Working with Intervenors who are Deaf – Top 10 Reasons

Working with Intervenors who are Deaf – Top 10 Reasons

The IOO supports and welcomes members of the Deaf community providing services to people who are Deafblind, be it as an intervenor, interpreter, communication facilitator or SSP (Support Service Provider). The impact that a member of the Deaf community can have when working with someone who is Deafblind can be invaluable, yet for some people, it leaves them puzzled; how can the role of an intervenor, being a person's eyes and ears, be performed by someone who does not hear? How do they relay auditory information? 

The following is a list of the top ten reasons why Deaf people not only perform the role but do so very well.  They are appreciated members of the intervenor and Deafblind community. 

  1. Visual World - An intervenor who is Deaf has a lived experience as a person who depends on visual information and a visual language, offering them a unique perspective; an attention to visual details that a hearing person would not perceive or realize. When acting as someone's eyes, this ability allows them to naturally and eloquently express the visual world in a visual way as this is hardwired into their way of thinking and communicating. To think and dream with images not spoken words, to live in a world of relative silence. For example, when a person or object is described using classifiers or a butterfly or sunset explained in such a way that it brings you to tears because its beauty has been brought to life in sign language.

  2. Deaf Like Me - For those members of the Deafblind community (i.e. those who have Usher Syndrome type I) they are accustom to the struggles of communicating with the hearing world, and when an intervenor who is Deaf writes notes to relay a comment to a teller, or gestures to relay a person's order at Tim Hortons, this is seen as normal behaviour from the Deafblind persons' perspective and they understand and relate to the challenge. It is not seen as a hinderance or annoyance since this has been their reality too. It enforces the bond they have with a fellow Deaf person. 

  3. ASL Experts - We work with a diverse group of people; seniors, young adults, children. For those Deafblind individuals who use older signs, depend on fingerspelling, use home signs/gestures or those who have health issues, like Cerebral Palsy which affects their ability to form handshapes of restricts movement, an intervenor who is Deaf can be an excellent match. As native ASL users, an intervenor who is Deaf knows the historically used signs used in their community, sees fingerspelling as movements and shapes, picks up on the nuances of the language; grammatical features like head or body shifting, eye gaze, facial expressions and can understand the message with minimal difficulty.

  4. Shadowing - As a native ASL user, an intervenor who is Deaf can shadow or relay signs to the person who is Deafblind; ASL to ASL adapted, or ASL to tactile ASL. They have an instant understanding of the source message and can shadow this message with relative ease. Shadowing is a skill that takes practice but having the source message in your native language, increasing the ability to copy and interpret the emotion and intent of the message.

  5. Active Members in the Deaf Community - As with any language, new words are introduced or take on new meaning; languages evolve. For people who are Deafblind, due to their vision loss and reduced interaction with other members of the Deaf community, they may be unaware of these changes or it may take longer for them to be exposed to the new signs. An intervenor who is Deaf, can pass on these new signs i.e. Deaf community's agreed upon sign for iPhone, iPad, emoticons, Trump, Trudeau, etc. It is cultural appropriate and respectful for another Deaf person to show a new sign vs. a hearing person doing so.  

  6. Language Exposure - For those members of the Deafblind community who are not native ASL users, but see the benefit in learning sign language, a Deaf intervenor can be that language role model or tutor. For example, someone who has Usher Syndrome Type II and realizes the benefits of using signs as their hearing declines, or they understand the importance of communicating with other people in the Deafblind community who use sign. This exposure to ASL occurs during regular intervenor services as the intervenor who is Deaf uses the proper signs for items. For example, while grocery shopping (signs for food items), going to the bank (bank terms, numbers), relaying stories from the newspaper (wide range of vocabulary to share). This language exposure also transfers down to other people who engage with the person who is Deafblind, i.e. family members, peers, employers, other intervenors, volunteers, etc.  

  7. Deaf Events - When a person who is Deafblind is attending a Deaf or Deafblind event or social and the primary language is ASL, having an intervenor who is Deaf is ideal. The Deaf intervenor would typically know many people in the crowd (and that person's sign name) and can relay this visual information to the Deafblind person. Again, they are able to shadow and relay conversations in their native language and will not struggle to understand any of the Deaf members comments. 

  8. Shared Culture - The person who is Deafblind, if they are culturally Deaf, will have a sense of comfort and ease with a Deaf intervenor as they share cultural norms. 

  9. Team Work - Often, an intervenor who is Deaf will be asked to team with a hearing intervenor or interpreter when the expressive or receptive communication of the Deafblind person is seen as challenging or unique or when the content or concept is difficult to relay, due to several factors. A person who is Deaf, especially those who have worked or have been trained as a Deaf Interpreter, have a real skill at taking a concept and expressing it in a culturally appropriate way. 

  10. Helps Create Understanding in the Deaf Community - In a community that is often restricted in the number of people they can effectively communicate with, having a member of the Deaf community working with them, increases the number of people in that person's world and the Deaf person's exposure trickles down to other members of the Deaf community, hopefully increase the empathy within that community to the impact of Deafblindness.

