Teaching students to talk through touch

It takes a very special kind of student to work with the deaf and blind

Students in the Intervenor for Deafblind Persons program practice their skills. (George Brown College)

Students in the program practise their skills  (George Brown College)

Just 20 students graduate annually from George Brown’s intervenor for deaf-blind persons program, but every single one will be highly sought-after. “We can’t graduate enough to satisfy the field,” says Betty Jean Reid, professor and program co-ordinator, citing demand from congenitally deaf-blind people, those with acquired deaf-blindness and Boomers with age-related hearing and vision loss.

Many from these groups will massively benefit from the assistance of an intervenor, or “go-between,” who facilitates communication and encourages interaction. Personal-support or service workers have traditionally filled this role, gathering on-the-job training as they go, but the 25-year-old program at George Brown College is unique. “There’s nothing else like it in Canada,” says Reid.

Developed in partnership with a number of deaf-blind associations, courses include interpersonal skills, American sign language, Braille, anatomy and ethics, followed by a mandatory field placement.

New students can enrol straight from high school or after an undergrad degree, but, unlike some others, this two-year program skips the grade-focused “first-past-the-post admissions process,” explains Reid, in favour of something more important: “We’re looking for passion.” Maturity, flexibility and life experience are all assets here, as is diversity. “There’s a huge variety of consumers, so we need the same variety of intervenors to provide access to information to enable people to interact in their environments.” Students from all walks of life can find their path here. “If they have the passion,” says Reid, “they will be successful.”

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