The Center for Deaf-Blind Persons’ mission is to provide services needed to minimize the devastating effects of the combined vision and hearing loss upon the individual and family. This agency offers the support and skills training needed to assist individuals who are: deaf and losing vision, blind and losing hearing, losing both hearing and vision simultaneously and totally deaf and blind, to live independent productive lives.
In September 1983, the first meeting of a social group for adults with combined hearing and vision impairments met in donated space at the American Red Cross Building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Prior to the meeting, Ruth Silver, an individual with the dual sensory loss, together with dedicated volunteers researched the need and identified potential members. There were nine members and nine volunteer sign language interpreters at the first meeting. The group decided to meet monthly and after a few meetings named the club W.I.S.H. (With Impaired Sight and Hearing). Although participation in the group helped to reduce loneliness and was enjoyable, it was obvious from the outset that there were many members in need of training and support and that there was no agency in Wisconsin specializing in services to this population.
The Center for Deaf-Blind Persons, Inc. opened its doors part-time on January 10, 1985, in donated space at St. John’s Center (St. John’s School for the Deaf) with seed money from the Wisconsin Council of the Blind. This event was preceded by sixteen months of hard work on the part of a newly-formed Board of Directors who investigated the need, documented the lack of existing resources, wrote By-Laws, obtained non-profit status, located donated space, and implemented fundraising plans. Ruth Silver, founder of the Center, became the Executive Director. The agency started with five clients, one teacher, one volunteer director/teacher, and several Center-trained volunteers. By the end of the year, the agency was able to increase its hours of service and had served twenty-one clients and had helped another eight individuals through consultations or other agencies.
The Center was able to implement a Communication Learning Center, a unique program, which included training volunteers. Of the twelve volunteers (three deaf), nine were systematically trained to reinforce communication skills taught by the specialist. Their participation allowed the Center to increase its hours of operation, motivate clients to use their new skills, and allow clients extra hours to interact.
In its first year, the Center offered a public education program to heighten awareness as to the needs and potential of persons with a dual sensory loss. Thirty visitors to the Center observed and interacted with clients.
The Center was selected to become a Helen Keller National Center Affiliate.
Based on need, the agency implemented off-site services. The staff traveled to homes to provide support and instruction to persons unable to come to the Center for medical or other reasons. Follow-up services were also provided for Center-based clients needing reinforcement training at home.
Service to family members evidenced benefits to both clients and their families. Services included were support, information, instruction in communication methods, safe guiding techniques, and tips on day-to-day living.
Public awareness and education expanded to include workshops for University interpreter training students, and a deaf-blind awareness campaign targeting television, radio, newspaper coverage, and personal appearances.
The Center strengthened its vocational program for clients by working with their employers and extending hours of operations.
In addition to the expanding outreach efforts, the Center held its first open house. The event brought 143 professionals and community residents to the agency.
The Center served individuals from seven neighboring counties and received calls for information and consultation from throughout Wisconsin. Visitors came from as far away as New Zealand to observe the Center’s program and get ideas for developing services in their home community. A total of 173 persons toured the Center, some attending the second open house.
The Center implemented a support group for individuals to deal with issues of grief and loss due to deaf-blindness.
Members of the W.I.S.H. (With Impaired Sight-Hearing), the monthly social group took over its direction. They required adaptations for communication but otherwise took charge of planning and decision-making.
The Center leased space at the Marian Center (St. Mary’s Academy) and moved on May 31, 1991. To occupy the school’s former cafeteria, necessitated extensive renovations. These, together with setting up long-term lease arrangements, took two years to complete.
The Center opened its first high-tech lab, which offered computer instruction with Braille and large-print access.
Self-advocacy program was implemented.
The Center took an active part in the new Wisconsin Deaf-Blind Concerns Committee, continued to be represented on the Board of Directors of the American Association of the Deaf-Blind, and maintained its working relationship with the Helen Keller National Center.
In September, the Center’s renovation was completed. The space had been transformed to a model-training center for persons with combined hearing-vision impairments. In addition to classrooms for teaching high tech, low tech, and leisure skills–there was a small apartment setup that allowed for teaching independent living skills in a real-life setting.
At the request of the Milwaukee County Eye Institute, the Center director co-facilitated a new support group for older adults with combined hearing-vision impairments at the Institute.
The Center implemented a program of peer training. Interested clients learned to work as peer tutors, helping new clients to interact and reinforcing skills taught by Center instructors.
