Tools for Independence

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Disability Rights Laws

Several important laws establish government-mandated accessibility to buildings, businesses, services, and information for people with disabilities. Three of the major federal disability rights laws in the United States are the Rehab Act, IDEA, and ADA.

  • In the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 requires accessibility to government buildings; Section 508 requires accessibility to federally-sponsored electronic media such as the Internet.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires all children with disabilities to have access to a “free appropriate public education” that meets their unique needs and prepares them for independent living and employment. (It is also formerly known as Public Law 94-142 of 1975)
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 sets specific accessibility standards and provides legal protection in employment, state and local government, public transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications.

See also Laws, Legal Rights, and Advocates from Minnesota Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services for local and national information links.

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Support Personnel and Service Animals

Specially-trained people and animals provide access to communication, interaction, and environmental sights and sounds to a person who is DeafBlind. Here are some options if you are interested in pursuing a career working with deafblind people.

  • Interpreter: mediates between Deaf/DeafBlind and Hearing cultures, and interprets communication between a natural sign language (such as ASL) and spoken language (such as English). See also Minnesota Interpreter Referral Page.
  • Transliterator: provides communication access between two forms of one language, such as between signed English and spoken English, or between cued English and spoken English.
  • Intervener: “a trained individual who works one-to-one with a child or student who is deafblind in home, school, and community settings… to facilitate a process that creates access to visual and auditory information…” They may mentor the consumer on independent living skills.
  • Support Service Provider (“SSP”): accompanies the DeafBlind consumer on errands or at community events, describing the sights and sounds of the environment so the consumer can make informed decisions and be as self-sufficient as possible. SSPs can be Deaf or hearing, and may help facilitate communication, but do not interpret.
  • Sighted Guide: each of the above support personnel commonly also acts as a sighted guide. (See more information in How do DeafBlind people get around?.)
  • Note Taker: takes notes during a class or meeting and gives a copy to the DeafBlind person. This is helpful because it is nearly impossible to write in print or braille while using one’s hands and/or eyes to take in tactile or visual communication.
  • Service Dogs: Types include guide dogs, hearing dogs, seizure response dogs, companion dogs, facilities dogs, combination dogs. See also Service Dog Resources and Service Animals in Places of Business. You may also wish to consult a worldwide list of guide dog schools where blind people receive dogs and training.

For more insight into how support personnel are used, read a presentation about interveners and SSPs. It was presented in American Sign Language by two DeafBlind professionals, interpreted into spoken English, transcribed into open captions, and later posted on the Internet.

For more information about interpreters and SSPs see The National Curriculum: An Introduction to Working and Socializing with People Who Are Deaf-Blind.

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Assistive Technology and Independent Living Aids

Many tools are available that allow a person with a disability to independently perform tasks that would not otherwise be accessible to him or her. These tools include the Internet and assistive technology equipment — both high-tech and low-tech.

The Internet

DeafBlind people can use the Internet to communicate and interact with people all over the world, shop for goods and services, learn through distance learning, and more. Before the Internet, a DeafBlind person more often needed support personnel to help them complete these tasks.

Shopping on the Internet

  • Online Shopping Beginners Basics - how to shop safely and successfully online.
  • Online grocery shopping resources: Simon Delivers (based in Minneapolis/St. Paul), NetGrocer.

Finding Accessible Information Online

  • Great Text Links is an enormous selection of web sites that are text and speech friendly. Categoried by topic.
  • See our Resources page for information on Internet resources for DeafBlind people.

High-Tech Equipment

  • For Vision Loss - computer adaptations such as braille display, screen enlarging software, screen-reading software, alternative input devices for people who can’t use a standard keyboard and/or mouse, braille or talking personal data assistants (PDAs), braille embossers, closed-circuit television (CCTV).
  • For Hearing Loss - telecommunications devices for the deaf (also known as TTYs, TDDs, or text phones) - in regular print, large print, or braille; other telephone equipment, captioning, vibrating alarm clocks and signalers for the doorbell, oven time, baby monitor, telephone; hearing aids, cochlear implants, and assistive listening device. See also Assistive Technology page from DeafWeb Washington.

Low-Tech Equipment

  • For Vision Loss - check-writing guide (provides a raised outline of where to write on the check), braille slate (for writing braille by hand), magnifying glass, black felt-tip pen (for writing in large print), white cane and other mobility aids, hat or sunglasses to reduce glare and other visual adaptations.
  • For Communication - communication boards or systems with symbols in which a person who is deaf-blind may use by pointing, eye-gaze, or any other means he or she is physically capable.

