (1998). Testing students with disabilities: Practical strategies for
complying with district and state requirements. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin
McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. P. (1999). The
understanding by design handbook. Alexandria, VA: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development.
For more information, contact:
Assistant Supervisor of the Deafblind Program
Perkins School for the
Communication Portfolio: A Tool to
Increase the Competence of Communication Partners of Learners Who Are
Susan DeCaluwe, Barbara McLetchie,
Tracy Evans Luiselli, Barbara Mason, and Mary Hill Peters
Center Deafblind Project
Every person who interacts with a person
who is deafblind is a communication partner. Competent communication partners
are essential for the development of a deafblind person’s ability to
communicate and build meaningful relationships (Miles & Riggio, 1999;
Nafstad & Rodbroe, 1999). Communication portfolios that give in-depth
information about a deafblind individual’s abilities, needs, and most
effective methods of communication can greatly support this partnership.
Between 1999 and 2003, communication portfolios
were used as part of a project in Massachusetts designed to provide
inexperienced educational teams with the knowledge and skills needed to develop
communication strategies with deafblind students. The project combined the
resources and expertise of the New England Center Deafblind Project and the
Massachusetts Department of Education. Together they collaborated with
educational teams at six school districts to develop communication portfolios
for seven learners who are deafblind. The learners ranged in age from 4 to 19
and were being educated in a variety of programs—four were in inclusive
settings, two were in programs for students with severe/multiple disabilities,
and one was at a school for the deaf. Family members were actively involved on
each team and were the primary sources of information about their children.
The project used communication portfolios and the
process of portfolio development to teach families, teachers, and other
educational personnel effective communication and educational strategies for
deafblind students and to inspire them to view each learner as an individual
with unique needs and abilities. This article describes portfolios and
highlights some of the outcomes of the project for children, their families,
A communication portfolio consists of a
combination of photographs, videos, and text designed to share information
among a learner’s educational team members, which includes his or her
family and other communication partners. The portfolio gives a holistic view of
a learner—communication abilities, learning style, family, culture,
cognitive style, and vision and hearing abilities—while providing a
visual display of the learner’s abilities across all environments
(school, home, and community). It illustrates his or her interests, effective
interactive strategies to enhance communication, and techniques for accessing
and commenting on people, events, and things in the environment as topics of
conversation. Portfolios help a learner tell all about him- or herself in a
user-friendly way. For example, a portfolio cover might have a picture of the
learner and the words, “Hi, I’m Michael! I love to be with people.
Touch my hand so that I know you are there. Let’s read this book to learn
about me. Tell me who you are.” Portfolios also include family
members’ pictures and their perceptions of their children’s
The portfolio is written in the words a learner
might use if he or she were speaking to the reader. For example, in one of the
portfolios there is a photograph of a student standing at his object calendar
with his teacher. The teacher is showing him an object that represents his next
activity while demonstrating the sign for the activity at the same time. The
caption says, “Please use objects and let me feel your signs. I will put
my hands on top of yours to feel the signs.”
Portfolios should be
tools that evolve and are continually updated with new photographs, videos, and
text. It is important to include dates with the photographs and videos because
they help to document a learner’s progress. Families are primarily
responsible for ensuring that the portfolios are updated and shared with new
communication partners and teams. To create portfolios for each of the seven
learners involved in this project, photographs and videos were taken in a
variety of environments—home, school, and the community. Each portfolio
included a 15 to 20 minute video.
Text next to
first photo in above image: Hi, my name is Austin. I am seven years old and
I live with my family in Massachusetts. I like people and being with my
friends. This picture book is about me and how I learn. Let's get going there
is a lot to tell. This picture is of Arthur and me. Can you tell by my face
that I am excited to see him? We have a special way of saying hello. Arthur
makes me laugh. He knows how to play with me and make learning fun. Text
next to second photo in above image: This is my mom. She is helping me too.