As with any intervenor, the IOO hopes that an individual (hearing or Deaf) is chosen based on the behavioural competency framework – meaning they have the right personality and qualities for this specialized career, and that this person receives training based on the technical competencies. Both of these competencies were developed by the Intervenor Services Human Resource Strategy (ISHRS) initiative. 

Historically, the intervenor training options for a person who is Deaf were limited.  We congratulate George Brown College on their decision to accept people who are Deaf into the intervenor program and thank the ISHRS for considering the training needs of people who are Deaf when developing the competency framework. 

The IOO hopes that more members of the Deaf community seek out this line of work and support the Deafblind community. 

April 2018 Professional Development Opportunities

April 2018 Professional Development Opportunities

Online Classes:

April 9th-June 13th. CVI.

April 30th. Accessible Literacy for early readers.


April 19th. Anxiety and Depression in Adults with IDD.

On-Going PD Opportunities:

Hadley School for the Blind

Courses include:

• Introduction to Braille **Free**

• Diabetes and Visual Impairment **Free**

• Advanced Braille Courses

• Internet Essentials

Fanshawe College PD Courses

• Not always running this link will allow you to view dates offered just click on a course

Canadian Deafblind Association E-Learning

Mohawk College

Workshops offered on a sign up bases

Ongoing Link to Webinars:

Perkins School for the Blind

• Expanded Core Curriculum Series

NCDB Library

• Webinars from the NCDB Library

March 2018 Professional Development Opportunities

March 2018 Professional Development Opportunities:


Online Classes:

Teaching Strategies for students who are blind/VI with multiple disabilities in the sensorimotor stage of development.

March 19th 6 weeks.



Active Learning: 5 – Part Series March 29th

Making Connections: Vermont’s Early Intervention Partnerships March 7th

Laying the Foundation for Communication Exchange March 21st



Information Sessions: EA Apprenticeship March 28th GBC


On-Going PD Opportunities:


Hadley School for the Blind

Courses include;

Ø  Introduction to Braille **Free**

Ø  Diabetes and Visual Impairment **Free**

Ø  Advanced Braille Courses

Ø  Internet Essentials


Fanshawe College PD Courses

Ø  Not always running this link will allow you to view dates offered just click on a course


Canadian Deafblind Association E-Learning


Mohawk College

Workshops offered on a sign up bases


Ongoing Link to Webinars:

Perkins School for the Blind

Ø  Expanded Core Curriculum Series


NCDB Library

Ø  Webinars from the NCDB Library


September Professional Development Opportunities

The following are a variety of professional development events being offered in September relevant for intervenors:

September 2017 PD Opportunities:

September 13th Webinar1 hour Long FVA for students with cortical/cerebral visual impairment.

Sept 18-Nov 12 On-Line Calls Career Development and Self-Determination to achieve transistion successs

Sept 25 – Nov 19 Online Class Essential Assessments for Students with Visual impariments

Sept 28 Active Learning 5 Part Webinar Series

Fanshawe College in Class:

Sept 19 ASL 101

Sept 25 ASL 102

Sept 27 ASL 104

Sept 28 ASL 103

Various courses start September 12th at the link below. Some Include Behavioral analysis. Adults with Learning Disabilities and many more.

George Brown

Sept 11 Aging and Health

Niagara College

Sept 5 ASL 1

Sept 6 ASL 2

Sept 7 ASL 3

On-Going PD Opportunities:

Hadley School for the Blind

Ø  Courses include

Ø  Introduction to Braille **Free**

Ø  Diabetes and Visual Impairment **Free**

Ø  Advanced Braille Courses

Ø  Internet Essentials

Fanshawe College PD Courses

Ø  Not always running this link will allow you to view dates offered just click on a course

Canadian Deafblind Association E-Learning

Mohawk College

Workshops offered on a sign up bases


Perkins School for the Blind

Ø  Expanded Core Curriculum Series




The Importance of Debriefing Processes in the Field of Intervention

The purpose of this blog includes:

Ø Generate an interactive discussion on a topic often overlooked

Ø Generate questions and responses

Ø Encourage self-reflection

There are a number of questions asked throughout this blog. Please respond to not only the questions but responses of others.

The Importance of Debriefing Processes in the Field of Intervention

The role of the intervenor can sometimes be stressful and isolating without serious or critical incidents occurring. Intervenors whether working in schools, homes, community and/or in the workplace are often supporting individuals with deafblindness on a one to one basis and without other support present.

According to the Better Health Channel; “Debriefing (powerful event group support) is usually carried out within three to seven days of the critical incident, when workers have had enough time to take in the experience. Debriefing is not counselling. It is a structured voluntary discussion aimed at putting an abnormal event into perspective. It offers workers clarity about the critical incident they have experienced and assists them to establish a process for recovery.”

As an intervenor would you recognize a serious or critical incident? What would you consider a serious or critical incident?


A critical incident is any event or series of events that is sudden, overwhelming, threatening or prolonged. This may include an assault, behavioural incident, threats, severe injury, death, fire and situations dealing with mental health.

