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Deep in the heart of Texas.

In 1991, the Texas Commission for the Blind embarked upon a new venture for Texans who are deaf-blind with the inauguration of a comprehensive, community-based apartment program for working adults able to maintain their own apartments with limited supervision. Prior residential services were limited to three group homes that could accommodate 21 people, most of whom were unable to live without constant supervision.

A community-based program was chosen to give the consumers more opportunities to live near people with varying interests and skills. According to Bet Weatherhead, Supervisor of the Deaf-Blind Community-based Apartments, some hearing residents in the apartment complex are learning sign language so they may communicate with their new neighbors.

Setting up the Program

With cooperation from the Austin Housing Authority, which administers the Section 8 program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Commission received 10 waivers for low income housing. This assistance allows a percentage of income to pay for rent, and residents are required to work in order to participate in the program.

Thirty-five apartment managers were contacted before one would consider housing the program. An apartment in a small complex, located near a bus route, grocery store, pharmacy, bank, a hair salon, and several restaurants, was rented for an office. A supervisor was hired, who subsequently hired seven employees - one secretary and three full-time and three part-time residential managers - to operate the program. Minimum qualifications included conversational sign language, knowledge of deaf culture, and at least 1 year of experience working with individuals who are deaf-blind. Since Austin is the capital as well as the location of the Texas School for the Deaf, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center for the Blind, many qualified persons applied.

The job description for the supervisor's position requires the supervisor to assist vocational rehabilitation counselors and deaf-blind specialists in locating employment for consumers. The residential managers also assist in this effort by serving as job coaches. The availability of the residential managers to serve as job coaches has not only saved the counselor countless hours of trying to locate a job coach with sign language skills, but has also provided the consumer with a coach who is familiar with the unique skills of the individual residents.

Training the residents is a significant part of the residential manager's workload. While residents receive extensive training prior to moving into the program, some training is ongoing. Braille, budgeting, cooking, sign language/TDD skills, transportation, and health management are some of the many classes held when a resident is not at his/her job. Residential managers are required to teach these skills in individual and group classes.

Locating Residents

Individuals who had previously indicated their interest in a program such as this were notified when the program began. Some of these folks became the first residents, while others changed their minds, deciding Austin was too far or that they simply were not ready to leave home.

One of the first consumers to move into the program had been living in a group home for lower functioning adults. Through cooperation with another state agency, the case was transferred to the Texas Commission for the Blind, which is the agency in Texas mandated to work with Texans who are deaf-blind and able to work competitively. With assistance from apartment staff and a deaf-blind specialist, the new resident was able to relocate and find and maintain employment. A profile of this remarkable woman is included at the end of this article.

After several persons were placed in the apartments, it became apparent that a screening process was needed to assure that consumers had received sufficient training in order to maintain their own apartment safely and that they were capable of doing so. Fortunately, the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center for the Blind, part of the Commission, provides adults with comprehensive training in all areas and has an independent living apartment component that helps consumers realize their strengths and weaknesses. The Criss Cole program, coupled with the Commission's Vocational Diagnostic Unit, has assisted greatly in eligibility determination for the apartment program.

Apartment Readiness

For most of the consumers, this was their first apartment; therefore, the acquisition of furniture was of paramount importance. The Criss Cole Center had remodeled recently and therefore was able to donate its old furniture. (Criss Cole also donated a station wagon for the project.) Several thrift stores in the area have proven to be useful training grounds for comparison shopping.

Residents are also able to take advantage of the Loaner Equipment Program in the Commission's Deaf-Blind Services Department, which allows residents to borrow equipment which they have been trained on until their own equipment arrives or until broken or lost equipment is replaced. Adaptive equipment includes assistive listening devices (Personal FM Systems and hard-wired devices), assistive signaling devices (for the doorbell, telephone, smoke alarm, alarm clock, and for paging), telephone devices (TDD's, large display TDD's, Telebrailles, and amplifiers), closed-circuit televisions, braille devices, television amplifiers, closed caption units, and mobility flashlights.


Through the assistance of the Career Guidance Department at Criss Cole and the Commission's Vocational Diagnostic, Employment Assistance, and Adaptive Technology Units, many of the consumers moving into apartments already have an idea of what kind of employment they would like. The consumer meets with his/her vocational rehabilitation counselor, one of the agency's four specialists in deaf-blindness, and with the supervisor of the apartment program to determine strategies for obtaining employment. These staff members begin contacting employers and, following a thorough job analysis, match the resident to a job. Apartment staff or professional interpreters assist with communication in the job interview.