I hope you like my book and getting to know about me. I want to know about
The project greatly benefited families, improved
socialization for the children, and increased knowledge about deafblindness for
Establishing trust between the professional team
members and the families of the children was the heart and soul of this
project. It proved to be the key to developing relationships and communication
with learners who are deafblind and with their family members. Because one of
the staff members worked on the project full-time, there was the luxury of
frequent contact with the families in their homes and at their children’s
schools at least once a month, as well as weekly contact by phone, e-mail, or
We found that the process of developing the
portfolios positively affected families in a number of ways. Parents’
expectations of what their children were able to achieve increased, as did
their expectations for better educational programs. They gained confidence to
advocate for quality personnel and programs. Collaborative meetings with school
personnel occurred more often and IEPs improved as a result of parent advocacy.
At the end of the project, parents expressed more competence and confidence in
working with school personnel. In some cases, extended family members gained a
better understanding of the learner. For example, one learner shared his
portfolio with his grandmother after it was translated into Spanish.
Increased Opportunities for
All families want their children to have friends ,
and communication is the key to developing social relationships. During this
project, friendships developed through increased interactions when portfolios
were shared with classmates. They helped classmates learn strategies to
communicate and be “in touch” with their deafblind peers in an
interactive way. Classmates learned about:
- the importance of interacting in ways that are meaningful to a
deafblind person, such as using hand-under-hand positioning when communicating
or exploring materials;
- the importance of anticipation, of letting a deafblind person
know in advance what will happen next (for example, letting a student who is in
a wheelchair know when his wheelchair is going to be moved);
- the use of devices or systems that enhance interactive
communication, such as FM systems, voice output devices, and object
One child’s mother helped her son share
stories about his home and community experiences with his classmates using a
switch-activated voice output device. A classmate brought in a homework
assignment that she had adapted on her own for her classmate who was deafblind
to touch and feel so that he could understand the assignment better. A future
teacher in the making!
Educating Teachers and Other Team
Although all of the students’ teachers and
other team members worked hard and were highly committed professionals, we
discovered that commonly accepted educational practices and strategies in the
field of deafblindness were not being used. The project provided many
opportunities for team members to learn about educational practices for
learners who are deafblind and to help them come to a mutual understanding of
their students. Throughout the course of the project, they gained knowledge
about strategies such as natural learning, how to have conversations, effective
interactive strategies, and environmental adaptations.
Natural learning. Teams members developed
an appreciation of how children who are deafblind are deprived of natural or
incidental learning experiences, and they learned the importance of involving
the children in the entire process of simple activities such as having a
snack—preparing the food, setting the table, eating, and cleaning up.
This type of process learning using real life experiences is critical for
communication and concept development. If a child is not involved throughout
the entire process of an activity, the world seems unpredictable, confusing,
and the child may develop inaccurate concepts.
Conversations. Portfolios use a
learner’s own pictures and words to promote conversations. Through the
use of portfolios, team members learned how to have conversations with learners
who are deafblind either with or without words. They learned about the
importance of turn-taking when communicating with learners who are deafblind,
how to give them opportunities to initiate conversations, and how to respond
meaningfully to their communication efforts.
Effective interaction strategies.
Strategies that promote interactive communication are essential. Team members
learned about staying close to the learner in order to maintain touch and
visual contact and the importance of positioning their hands under rather than
over a learner’s hands for communication and exploration of the
Environmental adaptations. Teams learned
about simple environmental adaptations that promote communication, such as good
lighting, use of a white board and black marker, and large print. They also
gained knowledge of specific communication tools used by their students such as
slant boards, calendar systems, and sequence boards (pictures or objects
representing how an activity is organized).
Because portfolios are visual documents, they can
be referred to often. Team members didn’t have to rely on their memories
of what they learned in a training session. They always had the portfolio to
remind them of a student’s unique needs and the educational and
communication strategies to meet them.
We also found that the use of portfolios reduced
the amount of time it took a new team or new communication partner to get to
know a deafblind learner. During spring break, two of the students transitioned
to new programs. By using the students’ portfolios, new team members were
able to feel comfortable and competent interacting with the students and were
able to implement their educational programs within two weeks.
Unexpectedly, the portfolios were also used as
assessment tools detailing the accomplishments and abilities of the learners.