Have you experienced a serious or critical incident? As an intervenor what action did you take? What occurred afterwards?


Debriefing processes often occur in many other fields and are considered an essential service. After some discussion with agencies and school boards who support individuals with deafblindness; it was determined that this is a very individualized process and often does not include a formal policy and/or process.

Does the current or past agencies you have worked at have a process for debriefing?

Have you experienced the process of debriefing within the field of deafblindness/intervention and what did it include?


Critical incident can result in symptoms for the intervenor such as shock, denial, anger, rage, sadness, confusion, terror, shame, humiliation, grief, and sorrow. Other responses include restlessness, fatigue, frustration, fear, guilt, blame, grief, moodiness, sleep disturbance, eating disturbance, muscle tremors or "ticks", reactive depression, nightmares, profuse sweating episodes, heart palpitations, vomiting, diarrhea. hyper-vigilance, paranoia, phobic reaction and problems with concentration or anxiety (APA, 1994; Horowitz, 1976; Young, 1994). A debriefing process is a successful option when dealing with these situations if implemented in a timely manner.

Critical incident stress management (CISM) is a key element of debriefing processes. It provides support to assist the recovery of individuals experiencing normal distress following exposure to abnormal events. It is based on a series of comprehensive and confidential strategies that aim to minimize any adverse emotional reaction the person may have. Critical incident stress management strategies in the workplace include:

  • Preparing workers for a possible critical incident in the workplace
  • Demobilization (rest, information and time out – RIT)
  • Defusing (immediate small group support)
  • Debriefing (powerful event group support)
  • One-on-one support sessions
  • Follow-up support.

Demobilization is part of the debriefing process. Demobilization (rest, information and time out) is a way of calming workers following a critical incident and ensuring that their immediate needs are met.

A supervisor or manager who was not involved in the incident, or affected by it, carries out the demobilization. Here is an example of a demobilization process: A demobilization takes place before the end of a shift or before those involved in the incident disperse. Strategies include:

  • Convene a meeting for those involved as soon as possible.
  • Summarize the incident and clarify uncertainties.
  • Invite questions and discuss issues of concern.
  • Show care and support, including the provision of Psychological First Aid.
  • Draw up a plan of action, taking into account the needs of the workers.
  • Make short-term arrangements for work responsibilities.
  • Offer information on defusing and debriefing.


If the agency you work for doesn’t have a process for debriefing how might you assist in facilitating one?


When a serious or critical incident occurs more than just the paperwork needs to be considered. It is important as an Intervenor and/or manager to recognize when this process is needed and ensure the team has the support required. We all play an essential role in enhancing services and supports for both individuals with deafblindness and the teams supporting them. Debriefing is just one of the critical components necessary in our field. We spend a lot of time focusing on others as Intervenors but debriefing contributes to the overall wellness of the Intervenor including less sick time, less burnout and ability to function as positive member of your team.


Kirsty Wymant and Cheryl Ramey






A Day In The Life

When it began…

It all started with a social media post from a friend. She was asking if anyone had any experience working with those who have special needs or clients who are deafblind. While I had been a special needs worker with the same client since 2004, I had no idea what this position would entail. I submitted my resume and the process skyrocketed from there. My email had a response within the hour and an interview was booked for the following day.

Upon interviewing me they advised that I would be working with two individuals who had just graduated from high school. They had moved into their first home without their parents. I remember thinking to myself: “How much support would two high school graduates require …?”  Excited and nervous, after the interview I headed home and anticipated a call. I didn’t wait too long before I was contacted and given information about my eigh-hour volunteer shift.


Intervenor’s Motto: Do with, NOT for!


The BIG day!

A little less than a week later I pulled up to the address that had been provided to me. I was completely worried that I was going to park in someone’s spot, use the wrong door, be at the wrong house or worse the consumers (I learned this word for the individuals with whom we work in the interview!) would not like me. I knocked and was greeted by the Intervenor Services Coordinator. She welcomed me with a big smile into what I was hoping might be my new workplace.

The day was a blur; I was learning so many new things, it was invigorating being given the opportunity to discover the daily schedule of an individual who is deafblind. And let me tell you a little secret … it isn’t much different than someone who has sight and vision. Housework, grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry to name a few, are all completed by the consumer. They rely on us (intervenors), to bridge the sound and sight gap. Which is why our position is crucial. Not to mention our motto: “Do with, not for.”

As my first volunteer shift came to an end my IC approached me, wanting to check in as it wasn’t a seamless day. We had ups and we had downs, we had medical routines, meal routines and toileting routines. I remember as clear as day she asked me: “So, Victoria is this something you could see yourself doing?” In that single moment my fears of the consumers not liking me, fears of what door to use, which spot to park in -- all of it fell away. I knew in that exact moment that this was exactly what I could see myself doing, as long as they would have me.


Must learns and quick!

IV, IC, four key principles of intervention (A.M.C.C), About Me books, medical routines, outing routines, etiology of their deafblindess, likes, dislikes, memorize entire CDBA Ontario website! Learn Sign Exact English!


