Western Oregon University receives $2.1 million to increase support for DeafBlind individuals

MONMOUTH, Ore. – The DeafBlind Interpreting National Training & Resource Center (DBI) in Western Oregon University’s Research & Resource Center with Deaf* Communities received a $2.1 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). The grant supports the DBI’s work to increase the number of qualified Protactile language interpreters with the expertise to effectively interpret communication exchanges with DeafBlind individuals. This work also aims to address distantism in interpreted interactions, which refers to the privilege of distancing senses (hearing and vision) and not needing touch as a means of communication. 

This is the second grant DBI has received from RSA and funds projects for five years, beginning Oct. 1, 2021, and continues work that began in 2017. The DeafBlind Interpreting Institute is a signature project of this grant. The institute creates intensive immersions for DeafBlind educators to train Protactile language interpreters. The work new to this second grant cycle includes developing a Protactile language assessment and prioritizing key states with larger concentrations of DeafBlind individuals. Work during the first grant cycle included training nearly 30 DeafBlind leaders, training over 150 interpreters to work with DeafBlind individuals in the United States, and the creation of online video modules that have been viewed by nearly 5,000 people.

“The global pandemic underscored and clarified the need for touch. Most especially in the DeafBlind community who was further marginalized and isolated through the demand to physically distance. All at the same time as a new language­–Protactile–had been birthed in the DeafBlind community,” CM Hall, DBI co-director said. “We have an opportunity to bring DeafBlind experts in to train interpreters to connect and touch DeafBlind folks who have been left out and cast aside in the pandemic. The importance of this work could not be more timely.”  

The grant will allow DBI to continue to serve as a resource center providing educational and professional development opportunities and technical assistance, with a state-of-the-art repository for interpreters, vocational rehabilitation professionals, interpreter educators, employers of interpreters, and service providers. The training content and materials will be regularly disseminated through online activities and will continue to be retrievable via the DBI website and digital commons archive.

John Lee Clark, a DeafBlind poet, author, and DBI consultant said of the grant award, “Cultivating the professional growth of interpreters and their Protactile skills is not merely a project, but truly a cause. A meaningful and transformative way to bring about progress that benefits all DeafBlind people, directly and systemically.” 

Project staff includes CM Hall & Heather Holmes as co-principal investigators and directors, Elayne Kuletz as web manager and Konnie Sayers as grant administrative support. DBI’s DeafBlind consultants and educators include Jelica Nuccio, John Lee Clark, Jason “Jaz” Herbers, Hayley Broadway and Najma Johnson who provide cultural competency training to the interpreter participants.

For more information about DBI, visit DBInterpreting.com.