All of the teams used the portfolios to assist them in meeting the requirements
of state mandated alternate assessments. The portfolios served as visual
support during the creation of new IEP goals and objectives. For example, one
of the learner’s portfolios included a video segment that showed him
learning how to identify school landmarks and travel from one classroom to
another by trailing a locker wall while in his wheelchair. This visual
representation had a strong impact on his IEP team. It brought the team to a
mutual understanding of his abilities and how he learns and made it possible
for them to quickly agree upon goals related to orientation and mobility.
Technical assistance providers often discover that
their recommendations are forgotten, misunderstood, or not implemented
consistently. With reminders in the communication portfolios via pictures,
videos, and words, team members implemented new practices and became more
effective communication partners. Portfolios helped families, other team
members, and peers share a common view of each deafblind learner’s
The project described in this article was funded
by a Matchmaker Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special
Education Programs, awarded to the New England Center Deafblind Project and to
the Massachusetts Department of Education. Products developed as a result of
the project include a 30-minute compilation videotape, which has already been
completed, and a manual that will be available this spring. For more
Miles, B., & Riggio, M. (1999). Remarkable
conversations: A guide to developing meaningful communication with children and
young adults who are deafblind. Watertown, MA: Perkins School for the
Nafstad, A., & Rodbroe, I. (1999).
Co-creating communication: Perspectives on diagnostic education for
individuals who are congenitally deafblind and individuals whose impairments
may have similar effects. Dronninglund, Denmark: Forlaget Nord-Press.
back to contents
Ready for Partnership:
Collaboration Between NFADB and State Deaf-Blind Projects
Reported by Peggy Malloy
Last October at the annual project
director’s meeting for people who work on Department of Education-funded
projects for children and young adults who are deaf-blind, five representatives
from the National Family Association for Deaf-Blind (NFADB) participated in a
plenary session panel discussion about ways that NFADB and the state deaf-blind
projects can work together. The discussion was moderated by John Reiman,
Director of DB-LINK, and included brief presentations by each of the NFADB
representatives and questions from the audience. The panelists spoke
enthusiastically about establishing strong connections between NFADB and the
state projects in order achieve a common goal—to help families of
children who are deaf-blind. They described NFADB’s structure and
services and proposed suggestions for increased collaboration.
The purpose of NFADB is to bring families together
to give them an opportunity to share ideas and experiences, to work together on
common goals, and to promote communication and interaction between parents and
other family members of individuals who are deaf-blind. One of the principal
ways this is achieved is through the organization’s system of regional
directors. There are regional directors (RDs) in 10 regions throughout the
United States, with each region consisting of four to six states. The RDs serve
as liaisons between parents in their areas and organizations and agencies
involved in deaf-blindness. Each of the panelists stressed that one of the best
ways that state projects can begin to increase collaboration with NFADB is to
connect with the regional director for their state. The RDs can assist the
state projects in their work with parents by
- giving input about the needs of parents and families;
- sharing information about project activities with parents in
- helping to plan social and training events for parents;
- providing support for family specialists;
- participating in activities to raise awareness of
The NFADB leaders also expressed a willingness to
assist state projects in letting others know the value of the work they do and
in helping to document the impact of that work from the perspective of
families. In return, state projects can assist NFADB with outreach efforts by
letting parents in their states know about NFADB. In addition to its system of
regional directors, NFADB also has a central office housed at Helen Keller
National Center, a Web site, a LISTSERV®, and a newsletter (News from
Advocates for Deaf-Blind). All members of the NFADB board and the regional
directors are parents of deaf-blind children themselves as well as parent
leaders and advocates.
NFADB President Sheri Stanger recommended that the
projects include their state’s regional director on their advisory
boards. She said that it is important to have a parent’s voice on
advisory boards and that participation also provides an opportunity for the
regional directors to stay aware of state project plans and activities. They
can then share that knowledge with parents in their regions. Sheri concluded
the presentation by encouraging projects that have not previously worked with
NFADB to consider doing so now. She said, “When we know what your
project’s needs are and you know what our needs are, we can both provide
better services for families.”
