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• When I first began teaching segregation
was still the norm.
• There were schools for the blind, deaf,
physically disabled and intellectually
disabled students, in addition there were
many schools for low achieving children.
• Teachers were trained in a specific
• Schools contained many resources to
accommodate that disabilities needs. They
were available when needed
• Teachers often made many more
• In Australia we were lucky
• Many States had teacher training
to assist the needs of Deaf, Blind,
and Deafblind children.
• We learnt skills related to Braille,
Orientation and Mobility, Total
Communication, Life skills, even
new technology (the Optacon).
Class of 1979 -82.
• Two teachers and four children who were
• We had a ball and the children learnt.
• Total communication was the norm.
• We had autonomy.
• We were young creative and full of energy.
• Language was everywhere.
• We signed and Brailled ourselves silly.
We pummelled our children with language
• Core curriculum, and
Extended core curriculum
were seen as a way of
• Speech, Fingerspelling and
Sign Language both
manual and tactile.
• Models, Tactile diagrams,
• Hands on Experiences,
Beginning of mainstreaming
• In addition to separate schools, Special
Education Units for various disabilities
began to develop with in mainstream
• Teacher ratios were still small.
• Children and teachers attended
mainstream classes. Expended core
options were taught in the Unit.
• Resources were on time
• Things were good
Our children achieved and they developed ‘more
then a few words’.
Deafblind Association of Queensland
• In 1990 with the help of parents and
community members we started the
Deafblind Association of QLD.
• One of our objectives was to expand
opportunities, language and
conceptual development for all
Deafblind children and adults.
• As a volunteer I visited many activity
centres and community homes.
• Closure of institutions could only be described as a blessing.
• Children were now placed in community homes or with host families.
• Where possible they were placed near where they were born.
• Environments were better, children now slept in their own room, had
their own clothes and possessions.
Observations Why so few words?
• Despite audiograms and visual acuity reports, no residents had been
acknowledged as Deafblind.
• All were classified as non-verbal and profoundly intellectually
• The policy of placing children near to their place of birth, meant
education was now at their local school.
• None were placed with access to staff with skills related to Deafness
• What stood out most was ‘Lack of interaction’.
‘The Survival Guide’
• With the help of my husband who took
photos. Bren and I demonstration critical
• The result was the development of ‘The
• The aim was to provide a resource that
showed carers how to do 40 basic Tactile
Signs associated with tasks undertaken in a
• This resource was provided free.
‘Opening communication Channels’
• Due to the success of ‘The Survival
Guide’ I later wrote an expanded version
‘Opening Communication Channels’.
• This book illustrated 120 tactile signs
and information to help start the
communication process that would lead
to simple expressive language.
Enter the nineties
• Integration was full on. Children with high incidence needs began to
attend units attached to schools. AVT’s were now need to assist
children with ASD, ADAH, and Learning difficulties.
• Despite this, the Budget for Special Education stayed the same.
• The few resources available were spread across the state.
• No new staff were employed.
• Specialised teacher training was directed towards new teaching
• From 1992-95 I undertook duties to investigate: How many Deafblind
students were in educational facilities through out the state?
• To ensure accurate numbers the project requested
‘That all children regardless of other difficulties be included if they have
both an abnormal audiogram and a visual acuity report.’
‘Good Practices in Education for Students who are Deafblind’
• 70 children were identified as Deafblind and 59 at
risk pending testing. P. 25.
• As with community homes nearly all were placed
on the data base as either intellectually impaired
or autistic. P.25.
Nearly all were attended Special Schools or Units
attached to mainstream schools. Class ratios
(teacher : students) were between 5-12. P.27.
Few received assistance from AVT’s,
State-wide Education Advisor Deafblindness
• In 1996 I was made a State-wide Education
Advisor to assist Deafblind children
throughout the State of Queensland.
• Some how I was expected visit and provide
advice to over two hundred students with a
budget of $2500.
• I did the best I could.
Observations: Why So few words?
• I saw as many children and associated
staff as I could.
• A range of disabilities now crowded
• Teacher Aids were often the ones
assigned to the Deafblind child.
• Most of the Deafblind children I saw
no or little language.
A new state of affairs had arisen
• Class sizes had ballooned to 6 plus students
• Often multi classes were in one large room
• It was rare for staff to have any signing skills, those that did tended to
only use the ‘Famous Five’ (toilet, eat, drink, more and want).
• No one knew braille
• There were few suitable resources.
• Rooms were continually changing, desks and equipment moved.
• Rooms were noisy with not only children and staff but many visitors.
During this time I
formulated a teacher aide
guide to help assist school
This guide consisted of 7
critical sections to assist
Contents of the Teacher aide Guide
• Learning to interact
• ‘Eat time’,
• Dressing and ablutions
• Well Being
• After staff training some of these children did develop language. The
magic number of receptive signs required to achieve expressive signs
appeared to be 250.
• Interestingly this is the same number of receptive words most
toddlers under stand when they first begin to express words.
• Children who developed the most language were all in Deaf units.
‘The Learning Place’ Deafblind Site
• To help spread skills related to tactile signing I designed and set up an
online tactile dictionary on EQ’s ‘Learning Place’ web site.
• Using home photos taken by my husband of Bren and I demonstration
• About 300 these signs were placed on this site.
In 2006 due to my child having cancer I took time off.
On my return I was told bluntly in front of a full staff meeting (after
questioning what would happen in the Deafblind area)
‘That some disabilities can’t be served’ NR (central office)
I retired in 2010 from EQ, the Deafblind site was deleted.
Passion does not go away
• Even though I have retired as a teacher it has still not stopped me
from do what I can to help deafblind children develop language.
• I still provide professional development training to staff related to
‘The Tactile Sign Dictionary’
• 7 years ago I also embarked on a project to
develop a Dictionary of Tactile Signs.
• The dictionary’s emphasis is on showing how
manual signs can be converted to a variety of
different tactile signs: ‘Hand Under Hand, Co-
Vocab includes signs need for core and
extended core curriculum, lifestyle and medical
and many other areas of need.
• This Dictionary is still a work in progress.
We will not have ‘More words’ until:
• High needs disability v’s Low incidence Disability.
• Deafblindness needs to be seen as the ‘High’ not the ‘Low’
• Generics don’t work for ‘High Needs Disabilities’.
• Vision and hearing are our major senses for learning. For this reason
vision and hearing need to be placed at the top of data base lists.
• Deafblindness is recognised as a separate disability with a separate
funding base (generic funds are too easily reassigned). We don’t want
rhetoric and promises, rather implemented action.
We will not have ‘More Words’ until:
• Teacher training course related to Deafblindness are continuously
available. (Renwick University has been shining a great light here.)
• Band-aide courses help, but are not sufficient to change old ways.
• Teacher ratios return to one for each two students or less.
• Specialist for the deafblind are placed in day and residential schools.
We will not have ‘More Words’ until:
• Environments inside schools where students who are Deafblind are
taught need to be made Deafblind friendly.
• I.e. One class per room, lighting, acoustics, Braille signage need to be
• Sufficient budgets are mandated to provide disability specific physical
resources for all extended core areas and core curriculum areas. I.e.
models, tactile diagrams, braille materials, etc.
‘More Words’ about Deafblindness
• Pinterest site. Sandyjoint@pinterest.com
• There are 10,000 pins clustered under topics
such as maths for deafblind children, braille for
deafblind children etc.
• Twitter: SandyJoint@sandyjoint
• Workshops can be accessed by contacting
firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you
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