Training us, the right way

When your IC tells you that you get to go to Paris for training there, is a little piece of you that cannot believe they would do that! Probably because they wouldn’t send you to Paris, France, but the Paris they do send you to is a little town six hours away from Sudbury, Ont. If I thought I was nervous before I was wrong, these nerves were far worse. Going to learn intervention at a state-of-the-art resource centre built solely for individuals who are deafblind, a safe place to explore, learn and contribute to the community. Boy, I was feeling the butterflies! Surrounded by seasoned intervenors I began my first week of three for training. The instructors were phenomenal; the content was beyond valuable and each time I left the resource centre I believed more and more in my skills and abilities as an intervenor! Every time I returned back to my consumers’ home I found myself using my newly developed skills and applying them. I would have to say the best part was learning ASL (American Sign Language) even though my consumers communicate more with Sign Exact English, once you learn the alphabet you can pick up on a lot more!


If you don’t use it you lose it! Practice, practice, practice. Sign! Download signing apps!


When you finally get it

Recently my consumer had a difficult time that resulted in needing emergency care. In that setting I knew my only job was to keep them calm and provide them with all the situational information I could. I wanted them to know that I was there, supporting, encouraging and reassuring that all would be OK. To be honest I wasn’t sure if they really cared that I was there or if I was doing anything right or making a difference. Between the nurses and the doctors coming through I was the constant, my voice, my signing and our bond from the past nine months. Nine months may not sound like a long time at all but for my consumer and I it was long enough to build the foundation of trust and security. The big moment came when I was asked to step aside, I notified my consumer that I would just be to the side and would still be with them in the room. Within a couple of minutes hospital staff were asking me to come back to their side as I was helping to keep my consumer calm.

As an intervenor we sometimes don’t get an opportunity to test our bond, we don’t really know how deep or how strong it truly is. A bond between a consumer and intervenor is different for everyone. What my bond looks like may be entirely different than my colleagues, and that’s OK.

Not all of us are the same, and that is important for our consumers as they get distinctive things from different intervenors. You need to trust that when you are providing intervention each day, working on sign language, consumer goals, calendar systems, life skills, routines and enjoyable activities that they are all part of the bigger picture. In the grand scheme of things, the way in which we approach each activity, situation (positive or negative) or problem sets the expectation and groundwork for where our bond begins and ends.


“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

-Mark Twain

What the last year has taught me

The life of an intervenor may not have been something I knew I wanted to choose for my career. However, the stars aligned for me to do so. My first year as an intervenor thus far has been full of surprises, I have my doubts, my fears, my amazing moments, my bonds that continue to grow, and knowledge that continues to develop. I have learned a lot by trial and error, but primarily I have learned the most from my consumers, their families and the intervenors that surround me each day. We as intervenors are a rare and patient breed; we have an inch and make it a mile. We have to continuously be thinking not just outside the box but as far out and abstract as possible, to make the very most out of every single activity and excursion.

Being an intervenor isn’t for everyone, especially if you don’t have amazing supervisors, managers and mentors. Answering my friend that day was the best decision I could have made. CDBA Ontario is a phenomenal organization to be a part of and what’s better than waking each day excited to go to your job where you know you’ll make a difference. 


“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.” -- Helen Keller



From one intervenor to another

We as intervenors are a rare and patient breed; we have an inch and make it a mile. We have to continuously be thinking not just outside the box but as far out and abstract as possible, to make the very most out of every single activity and excursion.

Intervention isn’t for everyone, especially if you don’t have amazing supervisors, managers and mentors. Answering my friend that day was the best decision I could have made. Intervention is one of the most phenomenal careers to be a part of and what’s better than waking each day excited to go to your job where you know you’ll make a difference.   

“In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.”

Albert Einstein

Victoria-Anne Holmes
Victoria-Anne Holmes is new to intervention and works for CDBA Ontario in its new Supported Independent Living Program in Sudbury. Her previous experiences include 14 years as a personal support worker and two years as a house parent dealing with a diverse group of children, youths and teens. Since having gastric bypass surgery in July of 2016, she felt it was important to branch out to a different career path not only for herself but for her family as well. She is now able to take her passion of working with others to new levels as each consumer has different needs and wants. Her knowledge and understanding is constantly growing and she is only just beginning!

Looking Back: 1992 Intervention Task Force Report

In 1992, the Intervenor Organization of Ontario, in partnership with other intervenor services providers across the province took part in an “Intervention Task Force”. This task force was intended to investigate and review intervenor services in the province of Ontario and was comprised of members from both acquired and congenital sectors, and from both children’s services and adult services. The task force looked at all areas relating to intervenor services in Ontario, including; education and training of intervenors, funding of intervenor services, and the profession of intervenors (regarding standards/regulation), among other areas. In the early 1990’s, the field of intervenor services in Ontario underwent a significant push toward professionalization, coinciding with the development of the Intervenor Program at George Brown College. Following the task force’s investigation and review of intervenor services in Ontario by this task force, a series of recommendations were developed and a report was written, with the goal of these recommendations to support further development, growth, and professionalism within intervenor services in Ontario. 