Emergency Preparedness

For DeafBlind people, getting information about an emergency is critical. So is getting adequate access to services to deal with the effects of an emergency, and to recover from it. The American Association of the Deaf-Blind provides a checklist for building an emergency plan.

Further Information

  • Technology Resources from DB-LINK - selected article summaries and resources.
  • Hands-on Assistive Technology - identifies useful assistive technologies that support learning and socialization for students with hearing or vision loss.
  • ABLEDATA on Sensory Disabilities - products listed by disability and by product use.
  • CODI: Assistive Technology Information - lots of links about assistive technology: vendors, uses, product types.
  • Harris Communications - assistive products designed for deaf, deafblind, and hard-of-hearing people. A Minnesota-based, Deaf-owned business.
  • Infinitec - helps people with disabilities and their families lean about and access life-enhancing technology. Products listed by disability type and product use.

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Consumer Advocacy Groups

Through consumer advocacy groups, people with disabilities and their allies unite to work toward better accessibility and quality of life. In fact, many consumer advocacy groups have worked over the last several decades — educating the public about disability and capability, lobbying the legislature, fighting discrimination, and changing attitudes. This work has made possible common present-day supports such as disability rights laws, support professionals, and assistive technologies.

Below is a list of some of the consumer advocacy groups run by and for people with sensory loss and other disabilities in Minnesota. For people who do not live in Minnesota, national affiliates (if available) are included in each organization’s description.

  • Minnesota DeafBlind Association (MDBA)
    1821 University Avenue West, Suite S-117
    St. Paul, MN 55104
    (651) 647-6564 Voice/TTY
    Send email
    Description: “As the only organization serving DeafBlind adults in Minnesota that is governed by DeafBlind consumers, MDBA is a focal point of the Minnesota DeafBlind community. MDBA’s DeafBlind leadership meetings, community workshops and special events allow DeafBlind people to thrive and flourish in a kinship of support and solidarity. Active since 1979, MDBA is committed to providing information, education, advocacy, and other services to persons who are DeafBlind, family members, and professionals.” Affiliated with the American Association of the Deaf-Blind.
  • Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens (MADC)
    Charles Thompson Memorial Hall
    1824 Marshall Avenue
    St. Paul, MN 55104
    Send email
    Description: A consumer advocacy organization, affiliated with National Association of the Deaf (NAD).
    Description: “Your Free Guide to the Twin Cities Deaf Community - Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN” Includes News, Events, Job Postings, Community Ads, and resource directories for Deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind people.
  • Black Deaf Advocates (BDA), Minnesota Chapter#25
    (763) 757-0452 FAX
    Send page or Send email to Kim Wassenaar
    Description: “The
    National BDA is the first and largest consumer organization for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people of color established in the United States… [In Minnesota] we have an active and motivated membership who meets monthly in the public library across from Thompson Hall [Merriam Park branch library at the corner of Fairview and Marshall in St. Paul]. Please join us! You don’t need to be Black or Deaf to join us. You just need to be an advocate.”
  • Metro Deaf Senior Citizens, Inc.
    1298 No. Pascal
    St. Paul, MN 55108
    (612) 647-0328 TTY
    (612) 647-9565 Voice
  • Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans (MCDHH)
    Street Address: 85 East 7th Place, Suite 105, downtown St. Paul
    Mailing Address: 444 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-3814
    (651) 431-5961 Voice; 1-888-206-2001 TTY; (651) 431-7588 Fax
  • BLIND Inc.
    100 E 22nd St · Minneapolis
    (612) 872-0100
    Send email
    Description: “the state’s largest and oldest organization of the blind. It provides self-help programs for blind people of all ages and activities.”
    Note: See also National Federation of the Blind - Deaf-Blind Division.
  • PACER Center
    8161 Normandale Boulevard
    Minneapolis, MN 55437-1044
    (952) 838-9000 Voice
    (952) 838-0190 TTY
    Toll-free in Minnesota: 1-800-537-2237
    (952) 838-0199 Fax
    Send email
    Description: “The mission of PACER Center is to expand opportunities and enhance the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families, based on the concept of parents helping parents. With assistance to individual families, workshops, and materials for parents and professionals, and leadership in securing a free and appropriate public education for all children, PACER’s work affects and encourages families in Minnesota and across the nation.” A national organization based in Minnesota.
  • Hearing Loss Association of America - Minnesota Chapters
    Description: “goal is to enhance the quality of life for people who are hard of hearing… by providing information, education, support and advocacy” Affiliated with the National HLAA.

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