The NFADB panelists were Sheri Stanger
(President), Linda Syler (Treasurer), Corry Hill (Region 8 Director), Cynthia
Jackson-Glenn (Region 5 Director), Elisa Sanchez Wilkinson (Region 6 Director).
back to contents
Personal Retrospective Roberta
Reid: A Great Australian Teacher
Dr. Mike Steer
Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children
Historically in Australia, as in the USA,
many children who had combined vision and hearing loss were assumed to be
profoundly intellectually disabled. They were said to be ineducable and were
thought to have the bleakest of futures. Little or no assistance was available
to their parents, and the children were often institutionalized. Considerable
heartbreak and anguish were the result. In Australia, Roberta Reid was
instrumental in changing public and professional perspectives on the potential
of deafblind children.
Her Early Life and Times
Roberta Sinclair Reid was born in 1884 at the tiny
settlement of Eskbank in the State of New South Wales. Her father, Robert Reid,
was manager of a local sawmill. It has been suggested that she was named
Roberta after her father in “a burst of Scottish caution lest he failed
to produce a son” (Thompson, 1990, p. 15). Robert Reid, by the standards
of his day, was an educated man, and he recognized early the consequences of an
absence of schooling in Eskbank for his growing family. At some time in the
late 1880s, he moved with his wife and family to Sydney, where he found a
position with the Sydney Evening News as a typesetter. Roberta, or
“Berta” as she became known, attended the tiny local school and
completed the primary curriculum in three years (less than half the normal
time). She then attended Sydney Girl’s High School, located in downtown
Sydney. In 1900 (a year in which bubonic plague broke out in Sydney) she passed
her Senior Level and won a scholarship to attend the University of Sydney.
Berta graduated with a B.A. in 1904 and sought a
teaching position at the New South Wales Institution for the Deaf, Dumb, and
Blind, located on the edge of the University of Sydney campus. At the age of
20, without having had specific training in the education of blind children,
she found herself in charge of the “Blind School,” as it was then
known, and its 13 pupils. She worked hard and learned quickly.
A Girl Called Alice
Beginning in February 1908, Berta began teaching a
seven-year-old deafblind girl named Alice Betteridge. Alice was the subject of
an article appearing in the Spring 2001 issue of Deaf-Blind Perspectives. No
other child like Alice had ever been educated in Australia when the Institute
agreed to try and break through her “impenetrable walls of darkness and
silence ” (Thompson, 1990, p. 56).
There were signs that Alice could recognize
differences in her environment, small indications that she was intelligent. She
would often, for example, fall to her knees and scrabble in the grass or sand
in the play area, seeming obviously perplexed, trying to extract meaning from
the tactile differences. To capitalize on this and teach Alice to communicate,
Berta had to make her understand that objects had names. She experimented with
one object after another. She would place an object in Alice’s hands and
then fingerspell the word to her. She hoped that one of the objects would
generate a spark of recognition, interest, or comprehension. Week after week
nothing was successful. Typically, Alice would be given an object like a doll.
She would grasp it, finger it, and then drop it. This happened repeatedly.
Readers familiar with the Helen Keller story will
recall that the major breakthrough in her education occurred when her teacher
ran water over Helen’s hands. With Berta and Alice, the first
breakthrough occurred when Alice was given a shoe that had been presented to
her many times before. Repetition had linked the fingerspelled letter pattern
and the object. This time, Alice tapped the fingerspelled letters onto her own
hand, then reached to touch the shoe. The all-important connection between a
fingerspelled word and an object had been made. In overcoming the first and
greatest hurdle, Berta had opened a slight crack of light in the dense curtain
enclosing the child. Fortunately, Alice’s natural intelligence, together
with her longing to discover and make sense of the world that surrounded her,
immediately began to shape her education and her life. Touching the shoe and
making the connection was perhaps the most important moment in Alice’s
life, and possibly in Berta’s too. They had broken through. Alice had
discovered an incredibly important aspect of language—things have
Until that time no one had any proof that Alice
might be intelligent, but it soon became evident that she was very bright. Her
access to a language system released many years of pent-up curiosity. In a few
short months she knew 200 nouns and several verbs, including “run,”
“jump,” and “laugh,” and could use them in sentences.
Next Berta introduced Alice to Braille so that she could begin to read. Alice
speedily mastered the skill and began to read her way through the school
Berta, Alice, and Others
During the period of Alice’s formal
education, Berta also developed in professional competence. Her family hoped
that she would eventually marry, but she suffered a “great
disappointment” when a close male friend, who had enlisted in the
military forces, was killed in the Boer War. Her work at the Institute left her
with little time for a social life.