A copy of this report surfaced approximately one year ago, during a research project on the history of deafblindness in Canada which the Canadian Helen Keller Centre had undertaken and which I was fortunate to work on. The contents of this study are currently housed at the CHKC Training Centre, in the “Mae Brown Memorial Room”, in honour of Mae Brown, the first person with deafblindness in the British Commonwealth to graduate from university. History is something that belongs to each one of us involved in some way in the field of deafblindness and is constantly evolving, thanks to the hard work of numerous passionate individuals involved in deafblindness, and we as a field should take a great deal of pride in this unique history. The following report recommendations reflect only a small piece of the history, but it is my hope that by openly sharing information on the history, as a field, we can create a dialogue surrounding the history and work toward better preservation and dissemination of information about this incredibly important area of this diverse field. You may find some of these recommendations are no longer applicable, while others may spark a new interest for you. Regardless, I hope that you enjoy reviewing these recommendations and will take pride in how far we have come as a field. 

Note that in the report recommendations, the hyphenated spelling of “deaf-blind” has been maintained for historical purposes and preservation efforts, as this spelling was considered most appropriate during this time period. 


1. In the province of Ontario, intervention be recognized as a basic right and a necessary service required for persons who are deaf-blind, and be available in both English and French. 


2. The Ministry of the Attorney General recognize the right of deaf-blind persons to intervention services during the legal process. The services provided by the intervenor should be carried out in the consumer’s preferred mode of communication and where necessary adapted as required. Intervention services should be governed by the Code of Ethics of the Intervenor Organization of Ontario and should be accepted by the courts as a legal right of access to information. 


3. The Ministry of Colleges and Universities support college-level intervenor training programs and consider establishing satellite-training programs/courses in all regions of the province. The ministry should ensure that all such programs and courses are available in both English and French. 


4. The Ministry of Colleges and Universities develop a process for the assessment and evaluation of the current college intervenor program to ensure that it meets the needs of the community. 


5. The Ministry of Colleges and Universities support an application for an intervenor apprenticeship program in both English and French. 


6. School board intervenors receive at least 70 hours of orientation before they commence work with each student who is deaf-blind. Individualized training in communication skills should be in addition to this orientation. 


7. Boards of education consult with the Ministry of Education Deaf-Blind Resource Services Consultants, the deaf-blind student(s), and family member (or guardian/advocate) concerning the selection of school board intervenors. 


8. Standards be established for instructors in intervenor training programs. These standards should be established in collaboration with the Intervenor Organization of Ontario, consumers, and service providers. 


9. Training programs for instructors/facilitators in intervenor training programs be required and have as an entrance requirement appropriate previous experience in working with persons who are deaf-blind in the context of core subjects such as deaf-blind communication systems, 

orientation and mobility, safe travel techniques, and technical aids and devices. 


10. The Government of Ontario recognize and support the further development of the professional organization of intervenors, the Intervenor Organization of Ontario (I.O.O.). This professional organization should have at least the following responsibilities: offer professional certification to intervenors, be aware of current hiring practices, make recommendations regarding salaries and working conditions, establish a code of ethics, recommend the duties and responsibilities of intervenors, and provide professional development opportunities. 


11. The Ministry of Skills Development and the Ministry of Labour include the profession of intervenors in their catalogue. 


12. The Office for Disability Issues in collaboration with the Secretary of State establish public awareness programs about deaf-blindness and its implications. These programs should use a wide variety of media (braille, large print, video text, voice, sign language, pictograms, etc.) in order to reach the widest audience possible. 


13. Studies in deaf-blindness be incorporated within appropriate related programs at the university level- for example, in health and medical sciences and in specialist teacher training. 


14. The Government of Ontario establish an information service for consumers, family members, service providers, government departments, and other interested groups to collect and disseminate information on all intervention services available in Ontario to persons who are deaf-blind. This information service could be located within the Office for Disability Issues. 


15. The Office for Disability Issues act as a referral service for consumers complaint issues. 


16. An appropriate ministry establish a central registry of intervenors whereby deaf-blind individuals and the community can access qualified intervenors for the services they require. 


17. The Ministry of Community and Social Services review and inventory its current service areas to deaf-blind persons or all ages and consolidate them into a single service department under one administrative authority that would encompass and ensure universal services to persons who are deaf-blind. This would enable the ministry to provide streamlined, equitable, and consistent funding of intervention services. 


18. The Ministry of Community and Social Services appoint one program supervisor per region to be responsible for the supervision of all ministry-funded intervention services within his/her region. The regional program supervisors should meet at least twice a year to ensure consistency of service quality, quantity, and delivery throughout the province. 


19. The Ministry of Housing establish in the provincial Building Code architectural standards to accommodate persons who are deaf-blind and review the Building code to eliminate sensory barriers. To establish barrier-free environments, the ministry should consult with consumers and service providers to better understand the needs of persons who are deaf-blind. 


