Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Sue Ouellette
Sue Ouellette

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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

June 7, 2007

NIU’s Institute on Deaf-Blindness begins Monday

DeKalb — Nearly 40 years after the death of Helen Keller, the need for expertly trained professionals in the realm of deaf-blindness remains great.

Accordingly, Northern Illinois University will reconvene its annual Institute on Deaf-Blindness from June 11 through June 29 at the Holmes Student Center. The Helen Keller National Center, NIU’s partner in the program, provides many of the trainers.

Funding for the institute, which focuses on employment issues, comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration.

Fifteen students, all of whom are professional rehabilitation counselors, travel to DeKalb from around the country for day-long sessions geared to enhance their sense of confidence and qualification to serve this population.

Ultimately, however, institute leaders hope the participants make a significant impact on their local clients or on the profession itself.

“The number of individuals who are deaf-blind is small,” said Sue Ouellette, chair of NIU’s Department of Communicative Disorders, “ but these people have very definite needs as adults in terms of preparing to enter the world of work and living independently.”

Several sessions are planned, including “Optional Sign Language Instruction,” “Audiological Aspects of Deaf-Blindness,” “Transition and Employment,” “Using Interpreters Effectively,” “Assistive Technology” and “Assessment and Treatment of Mental Health Issues with Individuals who are Deaf-blind.”

Jamie McNamara Pope, executive director of the American Association of the Deaf-Blind, is the keynote speaker. Field trips are planned to the Milwaukee Center for Deaf-Blind and the Chicago Lighthouse.

This year’s institute also coincides with Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness week, scheduled for June 24 to June 30. Keller’s birthday was June 27, 1880.

Students in the program earn 15 credit hours for their work, which includes distance learning afterward as they complete projects under the supervision of NIU faculty.

“They’ve done some really good works over the years,” Ouellette said.

“We often have deaf, deaf-blind and blind participants who themselves are practicing rehab counselors along with sighted and hearing people. It’s an interesting mix. We have a bevy of interpreters working,” she added. “All of our presenters are nationally known in their areas of expertise, and they include presenters who are themselves deaf-blind. Many of the presenters are arranged in cooperation with the Helen Keller National Center.”

NIU initially launched the institute in response to a troubling gap between specialists in blindness and specialists in deafness, most of whom “shied away” from deaf-blindness, Ouellette said. “It was difficult to find qualified rehabilitation professionals to serve this population,” she said.

The Department of Communicative Disorders is part of NIU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

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