Grant to help deaf-blind services

Statesman Journal
By Geoff Parks

The director of the Western Oregon University-based national technical assistance center for deaf-blind children said a recent grant received will help in its mission of improving educational opportunities for those youth.

Jay Gense of the National Center on Deaf-Blindness flew to Washington, D. C. last month to accept the grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. He said the $10.5 million grant will be parceled out over the next five years to help the center provide technical assistance and support to deaf-blind projects in all U.S. states and territories, school districts and others.

The center, formerly known as the National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness, has for several years combined the resources of WOU’s Teaching Research Institute, the Helen Keller National Center of New York (youth and adult deaf-blind services) and Perkins of Massachusetts (education and services for the blind and deaf-blind) to provide technical assistance, personnel training and support for those projects.

Gense said the “national technical assistance program to train teachers to know what to do” to aid the deaf-blind community has been in place for more than two decades. Today it is called the National Deaf-Blind Network, and includes one deaf-blind project in each U.S. state and territory.

The newly-named National Center on Deaf-Blindness — the “hub” for that network — is run from Todd Hall on the WOU campus with Gense as director.

“The hub approach, that’s what’s new,” Gense said. “We have had earlier iterations where we (at WOU) have served in this national capacity, but we’ve never before been charged to integrate the network of all these projects to work together.”

The grant money mainly will be used to add more teachers and support staff, allowing them to access and utilize what Gense called the “world’s largest collection of information on deaf-blindness” on behalf of those youth.

Gense said deaf-blindness is known as a “low-incidence disability.” Thanks to the grant, he said, affected youth nationwide will get a higher level of access to resources and technical assistance.

He said there are only 10,000 or so deaf-blind persons in the country, and only about 70 in Oregon. He said deaf-blindness is one of the most complex disabilities to serve.

“When both senses (sight and hearing) are impaired, that creates a challenge for kids to learn,” he said.

“Because the incidence (of deaf-blindness) is so low, we want to reduce the isolation that either kids or families or schools are feeling when they’re serving a child who’s deaf-blind,” Gense said.

He expressed excitement and optimism when talking about what the grant means for the nation’s deaf-blind youth.

“We’re implementing the applications of technology, including a program called ‘distance mentorship,’ ” he said. “That means we’re using technologies to provide support to a school district without the expertise needing to be right there.”

“The next five-year period is going to be game changing for our (new national center) relative to our nation’s system of providing supports to kids who are deaf-blind and their families,” he said.

Geoff Parks is a freelance writer. Reach him at (503) 510-7392 or

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