20. Retrofitting of government facilities include the elimination of sensory barriers as well as physical barriers. 


21. The Ministry of Health expands it Assistive Devices Program to include all technical devices that may be of assistance to persons who are deaf-blind and to ensure that funds are provided for training consumers in the use of the devices they have obtained through the ADP. 


22. The Ministry of Education, school boards, and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities ensure that all required specialized access equipment and supplies, including text-based devices, be made available to their deaf-blind students. Considerations should also be given to establishing a lending library for demonstration and experimentation. 


23. The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Community and Social Services, and other ministries that provide essential services (legal, medical, housing, etc.) allocate targeted funding to ensure that intervention services are available to individuals requiring them. 


24. Funds be made available for employment counseling and placement services for persons who are deaf-blind. 


25. Funds be made available for supported employment of persons who are deaf-blind. 


26. All ministries fund intervention services on an equal basis according to the amount and nature of required/requested services. 


27. That funds be provided for the expansion of intervention services to deaf-blind persons who at present are under-served or are not being served at all- for example, seniors, Native people, residents of northern Ontario, Franco-Ontarians, and those on waiting lists for service. 


28. All ministries follow a provincial pay scale for intervenor services as recommended by the Intervenor Organization of Ontario. 


29. The Ministry of Community and Social Services and the Ministry of Education establish direct funding as a right to deaf-blind persons over the age 18 for hiring intervenors for intervention services. 


30. The Government of Ontario provide funding to support research on deaf-blindness (and the publication of such research) and the development of programs, program materials in both English and French, and technical devices designed specifically for persons who are deaf-blind. 


31. The Ministry of Education Alternative Funding Program include sufficient funds for initial and ongoing training of school board intervenors and stipulate that these funds be used for those purposes and, in addition, that funds be made available for trained supply intervenors.

Laura Aguiar
Laura is a Project Coordinator on the history of deafblindness in Canada and an Intervenor with the Canadian Helen Keller Centre. She is a graduate of the George Brown College Intervenor Program and is currently Vice-President with the IOO and a member of the ISHRS Marketing and Communications Sub-Committee.

Healthy Sexuality

Intervention can be a complex and diverse field. We understand that we are going to be a crucial part of another person’s day-to-day life. But do we all know what this really entails; how complex each person can be and understanding and supporting them to the best of our abilities? Today I want to talk a little bit about one of those areas of support, and it’s one that tends to make some people a little uncomfortable. Sexuality. Many of us are working with adults and probably assume that this topic was covered in their childhood education. Some of us work with individuals who are also experiencing other developmental disabilities, and may not think this area is something that we need to be concerned with. I’m here to provide you with another point of view and maybe give you cause for consideration.

What does sexuality mean, when in reality it means something different to each and every person? In a room full of people, you will have a room full of different answers to this question. The most basic definition states “a person’s capacity for sexual feelings,” while more broad definitions include sexual orientation and gender. In today’s society, there is a general belief and understanding that sexuality is something that every person develops and experiences. But it wasn’t that long ago that it was a common myth that children and teens with developmental disabilities didn’t require sexual education as they would not develop into sexually mature adults. Depending on the age of your consumer, there may have been a completely different focus, or lack thereof, when it comes to sexual education.

Generally, we tend to break down sexual education to include physical development and changes, hygiene, privacy and personal boundaries. Most of us probably remember some fraction of this information from our elementary school days. How about your consumers? Most of our consumers were in a different line of education, focusing more on basic concepts required to encourage communication and language. If sexual education isn’t a realization during their school years, where does the responsibility fall? As previously discussed, sexuality is a part of every person, so there is an incredible responsibility to help our consumers understand their own bodies and feelings associated with sex and sexuality. They need information that is clear and concise and presented at their level of developmental functioning, in a means of communication that they best understand. For some consumers this may also cover topics like safe dating, safe sex, sexual consent and abuse, and sexual orientation.

It also is important to consider the barriers that arise for our consumers. Most children who are sighted/hearing can learn to pick up on the subtle hints society puts out. They start to understand modesty, and appropriate sexual behaviour, by watching and learning from the world around them. Many of our consumers are never afforded that opportunity, and don’t have the ability to learn about society’s expectations without being directly taught. Society can also be unforgiving when it comes to sexually inappropriate behaviour, and providing this education can be a key component to ensuring our consumers can integrate into society successfully.

Now to consider what barriers arise for us, the intervenors. Some people aren’t comfortable openly talking about sex and the human body. Depending on your consumer’s specific situation, do you have other family members to consult and discuss this with? Do you believe they will be supportive of learning about sexuality? Do you struggle with how you will teach about sexuality if your consumer has limited sight/hearing? How do you approach this topic in a way that will be successful? What are the building blocks to ensure you are providing your consumer with all the information to help them understand? Are you worried how your coworkers or consumer’s family members will view you after broaching this topic? Will they think you are acting inappropriately? How do you move forward, feeling safe and supported, as an intervenor?

These are all valid questions, and I don’t know that there is a clear answer to them that can be applied across the board. Sexuality is such a tough subject, and can bring up a lot of feelings and frustration for everyone involved. But I ask you this, would you rather suffer that frustration trying to provide support to your consumer? Or leave your consumer feeling this frustration at not understanding their own body and feelings? I promise you that if you have any concerns about your consumer and their own understanding of sexuality, moving forward in any way possible, is better than not moving forward at all.