It is not possible to know what motivated Berta.
Possibly it was love of a challenge. It is likely, however, that no other
teacher of a deafblind child working under such conditions has ever equaled
Roberta’s achievements with Alice Betteridge. Her achievement lies not
only in having engineered the breakthrough to Alice, but also in persevering
with Alice’s education to the point where Alice was considered the
best-educated girl in the school. This together with the responsibilities of
being headmistress of the school suggests a most remarkable mind and
In 1951, Berta received the highly prestigious
Medal of the British Empire for her contributions to the education of children
with sensory impairments. An annual award of the Roberta Reid Prize at the
“Blind School” also commemorated her contribution to this
remarkable story of 44 years of service. The Royal Institute named one of its
major educational programs the Roberta Reid Centre, and in 1990 the Institute
named its special school for children with multisensory disabilities the Alice
Betteridge School. Fitting tributes to remarkable people.
Philosophy and Contributions
Reid’s educational philosophy for educating
blind or deafblind children cannot be traced to her formal training as a
teacher. At that time, no programs existed that taught teachers how to work
with blind students (Thompson, 1990). Valerie Thompson’s biography of
Alice Betteridge provides insight into Berta’s teaching philosophy and
methods. For example, few period educators would have placed such great
philosophical emphasis on the needs of the children and their parents, while
also delivering the vision of the earliest French schools for the blind as
places where all were welcome and should receive the same education, love, and
attention as other children.
Having no specialized teacher training meant
devising her own methods, her own ideas, and inventing her own aids. Both the
real world and functional pragmatism were Berta’s focus. She recognized
that her “first task [with Alice] was to win her trust and
affection” (Geason, 1999, p. 100). Her style was simple and
direct—the child’s remaining senses of touch and smell were seen as
important. Berta intuitively quested for a “key” to make a link in
Alice’s mind between an object recognized by touch and a fingerspelled
alphabet pattern. When the right key was tried in the right lock, the door
blocking opportunity opened.
Roberta Reid’s Legacy
The Royal Institute currently has 55 children with
deafblindness enrolled in its several programs. The Alice Betteridge School
(ABS) is, in 2004, a leading special school for children (aged 3–18) who
have a sensory disability, as well as in some instances an intellectual or a
physical disability. The school is recognized nationally and internationally
for the excellence of its cross-disciplinary curriculum and for the caliber of
its staff. At the very core of today’s educational programs for students
with deafblindness are embedded the fundamental principles developed and
practiced by Roberta Reid in the early years of the last century. These have to
do with the establishment of an enduring emotional relationship between the
student, the family, and the teacher, involving frequent reciprocal
interactions around activities that are challenging to the child. The effect of
the interactions is to strengthen bonds, enhance motivation, increase the
frequency of responses, produce mutual adaptations in behavior, and thereby
improve teacher and family effectiveness.
Those who visit the Alice Betteridge School at
North Rocks near Sydney are invariably impressed with what they see and hear.
Its excellence is a fitting tribute to the memory of a truly remarkable
Australian and her equally remarkable teacher.
Geason, S. (1999). Great Australian girls.
Sydney: ABC Books.
Thompson, V. (1990). A girl like Alice: The
story of the Australian Helen Keller. North Rocks, NSW: North Rocks
back to contents
DVD Review: Sensory
Teresa Coonts, Coordinator
Nebraska Deaf-Blind Project
Popcorn and a DVD!!!! It is sometimes
difficult to find the time to preview educational DVDs, but it can be an
enjoyable and rewarding experience (especially when linked to popcorn). I
recently purchased the Sensory Perspectives DVD set developed by the SKI-HI
Institute at Utah State University in 2003, and I was amazed by the quality of
this wonderful tool. It provides comprehensive, current information regarding
vision, hearing, and deaf-blindness.
Disk 1 focuses on vision and hearing loss. The
vision section includes an introduction to vision and information about acuity
loss, field loss, and conditions that may cause combined field and acuity loss,
contrast sensitivity, processing problems, and oculomotor problems. It also
includes vision loss simulations and a vision quiz. The hearing section
consists of an introduction to hearing, hearing loss information, hearing loss
simulations, environmental issues, and a hearing quiz. Disk 2 addresses
combined vision and hearing loss, including an introduction to deafblindness
and to deafblindness and learning, communication, and social and emotional
development. Also included are simulated examples that allow the user to
combine specific types of vision and hearing losses and a quiz.