The Center entered into the first of a three-year collaborative employment project with three other agencies: IndependenceFirst (formerly SEWCIL), the Center for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, and Goodwill Industries. The project focused on securing competitive and supported job opportunities for the traditionally underserved deaf and deaf-blind. Northern Illinois University was a partner in the project, tracking and evaluating data.
The agency started working with its first transition-aged students. The Milwaukee Public Schools allowed two high school students with a dual sensory loss to spend time at the Center. This enabled the staff to work one-on-one on the assessed needs of each student and also provided the opportunity to offer the schoolteachers with useful deaf-blind specific procedures.
Mandated that the state of Wisconsin provide telephone access to every disabled resident, the Center was selected to be the demonstration site for telecommunication equipment for persons who are deaf-blind.
The Center began working with its first supported employment client, one of the new referrals to our Collaborative Employment Grant.
The Center implemented a Support Service Program. The Support Service Provider (SSP) was to empower individuals who are deaf-blind by providing assistance in community access and information, thereby allowing the client to interact in the community and make informed decisions.
The Center hired its first employment specialist.
The Center, with the support of the State of Wisconsin, established a Technology Drop-in Center for persons with a dual sensory loss.
Working with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Milwaukee County, the Center collaborated with other agencies on an employment project.
This year saw a fifteen percent increase in direct service hours.
The Center celebrated its fifteenth anniversary.
The successful completion of the first year of a two-year project, allowed the Center’s technology area to create a computer-training curriculum. Using Windows via keyboard commands (a tactile method) to replace the mouse, clients learned a variety of programs using Braille, large-print, or amplified speech.
The Center gave presentations in the Northern Illinois University Deaf-Blind Certificate Program, the Helen Keller National Center Affiliate Program, and a host of others.
Diane Jones became the Center’s second Executive Director and Ruth Silver, founder and first Executive Director was appointed Director Emeritus (2002).
The Center established new services for older adults. The new services were geared to older adults who had had normal sight and hearing and developed age-related losses. The initial project offered an interactive series of five presentations at retirement homes, meal sites, and the like. Seniors learned about hearing loss, vision loss, independent living tips, alternative communication, and coping strategies.
The Center established a second two-year technology project. It focused on research and development of adaptive software/equipment and training strategies.
Diane Jones resigned as the Center’s Executive Director and Ruth Silver was appointed Interim Executive Director (2004). Later, Paulette Bartelt was selected as the Center’s third Executive Director (2005).
The Center celebrated its twentieth anniversary. From its modest beginning, the Center had come to be nationally recognized as a program of exemplary services for persons with combined hearing-vision loss.
For the first time, the Center implemented Distance Training for one client and her family through State Telecommunications Relay Services and adaptive e-mail technology. At designated intervals, the client, traveled to the Center for demonstrations, checks on progress, and reinforcement. This distance training enabled the agency to reach beyond its customary geographic boundaries.
Paulette Bartelt –Monthei resigned as the Center’s Executive Director and later this year, Joan Schneider was selected as the Center’s fourth Executive Director.
A videophone for public use was installed at the Center.
A Deaf-Blind Communicator (portable print-to-Braille device with keyboard, Braille display and cell phone used to make phone calls and facilitate communication between persons who are deaf-blind and persons who are sighted) was acquired and a user guide was developed.
In June, the Wisconsin Hearing Loss Association hosted the Hearing Loss Association of America’s National Convention in Milwaukee and sponsored a “Walk4Hearing.” The Center’s staff and clients formed a team known as the “DeciBels” and participated in the very first Milwaukee Walk4Hearing fundraiser.
In honor of the Center’s 25th Anniversary, an Open House was held on September 30th. Approximately 150 people attended.
Branding marketing venture of connecting the people who are blind or are experiencing changes in vision with service providers is underway via the development of a portal website.
The federal government allocated $10 million each year of 2012 – 2014 for technical assistance (equipment and training) to individuals who are deaf-blind throughout the United States. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin submitted a grant proposal in collaboration with the Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Wisconsin Deaf-Blind Technical Assistance Project, and the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons.
The Center became an intern site for two students participating in the sign language interpreter training programs, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and Milwaukee Area Technical College.