Robbie Blaha, a teacher of students who are deafblind at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, has done extensive writing on this topic and has numerous resources to offer to anyone interested. She offers suggestions for how to go about approaching the topic and preparing yourself and your agency. She also talks about tips on how to build basic concepts and move forward depending on your consumer. I would advise you to start within your organization. Seek support from your immediate supervisor and anyone else who may have something to offer. The training department, for example, may have access to some amazing resources already. Ask for support when approaching the rest of the team and come up with a clear plan about what you are hoping to achieve and why you think it is important for your consumer. With a touchy subject such as this, it’s important to have the support of your employer, and to have a clear goal.

One of the biggest barriers can be family members, and while it can be a source of frustration, it is also of the utmost importance that you involve them and receive their support. Each family has a different set of values and beliefs, and this includes sexuality. Respecting the family and their wishes is key. If you bring forward a well thought out plan, in most cases, the family will want the same things for their child/sibling/parent. No one wants to think someone that they care about is struggling.

At the end of the day, sexuality is just one more thing that we need to provide equal access, and ensure that every member of our society is able to make informed decisions.

Danielle Halliday.jpg

Danielle Halliday

Danielle Halliday is a support intervenor with CDBA Ontario in the Supported Independent Living Program in Kingston. Danielle has been working with CDBA Ontario for six and a half years. She enjoys bringing her passions to her consumers, such as crafting, reading and planning outings in the community.

Mental Health and Deafblindness

One in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime.   Indirectly therefore, mental health affects all of us.  Gender, age, family history, genetics, stress, loss and trauma, including deafblindness, are all contributing factors to mental health.  

Given these facts, it is highly likely that during your career as an intervenor you will support someone who is deafblind that also has a mental health problem.  This could be as an intervenor for a medical or psychiatric appointment, following a behaviour support plan, providing options for support, having coffee together, or walking.

Having had many conversations over tea at Tim Horton’s, there were times I felt, “what should I say or not say, I’m not a counsellor”.   Fortunately, I had the opportunity to take Mental Health First Aid, a 2 day course similar to First Aid but for mental health, through the Mental Health Commission of Canada.   It gave me valuable skills and the confidence to support many different people in my life with mental health problems.   It’s not, nor is there, a magic pill to make things all better.  And some pills do help, some cause side effects, and some will need adjusting.   It is not an exact science.   Treatment plans often include, but aren’t limited to, conventional medicine.    

Years ago, I was at an appointment with a consumer who hoped the doctor would prescribe a new regime of pills.  Instead, the doctor prescribed connecting with family through letters, and going for a daily walk.  

I’ve told this story many times, but I’ll tell it again.  One consumer thanked me for intervening during a complicated appointment.   I responded by saying “no problem, it was nice to feel needed”.   They stopped in their tracks and kindly reminded me that going for walk together, something they could no longer do on their own, was just as or even more important.   They acknowledged that walking was part of their own personal self-care plan.

A presenter at a past symposium told a story about supervising a shift with a consumer who went to work in an office with an intervenor.  As they entered the office, the receptionist and intervenor exchanged morning pleasantries while the consumer was guided through without engaging with anyone.  He told another story of how an intervenor guided a consumer to a table in a local coffee shop and proceeded alone to buy coffee and therefore to socially engage with the barista.  Caffeine itself and having a job both have many intrinsic benefits, but it`s the social connections you make while doing them that feed the soul and make someone feel part of their greater community.   It’s part of the intervenor’s role to facilitate these interactions.  

Whether prescribed by a doctor, part of someone’s regular routine, or something they are trying for the first time, I would hope as intervenors we don’t negate the importance of, and our role in maintaining, sustaining and initiating exercise or social connections and its subsequent impact on mental health.

Thanks to the various social groups in the community: DBAT, CNSDB, and Deaf-Blind Adventurers, as well as on-line resources, there are many options for individuals who are deafblind to connect with others.   There is still work to be done to ensure professionals understand the role of the intervenor and the specific and individual needs of someone who is deafblind.   Gradually there are more resources available such as counsellors who are deaf or deafblind, and help lines that allow for alternate communication methods such as texting.   I may be biased, because I am also an instructor, but I highly recommend that Mental Health First Aid be mandated for all employers similar to First Aid.   I would bet that you are more likely to support a colleague or consumer through a mental health problem or crisis than treat a broken arm.    As an intervenor having skills and knowledge related to mental health, adds to the behavioural and technical skills you already need and use every day.

Renée Toninger
Renée has been working in the field of deafblindness for over 23 years.  She has worked in both the congenital and acquired fields.  After many years as an intervenor and Community Services Coordinator with CHKC, she now holds the position of Intervenor Services Manager for the organization. Renée has a Specialized Honours Degree in Psychology with advanced mental health training and experience.  She is a Mental Health First Aid Instructor.