I have found the DVD set very easy to use with my
laptop when providing on-site technical assistance to local school teams. It is
also easy to use when conducting a presentation or workshop for larger groups
of educators. In order to play the DVDs on a computer, you need a DVD-ROM drive
and DVD software such as Windows Media. The DVD menus are easy to navigate
using a mouse or arrow keys to move from one selection to another. It is fast
and easy to pull various sections together. You do not have to watch the entire
DVD; just select the sections and topics that you need. Written instructions
are provided on the inside cover. One word of caution: if you are presenting to
a large group and using this DVD program, you will need to have good computer
speakers or a connection to the local sound field system. If using it with a
small group, make sure that your computer sound output is turned to the highest
There is an option to view the DVD with Spanish
and with closed captioning (with a captioning decoder box or a television with
a closed captioning decoder). The cost is only $65, and it can be purchased
through HOPE, Inc. It is very cost effective for the amount of information
Educators and service providers with whom I have
worked in Nebraska have been thrilled with the quality of the DVD. Family
members have also reacted positively. It allows them to view the experience of
normal vision and hearing in a variety of environments (e.g., classroom,
playground) and then compare that to a simulated experience of combined vision
and hearing loss in the same environments.
So, after reviewing this DVD (and eating some
popcorn), I encourage you to get this exciting resource for your library or for
use with local educational teams and when providing technical assistance to
HOPE Publishing, Inc.
1856 North 1200 East
North Logan, Utah 84321
back to contents
This issue highlights two agencies involved
in research activities and several new publications.
National Center on
The National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities (NCLID) held their second
annual research conference in Denver, CO, on October 2–4, 2003. The
conference focused on improving education for all learners, with presentations
on research, universal design, and the implications of distance technologies.
NCLID is developing a database of ongoing research in low-incidence
disabilities and working to identify gaps in current knowledge in order to
sponsor research in those areas.
organization for deaf-blind people in the United Kingdom, has information on
its Web site about Sense research projects. The agency’s research and
development department co-ordinates a wide range of research projects within
Sense and also works in partnership on research activities with other
organizations. The Web site provides: information about current research
projects at regional, national, and international levels; an extensive list of
completed research projects; and the full text of a selection of papers
delivered at national and international conferences by Sense staff. Web:
Research and Practice for Persons with
Severe Disabilities, 28(3), Fall 2003.
This issue is devoted
to a special series, “Perspectives on Defining Scientifically Based
Research.” Featured articles include:
- “Scientifically Based Research in
Education and Students with Low Incidence Disabilities” by Fred Spooner
and Diane M. Browder
- “Scientifically Based Research and
Evidence-Based Education: A Federal Policy Context” by Anne Smith
- “'Scientifically Based Research'”
and Qualitative Inquiry” by Michael F. Giangreco and Steven Taylor
- “A Perspective on Single/Within Subject
Research Methods and 'Scientifically Based Research'” by John McDonnell
and Rob O’Neill
- “Applying Research to Practice: The
More Pervasive Problem?” by Martha E. Snell
- “The Relationship of Inquiry to Public
Policy” by Wayne Sailor and Matthew Stowe
U.S. Department of Education. (2003).
Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous
Evidence: A User Friendly Guide.
Available on the Web:
Janssen, Marleen J., Riksen-Walraven, J.
Marianne, & van Dijk, Jan P.M. (2004). Enhancing the Interactive Competence
of Deafblind Children: Do Intervention Effects Endure? Journal of
Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 16(1), 73-94.
This study sought to replicate the results of a
previous study that examined the effects of a training program designed to
improve the quality of interactions between deaf-blind children and their
educators. The program trained educators to respond more adequately to
deaf-blind children’s interactive behaviors. This present study was
expanded to train educators to improve their responses to deaf-blind
children’s independent behaviors as well as interactive behaviors and it
included a follow-up phase.