The federal government allocated $10 million each year of 2012 – 2014 for technical assistance (equipment and training) to individuals who are deaf-blind throughout the United States. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin received these funds as a result of a grant proposal submitted in 2011 in collaboration with the Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Wisconsin Deaf-Blind Technical Assistance Project, and the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons. The intent of this collaboration was to capitalize on the existing infrastructure of TEPP (Telephone Equipment Purchase Program) that is under the auspices of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission and the expertise of professionals who work with individuals who are deaf-blind. Later it was revealed that this federal equipment distribution program needed to be completely separate from the state TEPP program. When the Wisconsin Public Service Commission received notification of the grant award in July of 2012, it was disclosed that they could not manage this grant. They could be the fiscal agent for it but could not manage it. At present, the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons is taking the lead role on this project. In this role, the Center will become aware of the needs of individuals who are deaf-blind throughout the state. For more information on this grant, please visit the following website: www.iCanConnect.org.
The Center did update its website. Please see: www.deaf-blind.org for the “new and improve” look.
The Center now has Apple products! With bluetooth capabilities in braille displays and Apple products, individuals who are deaf-blind now have a choice between PCs and Apple products. Due to Apple’s operating system already incorporating screen reading accessible features there is no need to purchase a separate screen reader program and worry about compatibility issues between various programs. However, it is a different operating system and if one is a savvy user of PCs, it may not be worth exploring Apple products.
Ms. Ruth Silver, founder of the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons, not only wrote a book but also had it published! “Invisible: My Journey through Vision and Hearing Loss” hit the bookshelves in June. A “Meet the Author” event took place at the Center on October 10, 2012.
“ConnectionsInSight” branding marketing website portal was launched in July with a press conference at Discovery World. Later that evening an art exhibit featuring artwork of various artists who are blind or with some type of vision loss was hosted at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The art exhibit served as a means to inform the medical professionals at the Medical College about the portal website. Please see: www.connectionsinsight.org for more information.
In September the Center had the honor of hosting five visitors from Bangladesh. Through the International Visitor Program, these individuals toured various community-based agencies to learn about their program services, and volunteerism in general.
“Cloud based” network server system installed.
The Center hosts the Connections in Sight Trinity Fellow from Marquette University and
two student interns pursuing sign language interpreting certificate through the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.
During a bus driver strike, one employer offers to provide transportation to working individuals who are deaf-blind.
Demand for employment services exceeds capacity, second employment specialist position created and position filled.
Open house celebration for the Center’s 30th Anniversary.
In December the Center receives letter from its landlord stating that the facility is closing July 1, 2016. The Center needs to find a new place to call home.
Board members scout properties for new location. Lease is negotiated. Project manager, contractor, and movers are obtained to aid with floor plans, demolition, build out, and move. The week of Thanksgiving is when the Center moved to its new location at 8306 West Lincoln Avenue in West Allis, Wisconsin.
Despite all the distractions with relocating, staff remained focused in providing services to our clients. Services were provided to 107 individuals.
The passing of the Center’s founder, Ruth Silver.
Over 11,000 hours of training were provided to individuals who are deafblind.
First statewide Support Service Provider training is sponsored by the Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing with Center staff providing the training.
Second statewide Support Service Provider training is sponsored by the Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in April with Center staff providing the training.
June 2018 Ruth Silver Legacy Celebration
Covid19 Epidemic. The following Center services were deemed essential: job development and placement, Support Service Providers services (assistance with grocery shopping, mail reading, and medical appointments when allowed), and the distance telecommunications program known as iCanConnect. Rehabilitation training services were suspended for two months during the Governor’s Safer at Home Order. Once this order expired, rehabilitation training services resumed. The monthly social group known as WISH did not meet for seven months. In December, WISH met virtually.
The iCanConnect program and the Center’s leisure program teamed together to provide a virtual leisure class. With the help of the Sunny Trails Day Camp of the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast Girls Scouts, 220 tactile project kits were assembled and are being mailed prior to class. Twelve individuals with the dual sensory loss of hearing and vision throughout the state of Wisconsin have participated in this class. They enjoy getting to know each other while doing the project.
Center hosted its first DeafBlind Awareness Week and kicked it off by being featured on Fox6 WakeUp News & Real Milwaukee. The staff conducted seven training webinars that were recorded and will be posted to YouTube. The Center’s FaceBook page posted staff and client stories.
WISH – the monthly social group attends the Wisconsin State Fair! They also attended the Milwaukee County Zoo. These were the only two outings this year. Other months’ gatherings were virtual.
The Center said “good bye” to: Ms. Juliette Welch, Co-Founder of the Center with Ruth Silver, Ms. Nancy Parey, Ruth Silver’s administrative assistant from 1998 – 2008, and Ms. Lynn Delarue, WISH Planning Committee Member and client at the Center. These amazing woman are greatly being missed by members of the monthly social group – WISH, and the staff.
The Center hosts its first Walk along with DeafBlind Awareness Week.