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Young girl, looking to her left, wearing a bright green shirt.Imagine that you are in an unfamiliar place and you cannot see or hear; or what you can manage to see and hear is highly distorted. Without warning, unfamiliar people are pulling you from one place to another; taking you to different activities that you cannot make sense of with your limited information. In addition, you may have few communication skills and can only express yourself through your behaviors. Your response may be one of panic and lashing out… and this is the experience that many children who qualify as deaf-blind go through every day.


Deaf-blindness creates a “disability of access” to visual and auditory information about the environment (people, things, events) that is necessary for learning, communication and development (Alsop et al., 2007, p.1). Most people learn through both direct instruction and incidental learning using their vision and hearing with little effort. For individuals with deaf-blindness, that information is either not available or is incomplete, distorted and unreliable. Even seemingly mild simultaneous vision and hearing losses can have a profound effect on a student and their ability to learn (Huebner, Prickett, Welch, & Joffee, 1995).


A skilled intervener is often necessary to provide access to information and address the unique learning needs of students who have combined vision and hearing losses. An intervener is usually a paraeducator who has specialized training and skills in deaf-blindness and works consistently one-to-one with the student. Working under the supervision of a classroom teacher, or another individual responsible for implementing a student's IEP, an intervener has four major roles:

    • to facilitate access to environmental information;
    • to facilitate the development and/or use of the student’s receptive and expressive communication skills;
    • to develop and maintain a relationship that promotes social and emotional well-being for the student who is deaf-blind; and,
    • provide support to help a student form relationships with others and increase social connections and participation in activities (Alsop et al., 2007).

In school settings, the intervener serves as a member of the student’s educational team and provides a means of gaining access to the curriculum for that student. In the IEP, interveners might be listed as a “related service” or as a “supplementary aid and service”.  For more information, or to share this information with others, download our "Interveners: What you need to know" brochure.

An intervener is more than a paraprofessional and not simply an interpreter.  In fact, an intervener may not even know sign language, depending upon how the student with whom they work communicates. In order to more fully understand the differences in these three roles - intervener, interpreter and paraprofessional, please review the chart below.

Intervener Paraprofessional Interpreter
Works under the direction of the classroom teachers Works under the direction of the classroom teacher Usually works independently in interpreting information
Assigned to work on-to-one with a student who is deaf-blind Usually works with groups of students, but can work one-to-one when assigned Usually does not have a consistent relationship with the individual
Must have comprehensive specialized training in deaf-blindness Typically does not receive disability specific training Usually does not have disability specific training
Facilitates the student’s connection to others by explaining and modeling the student’s communication system, acting as a bridge to the world, and creating a safe environment that encourages successful interactions Typically is not required to facilitate communication connections between students and others Translates information from one mode or language to another
Has skills in deaf-blind intervention including communication methods, sensory loss, deaf-blind instructional strategies, and how to create independence rather than dependence Has varying levels of skills dependent on assignment, experience, and training Does not have, nor is required to have these types of skills
Prepares materials for the student who is deaf-blind, with whom he/she works, with the teacher Responsible for materials preparation for entire class as assigned by the teacher Does not prepare materials in the classroom
Participates as an active member of the student’s team including attendance at IEP meetings in order to contribute valuable day-to-day knowledge of the student Generally does not attend IEP meetings Generally does not attend IPE meetings, unless present to translate for a participating student.
Maintains a trusting, teacher-student type of relationship Maintains a teacher-student type of relationship Is expected to keep a professional distance