If you have information
about a research topic that you would like to include in this column,
345 N. Monmouth
Monmouth, OR 97361
back to contents
Communication During Physical
Activity: A Review of Strategies
Dr. Lauren Lieberman
Department of Physical Education
Over two summers we observed and
interviewed youth who are deafblind at a one-week developmental sports camp.
The youth used a variety of communication methods including tactile sign,
tracking, and signing at close proximity. We discovered that when considering
how to best communicate during sports activities, it is important to consider
whether an activity is discrete or continuous. This is a new way of
Discrete activities are those that include natural
breaks that provide opportunities for communication. Examples include canoeing,
bowling, long jump, and gymnastics. Communication—corrective feedback
about a particular movement or skill sequence, questions, comments, or
praise—takes place naturally during these activities.
Continuous activities, on the other hand, are more
challenging for communication. Swimming, rock-climbing, tandem biking, and
running all require deliberate attention to when and how communication will
occur before engaging in the activity. Our research has taught us that planning
breaks provides a way to structure time for communication during these
activities and that not explicitly planning breaks can result in frustrating
scenarios in which little communication is possible.
We believe this emerging distinction between
discrete and continuous activity has potentially far-reaching implications. For
example, it is possible that activities of daily living could be similarly
categorized, helping people who are deafblind and their communication partners
to effectively plan communication breaks for activities identified as
For more information or to share your thoughts
about using these methods of categorizing activities, contact Dr. Lieberman at
back to contents
Description of above image:
DB-LINK - The National Information Clearinghouse On Children Who Are
Deaf-Blind. A World of Information. (800) 438-9376 Voice, (800) 854-7013 TTY,
wealth of resources in our specialized library. SUBSCRIBE to Deaf-Blind
Perspectives. VISIT our website - bookmark www.dblink.org. TALK with an
Information Specialist. OBTAIN free publications. LINK to an extensive network
of experts and families. [US Dept of Education, Office of Special Education
Programs, Grant Number H326u990001, IDEAS that Work.
For Your Library
Communication Matrix: Especially for
Charity Rowland. Portland: Oregon Health & Sciences
A parent friendly version of the Communication
Matrix, a communication skill assessment tool for individuals operating at the
earliest stages of communication, is now available in print and online. Using
the online version (http://www.communicationmatrix.org), the user is able to
enter data on a child and print out a profile and a list of communicative
behaviors and intents. This is a free service designed especially for parents
but available to anyone. A print version is also available. The Communication
Matrix was first published in 1990 and was revised in 1996. It was designed
primarily for speech-language pathologists and educators to use to document the
communication skills of children who have severe or multiple disabilities,
including children with sensory, motor, and cognitive impairments. It is
appropriate for individuals of all ages, including adults, who are at the
earliest stages of communication. It is not suitable for individuals who
already use some form of language meaningfully and fluently. The parent and
professional versions are available for purchase from Design To Learn. Web:
http://www.designtolearn.com. Phone: 888-909-4030. E-mail: email@example.com.
HomeTalk: A Family Assessment of Children who
are Deafblind Bringing
It All Back Home Project, 2003.
Available on the Web at
http://www.designtolearn.com/pages/hometalk.html and for free from DB-LINK.
Phone: 800-438-9376. TTY: 800-854-7013. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using Tactile Strategies With Students Who Are
Blind and Have Severe Disabilities
June Downing & Deborah Chen,
Teaching Exceptional Children 36(2), 56-60, 2003.
This article describes specific tactile
strategies to support the instruction of students who have severe and multiple
disabilities and who do not learn visually. It describes tactile modeling,
tactile mutual attention, characteristics of tactile learning, how to use
tactile information to represent specific concepts, the importance of
considering a student's degree of sensitivity to touch, and the need for a team
approach to teaching. More information on this topic is available at the
Project SALUTE Web site: http://www.projectsalute.net.
Communicating Research to Practice and Practice
to Research: From Theoretical Contributions to Therapeutic
Jude Nicholas. Paper presented at 13th Deafblind
International World Conference on Deafblindness, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada,
August 5-10, 2003.
