NDCPD at Minot State receives federal grant to serve deaf-blind

Grant serves people with deaf-blindness across the state

Submitted Photo Brent Askvig, professor of special education at Minot State University.

Minot State University’s North Dakota Center for Persons With Disabilities has received a five-year federal grant to provide training and technical assistance for people up to age 21 who are experiencing both vision and hearing loss.

Brent Askvig, professor of special education, will direct the project.

Askvig was also the project director from 1994 to 1999, when Minot State previously held the grant. The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction had held the grant since 1999. But when the project director at DPI retired and moved on, DPI, the School for the Deaf and the School for the Blind asked Askvig and NDCPD to apply for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, grant.

“It’s a great project,” said Askvig, who said the grant will provide assistance to people all over the state.

NDCPD will receive $78,000 per year during the five-year grant and will use the funds to provide information, training and technical supports to the families of the children and to people who work with them.

“We are excited about this opportunity to provide these services to children who experience unique and sometimes complicated issues related to their vision and hearing abilities,” Askvig said in a press release.

Askvig reiterated in an interview last week that children who have both hearing and vision loss quite often also have other co-existing disabilities. Of 33 children in the state who were identified as having deaf-blindness, some 26 of them also had other disabling conditions, including physical, intellectual or health complications.

Askvig said 33 is probably a low number for the number of young people in the state who have both a vision and a hearing loss.

“We have very few children under five on our census,” said Askvig.

One of his goals in working with the grant is to identify children who have deaf-blindness from an early age so they can receive needed services and interventions. Not all of the young people served by the grant are totally deaf or totally blind, but they all have some degree of both hearing and vision impairment.

Other goals for the grant include instruction in math and reading, support for including them in a regular classroom, helping young people nearing adulthood to access available services in the community when they become adults, education and support for their families, and gathering data about this population in the state.

The grant doesn’t provide funding for direct education in a classroom, but there is funding for training and technical assistance for people who teach kids with deaf-blindness, as well as for early childhood specialists, state agency representatives and for some families.

“We might work directly with professionals who provided screening and diagnostic services to children, so that they might better identify children who might have deaf-blindness,” Askvig said in the press release. “Or we might provide parent training so that family members can request high quality programming for their children. Or we might provide in-depth technical assistance so that school districts can deliver quality education for children with deaf-blindness. All our supports will be based on local need. Our access to national resources and partners allows NDCPD to connect educators, families and administrators with the best people and the best practices to solve complex educational issues for these children.”

There are now many more options for this population than there were when he was working with the grant 20 years ago.

“The degrees of technology and other kinds of support for children now are just phenomenal,” Askvig said.

For instance, many people who hard of hearing might receive a cochlear implant, which makes it possible for them to hear sounds. There are also more vision aids. Using a sensory touch braille machine, someone who has a vision and/or hearing loss can use a portable computer-like device to read braille with their finger tips almost at the same time someone is speaking.

There are several grant partners, including N.D. School for the Deaf, the N.D. School for the Blind/Vision Services, Family Voices of ND, ND Hands and Voices, and the N.D. Department of Public Instruction-Special Education.

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