Interveners and Children Who are Deaf-Blind

Technology, supports and services for children who are deaf-blind have come a long way since Helen Keller first responded to Anne Sullivan’s efforts to help her learn.

The importance of intervener services today for many children who are deaf-blind children cannot be overstated. The National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) defines this service as providing access to information and communication and facilitating the development of social and emotional well-being for children who are deaf-blind.

In educational environments, intervener services are provided by an individual, typically a paraeducator, who has received specialized training in deaf-blindness and the process of intervention. An intervener provides consistent one-to-one support to a student who is deaf-blind (age three through 21) throughout the instructional day.

The NCDB is funded by OSERS’ Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) as a national technical assistance center to improve the quality of life and educational opportunities for the roughly 10,000 children who are deaf-blind. Deaf-blindness is a low incidence disability and within this population of children there is great variability. Ninety percent of children who are identified as deaf-blind have additional physical, medical and/or cognitive disabilities. Without supports, these children are cut off from most, if not all, communication and activities in their environments. Thus, it is clear that many of these children can, and do, benefit from services offered by trained interveners.

Because we recognize that parents are best able to describe their child’s educational experience, consider these comments from parents of children who are deaf-blind who have written to express their thoughts about what happens when their child has an intervener:

“My child’s educational experience over the past four years has been exceptional with the expertise and training his intervener has provided. An intervener is specially trained to work with my son who is deaf-blind. Their ability to engage my child in activities and learning as well as connect them with their peers and teachers is simply a necessity to my child’s education. My son feels included, appreciated and ABLE; thanks to the support and encouragement his intervener adds to his education. Without her, he would be lost.”

Jackie Bauer

“When we were told our child was deaf-blind, we had no idea what to do. We didn’t know if we would ever be able to communicate with her or if she would be able to let us know what she needed. Her interveners have taught us how to talk to our daughter. They have given us and her, the tools we needed to interact. They are her bridge to the world and I’m so thankful every day that she has people who support her learning and help the world learn about her. Through interveners I have come to know my daughter better and know better how to do with her, not for her or to her. If you have chosen this career, you are a very special person and through hard work and believing in your student, you will make a deeply felt difference in not only the life of the person you intervene for, but the lives of everyone that person touches.”

Emily Gold

“Our son Matthew has had an intervener in the school system and community for a number of years. The benefits from having this highly trained support person have been enormous. I believe the intervener is an ambassador for our son—modifying his school projects to make them fit his needs, being his eyes and ears when he is in an environment and needs assistance understanding what is around him, enabling social connections and doing all these without being too present in his area. The intervener has the knowledge of how to do the job but not do the job for the person they are working with. Matthew would not benefit from having someone do everything for him but doing just enough that he can participate to the fullest in each one of his daily settings. Many, many teachers have commented to me what a valuable resource Matthew’s intervener has been to them.”

Michele Pedersen

“Having interveners in my sons life has made a drastic change in his education and his daily living. He is finally able to communicate with others around him, which has helped him not only in his education, but in his daily living. Imagine trying to learn when you can’t hear and have difficulty seeing. Interveners bring it all together. They provide the light in a dark world and sound in the silence. Best thing to happen with his education ever! They are absolutely AMAZING!”

Hatti Edwards

“When Anna didn’t have a full time intervener at school she would get frustrated to the point of not being able to finish the school day and a parent would have to go pick her up. It was very frustrating for Anna, school staff and her parents. Anna has had a full time intervener for the last 4 years she is able to finish every school day and her outbursts are seldom and don’t last as long. Her intervener helps her stay on task and not get or feel lost or left out during school. Without her intervener she would not be able to handle the different transitions that take place during a full school week. As parents, we feel very grateful for this service.”

Greg and Beth Volkers


Posted by
OSERS Project Officer—National Center on Deaf-Blindness and several State Deaf-Blind Technical Assistance Project.

Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP)

Do you have a child in your classroom or at home who has difficulty understanding educational media because he or she is visually impaired, blind, hard of hearing, deaf, or deaf-blind? A solution is the free-loan collection of described and captioned educational media provided by the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) through Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding by the U.S. Department of Education.

The DCMP is also the go-to center for information about educational media access, including tips for effective use, research reports which support the need, and how-to guidelines for adding descriptions and captions to media. In addition, DCMP answers teachers’ questions about equal access and helps parents advocate for their children’s educational needs.

The best part is that there is no charge for any DCMP membership, products, or services! That is thanks to IDEA, which has a goal of a free and appropriate education for all children with disabilities. DCMP meshes perfectly with the IDEA pledge to ensure that educators and parents have the necessary tools to improve educational results.

The five key reasons why you should utilize this opportunity are detailed below.