This is the text of a plenary session from the
2003 Deafblind International World Conference. Dr. Jude Nicholas from the
Resource Center for the Deafblind in Norway, discussed ways to approach
research in the field of deafblindness and how to link clinical research and
practice. His talk focused primarily on what current cognitive neuroscience can
tell us about how sensory deprivation influences brain function, particularly
as it relates to the concept of neuroplasticity. For a copy of this paper
contact DB-LINK. Phone: 800-438-9376. TTY: 800-854-7013. E-mail:
back to contents
Conferences and Events
The following is a list of some
upcoming conferences and other events for the fall and summer of 2004. For more
extensive listings see Conferences/Trainings on the DB-LINK Web site
(http://www.dblink.org) or call DB-LINK. Phone: 800-438-9376. TTY:
Systems Online Learning Opportunity
Tangible symbols are an
alternative means of communicating, using concrete rather than abstract
symbols, for individuals who do not speak. Many individuals who are unable to
understand abstract symbols are able to use tangible symbols to communicate.
This graduate credit course provides instruction on all aspects of teaching an
individual to use tangible symbols and addresses the theoretical basis and
research related to this approach. Contact: Carolyn Mills. Phone: 888-909-4030.
E-mail: email@example.com. Web:
Helen Keller National
Center National Training Team (NTT) Fall and Summer Seminars
Employment: The Ultimate Goal
September 13-17 Enhancing Services for Older
Adults with Vision and Hearing Loss
October 18-22 Imagine the
Possibilities: Person Centered Approach to Habilitation
Expanding the Arena: The Magic of Technology
Contact: Doris Plansker.
Phone: 516-944-8900, Ext. 233. TTY: 516-944-8637. E-mail:
Arkansas Project for
Children with Deafblindness Summer Workshop on Severe Disabilities, Including
23-25, 2004, Little Rock, AR
This workshop will provide participants with
basic knowledge to effectively work with children who have combined hearing and
vision loss. Topics include creating reactive environments, concept
development, communication, orientation and mobility, parents' rights under
IDEA, behavior, and early intervention.
Contact: Lou Kirkpatrick.
Phone: 501-682-4222. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Boston College Summer
Institute on Deafblindness
27-July 1, 2004, Boston, MA
This program is designed to provide
participants with the practical knowledge and skills needed to effectively work
with students who are deafblind. Coursework will focus on evidence-based
practices to plan and implement effective educational programs.
Contact: Kristen Layton.
Phone 617-552-6245. E-mail: Kristen.Layton@bc.edu.
Creating A Future:
Meeting the Secondary Transition Needs of Learners with Combined Vision and
Hearing Loss (2004 Summer Institute)
28-30, 2004, Breckenridge, CO
This program will address transition to adult
life planning for all ages, but specifically for children and youth who are in
middle and high school. It is designed for parents and educational service
providers who work with children who are deaf-blind and is sponsored by the
Colorado Services to Children with Combined Vision and Hearing Loss and the
Colorado Chapter of AER. The featured speaker is Dave Wiley, a secondary
transition expert from the Texas School for the Blind.
Contact: Tanni Anthony.
Phone: 303-866-6681. E-mail: email@example.com.
Combined Summer Institute on Special Education
12-16, 2004, Yakima, WA
The purpose of this institute is to provide
educators, paraeducators, interpreters, related service providers,
administrators, and families of children with autism, hearing
impairments/deafness, visual impairments and blindness, or significant
disabilities from ages birth through 21 years with updated information on
education strategies, assessment and intervention, support, research, and
networking. The content includes a strand on students with significant
disabilities, including deaf-blindness.
Contact: April Wright.
Phone: 360-480-6637. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web:
19-23, 2004, Lincoln, NE
This summer institute for parents, educators, and
others who work with deaf-blind children includes the following sessions:
Assistive Tech World; Functional Hearing-Assessment and Instruction; and
Communication, Literacy, and the Language of the Hands.
Teresa Coonts. Phone: 402-595-1810. E-mail: email@example.com.
Nebraska Family Workshop:
Communication and the Language of the Hands for Children with Dual Sensory
Impairments or Deaf-Blindness
2004, Lincoln, NE
This ½-day workshop for families in Nebraska will
be presented by Barbara Miles and is designed to introduce parents to
strategies to help their children develop communication.
Contact: Teresa Coonts.
Phone: 402-595-1810. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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