What is an intervener?

I am Corrina Veesart, an active member of DBCA. In this second blog, I bring into focus the term “intervener”. Before I go into a detailed discussion of what an intervener is, let me say that it is a part of our mission as an organization to advocate for children who are deafblind to have equal access to every aspect of American life, including but not limited to school and related programs and services.

So what is an intervener? In the United States, an intervener works in school and community type settings to support children and/or adults in their learning and access to the environment. They are there to provide equal access to the environment within either setting. It’s the goal that deafblind students have the same kind of access as typical students and community members. An intervener is different than a Primary Support Teacher which I had in high school. Rather, an intervener is more similar to an Educational Interpreter who has had experience and training working with deafblind students. They provide  support in the classroom and school environment, so the deafblind student can have equal and full access to classmates, teachers, navigating the class or school campus, or information being discussed. If they know sign language or are interpreters, they may provide interpreting as well as guiding and visual and audio information to the deafblind student. Intervener may use various forms of alternative communication techniques depending upon the indivdual’s needs.

Another similar service is the Support Service Provider (SSP).  An SSP works to support the deafblind individual within the community or other casual settings such as the home.  Their goal is to provide the person who is deafblind with equal and full access. As an example, SSPs might provide support by reading the mail to the deafblind person if that is needed. The SSP may take the deafblind person to the store, and describe what they see around them,  be a guide to a certain aisle,  locate specific items, read labels, etc. It all depends on what the deafblind person’s needs are. A guide might be needed through airport security, or for support in claiming baggage.  At a party, an SSP would describe what types of food they see set out on the table or whom present. The deafblind person is responsible for making their own decisions and choices based on the information the SSP provides about emotions, the environment, people, or places.  SSPs and interveners both strive to provide as much access as they can in what ever  environment they are working.

In other countries, there are similar services that aim to reduce or eliminate barriers to equal participation in school or community settings. For example, in Canada, I believe they use what is known as “intervenor” both in the school setting AND as SSPs. They are called the same thing in either role. They call both positions intervenor. They can work either within the school or the community.

In my experience, while I never personally worked with an intervener, I did have support in school. I could never have succeeded in high school without my Primary Support Teacher. She was a certified teacher for the deaf with training from the Perkins Institute to work with deafblind students. She coordinated my learning and instruction. We had our own space where we worked one to one. She coordinated with the general education teachers and provided supplemental, individual instruction as needed, to support my participation in typical high school  classes.  I attended those classes with an interpreter. Every period or two we alternated between typical general education classes, and my individual instruction with the primary support teacher. She would make my textbooks accessible, scan materials, teach me math with black cardboard to contrast  with coins, make tactile science projects and sit down with me to explain the science projects.  As my primary support teacher, she provided instruction and adapted materials to support my learning. I stayed in high school a fifth year to work on completing  English and Science classes which I was behind in. Much of my success is attributed to having the Primary Support Teacher and  educational interpreters.  My Educational Interpreters would serve as a guide, describe  visual information, describe audio information, and  facilitate communication with fellow classmates, teachers, etc. The one to one support of the Primary Support Teacher was an important link to my learning and success in the general education classes.

People often seem to recognize the need for support for school age children to access their education. I think that both children and college age students deserve what ever support matches their needs. Children and adults will require a different kind of support based on their age and needs. But they both share the same universal need for equal access to education and community life. Their education and lives matters.  The needs of individuals who are deafblind vary greatly.

That is why we at DBCA strive for a barrier-free society where every child and adult is able to participate fully in the society. As students or professionals or simply fellow human beings, deafblind people need appropriate supports to compensate the dual nature of vision and hearing loss. Interveners, like SSPs, are critical to realizing this goal. That is why we are, together with our partners such as the American Foundation for the Blind and National Family Association for DeafBlind, supporting the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act (Cogswell-Macy Act), which among other things aims to provide interveners across the country.