“Do with, not for”

I remember when I first started to get my head around intervention.  It was the night after my Kiddo’s sedated hearing test and I knelt by his bed in the dark room, rocking and sobbing, unable to wear out the frantic energy that I’d been running on since receiving the diagnosis that day.  My child had auditory neuropathy and combined with his cortical visual impairment, he was deafblind.  We had a formal diagnosis for what we had always known.  In the darkness, silent except for my crying, I couldn’t explain why the scientific naming of what I already knew made such a difference.  I don’t remember how long this lasted, but it felt like an eternity as I went through my own childhood memories, trying to find ones that did not include either visual or auditory stimuli.  I do remember when it ended.  A little body propelled itself out of bed and my son climbed into my lap.  This little boy, who couldn’t see me and couldn’t hear me, had felt the vibrations of my rocking and wished to capitalize on a snuggling opportunity.  Once the surprise passed, complete with minor trepidation over whether my mini-human would be in agreement that it was definitely time to be sleeping, we rocked together.  I remember the smell of baby shampoo from the head nestled into my shoulder, the slight drag of his footie jammies on the carpet, the constant beat of his heart against my chest, and, gradually, his tightly hugging little arms loosened as he drifted back into sleep.  I settled him back into his bed, his blankie clutched in his arm, the blankets (velour, corduroy, and fleece) pulled up to keep him warm, his head on the slippery satin pillowcase that he loved.  That night stands out as one of my most tactile and vibrant memories.

Why do I share one of my most personal stories about living with deafblindess?  Because in a lot of ways it was my “light bulb” moment for intervention: do with, not for.  I learned from my child.  Whether he could name it or not, he had experienced my grief through its tactile process: from the initial moist, sobbing, shallow breathing, heart racing, body rocking intensity to the slowly calming, and finally deep breathing, if slightly sniffling moments.  On the other side of this experience, he was the same beloved child that night as he had been before his hearing test, but I realized that he had still learned about grief from all the non-auditory/non-visual elements of my grieving process, notably for a child that had never been part of either my son’s or his mother’s life.  I was part of the meaning making for his learning about grief/sadness; a memory that I cherish and that changed my understanding of both Deafblindness and experiential intervention.

The beliefs for intervention are fundamentally tied to accessibility and equity.  As a mother of a Deafblind child (cultural identification), I wholeheartedly subscribe to the belief that my child lives a difference in experience, but not a lesser experience.  Being the parent of a child that lives outside the milestones and social norms?  It is terrifying, it is difficult, it is sometimes sorrowful, it is freeing, it is unique, it is understood only by those that live it, it is tactile, it is attention to detail, it is joyful, it is motivating, it is an opportunity for constant learning, it is my life and I would not change it.

Intervenors are a key part of this lived experience, both for my son and for myself.  When people ask me what I look for in an Intervenor, they are often a bit surprised by my response.  I do not tell them about the character traits or my educational expectations rather, I tell them that I generally look for prominent tattoos.  Yes, I know that sounds superficial and completely irrelevant, but it’s not.  I am looking for individuals that are comfortable with not fitting society’s expectations and that are comfortable being stared at and will be unfazed.  Because, let me tell you, my child’s exploration and information gathering guarantees stares and onlooker whispering/questioning.  If that is an uncomfortable experience for the person supporting my child’s meaning making, then that’s not the right fit.  I want the person supporting my child’s exploration and learning and meaning making to be okay with living outside the milestones and social expectations.  I want someone that is unfazed by discomfort because how my child learns and gathers information can be uncomfortable and generally seems to involve a lot of dirt, water, sticks, leaves, and all kinds of griminess.  For example, when learning about drain systems and where all the water goes that doesn’t get stored in the rain boots (note to self, always store rain boots soles up or risk a moist surprise when stepping into them!), he gets into the puddle or gutter, down on his hands and knees, feeling the water running down into the drain spout, exploring as the water pulls twigs and leaves and little bits of gravel into the drain.  I want my child to have every opportunity to learn, to have his endless curiosity encouraged.  He deserves to have his fascinations and interests supported; even if I wince every time I watch him walk over his Legos with his little bare feet, screaming with excitement and amusement at the prickliness of it all!  What I look for in Intervenors are people that look for the multi-sensory opportunities in every experience; the greatest Intervenors are those awesome professionals that take as much pride in supporting my son’s experiential learning as he delights in the process.  I am very fortunate to have had a number of truly exceptional Intervenors in my son’s life and I am profoundly grateful for both what they have given my child and for what they have taught me about who my son is: scientist, artist, Lego-fanatic, Google Maps reading mastermind, daydreamer, friend, stubborn over-achiever, and genuinely caring mini-human.

Elizabeth Fennelly
Elizabeth Fennelly is a mom, paralegal, social worker, and lifelong student (sometimes in the formal education system). She is extremely grateful to have the privilege of serving on the boards of the Canadian Deafblind Association - Ontario Chapter as well as the Ontario Association of Social Workers - Eastern Branch.  Her greatest pride is in being Shawn's mom with its opportunities to support Shawn's meaning-making and advocate for equity.