Reason No. 1:
A Collection of On-Demand Accessible Educational Media

High-quality educational media with descriptions and captions is available through the DCMP. Registration is free to qualified members, including teachers, parents and other professionals who work with a student with a vision or hearing loss.

DCMP selects media that supports academic standards and provides enrichment to curriculum for students in pre-school through grade 12. Before any item is added to the DCMP, it is evaluated based on strict standards for technical and content quality.

Over 7,000 media titles can be viewed online or ordered for shipment to you in DVD format. Online media delivery is available via a fully-accessible media player for the web, including the ability to switch between accessibility options (captioning and description) and language options (English and Spanish). A searchable, interactive transcript feature allows for the location of specific content within a video, and supports re-watching key segments for content reinforcement. Additional viewing methods include the DCMP’s channel for the Roku set-top box, and an iOS app which allows students direct access to media. Student-based viewing is supported by a comprehensive permission system, allowing teachers/parents to grant access to subject areas and/or specific titles to groups or individual students.

Reason No. 2:
Provision of the Highest Quality Descriptions and Captions on All Media

Descriptions and captions are accessibility features added to videos (including those on the Internet) to provide equal access for students who are sensory impaired. Descriptions are additional segments of narration that explain or describe images to students who are blind or visually impaired, and they are inserted into pauses in a video’s original soundtrack. Captions are printed transcriptions of the video’s dialog or narration (along with identifying important sound effects and providing speaker identification). Captions provide access to students who are deaf or hard of hearing,

Ensuring the captions and descriptions are of high quality is of paramount importance, as this guarantees that the thousands of students who will view each DCMP media item during its lifetime will benefit from equal access. Captions and descriptions are created based on DCMP guidelines (see Reason No. 4 below), and a rigorous quality check is performed. One of the goals of the review of descriptions is to determine if the vocabulary used matches the grade level of the production. A review of captions verifies they are error free, synchronized with the audio, and displayed with enough time to be read completely.

Reason No. 3:
Information about Educational Media Access

The DCMP also serves as a clearinghouse of information on the subject of description and captioning for service to consumers, agencies, businesses, schools, and families. Offerings include numerous DCMP print and online informational resources as well as referrals to accessibility information from the websites of DCMP consumer advocacy partners and professional groups.

Site visitors can browse or perform a keyword search for DCMP articles and webpages written by DCMP staff members, educators, advocates, and others. Information about the DCMP accessible media loan program, procedures for applying for and using the media collection, updates concerning the availability of newly available media items, research related to production and effectiveness of accessibility features, and tips for effective use of accessible media are available in the DCMP Learning Center.

The DCMP search engine not only reveals results from the DCMP website, but also from the websites of twenty other national consumer, professional, and advocacy groups. Searchers simply click on a link and are led to information on these collaborators’ sites.

Reason No. 4:
One-of-a-Kind Guidelines for Creating Descriptions and Captions

Anyone wanting to create descriptions and captions for media may utilize the DCMP online guidelines which provide a framework for consistency and quality. These technical and style manuals have been used by providers, government agencies, businesses, school technology departments, teachers, parents, students, and others. They are the only such guidelines for educational media available in the United States, and have been adopted in several other countries.

The Description Key guidelines cover a range of topics from identifying what information needs to be described to determining how to describe it. Preparing educational description requires constant decision making with regard to the content and timing. The “key visual elements” of an educational program which are selected for description should be those that serve to convey a specific learning goal.

The Captioning Key includes information on language mechanics, presentation rate, sound effects, speaker identification, synchronization, and special considerations (music, dialect, slang, play on words, etc.). These guidelines have been translated into other languages, received international distribution, and have been utilized in various settings as a basic reference.

Reason No. 5:
Advocacy Regarding Media Access Issues

There are ongoing examples of lack of understanding, apathy, and prejudice that lead to inaccessibility in technology that dramatically impacts students who have sensory disabilities. Education and advocacy are crucial to overcoming these barriers.

As indicated by questions continually fielded at the DCMP, the majority of people are uninformed as to laws and regulations concerning description and captioning, the process of selecting a provider of these services, the steps necessary to perform description/captioning, and the costs of procuring these services. The DCMP is a comprehensive and trusted source for answers to questions about educational description and captioning.

Said Jason Stark, DCMP Project Director: “Equal access and opportunity for children with disabilities is the hallmark of the IDEA. Through the funding provided by the Department of Education under IDEA, the DCMP is able to respond to parents’ and teachers’ desire to provide learning opportunities that are more interactive, self-paced, inclusive, and engaging.”

Watch a video overview of the features of the DCMP media library at

For more information, visit the DCMP online at, or email

Jo Ann McCann
Posted by
OSERS Project Officer—Captioning and Video Description Projects. Member of Children of Deaf Adults (CODA), International, a non-profit organization for adult, hearing sons and daughters of deaf parent(s).