Volunteer work experiences often help residents and staff determine the appropriateness of a job. At times, the volunteer experiences result in paid employment for the residents. Apartment residents have been employed as grocery assistants, dishwashers, busboys, assemblers, and file clerks.


Recreation is planned according to individual wants and needs. As a group, residents and staff have gone to Fiesta Texas Theme Park in San Antonio and they have chartered a boat on Lake Travis in the Texas Hill Country. Attending gym classes and maintaining a plot at the Austin Community Gardens are two weekly activities.


To be eligible for the Deaf-Blind Community Based Apartments or services from the Deaf-Blind Services Department of the Texas Commission for the Blind an individual must be a resident of Texas and legally blind (20/200 best correction, or a visual field of no greater than 20 degrees) and have a hearing impairment so severe that normal conversation cannot be understood even with optimum amplification (or the prognosis that such a condition win exist).

Causes of deaf-blindness for each of the residents vary. Several residents are disabled due to Usher syndrome, two due to congenital rubella, one due to Leber's congenital amarosis, and one resident, who has dual sensory losses due to trauma, recently learned he is also diabetic. Through the diabetes specialist at the Commission, this individual and the apartment staff have learned a great deal about managing this disease. Usher syndrome, congenital rubella, and trauma are the most common etiologies of the 300 deaf-blind Texans served each year by the Commission.

Communication modes in the apartment are determined by needs. Two of the residents are totally blind and deaf and require tactual sign language, two of the residents are hard of hearing and require amplification, and the remaining residents communicate through sign language at a close distance or in a limited field.

If a referral is not an appropriate candidate for this program, staff will work with other agencies to locate a more suitable placement. Texas now has five group homes specifically for deaf-blind Texans, four of which are funded largely through the Texas Rehabilitation Commission and one which is coordinated through a private agency. The Texas Department of Mental Health/Mental Retardation and the Texas Department of Human Resources also provide financial assistance on an individual basis.


In addition to the extensive resources available through the Commission, consumers and apartment staff have access to an array of services available to all Texans who are deaf-blind. The Helen Keller National Center, for which the Texas Commission for the Blind is the Texas affiliate, has an office in Dallas and houses the regional representative and the specialist for older adults who are deaf-blind. The Interagency Task Force for Future Services to Deaf-Blind, now in its 17th year, is a collaborative effort of 13 state agencies and organizations dedicated to networking and improving services. Three statewide groups, the Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas, the Texas Deaf-Blind Association (a chapter of the American Association of Deaf-Blind), and the Texas Commission for the Blind's Usher Syndrome Type II Support Group assist consumers, their families, and the professionals working with them.

The Texas Association for Retinitis Pigmentosa, housed in Corpus Christi, the Texas Commission for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired, and the Deaf-Blind Outreach Team of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired provide information and referral services for people with these dual sensory losses.

Growing Pains

Freedom and independence do not come without their problems. One resident, while learning to manage his money and a new checking account, had endeared himself to the banking staff in such a way that they did not bother to check his account when he withdrew money. The result was an overdrawn account.

One resident is presently dealing with the loss of his pet cat, whom he had named Bubba since "bubba" is the only sound he can consistently verbalize. One couple is learning the difficulties of dating; one man was having problems acquiring his citizenship; and one person has (hopefully) learned the results/consequences of drinking too much beer!

Other issues resulted from residents having to move. After one consumer completed training and moved into the program, she began having delusions related to Traumatic Stress Disorder. While many of the residents have problems in addition to their vision and hearing losses, staff was not able to provide the needed services, and she soon returned to the home of her family.

Another resident was successfully maintaining his own apartment and working 40 hours a week for the first time in his life. He stated that he had never been happier. Unfortunately, his mother had problems with his new found independence and insisted he return home.

Community Awareness

In addition to the numerous responsibilities already mentioned, apartment staff has provided training to other agencies/organizations, including the Southwest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf in Big Spring, where deaf students are learning to work with people who are deaf-blind. Apartment staff also holds sign language classes weekly for the staff of a local grocery/restaurant where two people in the program work.

Residents are also contributing to the community. On their days off, two of the residents are teaching braille and sign language to people who are deaf-blind and in other programs.

To date, nine consumers live in the Deaf-Blind Community Based Apartments and three more consumers are preparing to move into the program. In addition, senior citizens who are deaf-blind and need minimum assistance have been encouraged to move into the program if they are able to pay the full rent.

Recently, the Commission has acquired four interns from the Interpreter Training Program at the Austin Community College. The Commission provided training on deaf-blindness to the interns, who will now assist residents by interpreting in the community.

To illustrate how the program functions, what follows is a typical day for one of the residents.

Ila Mae Windham is a woman who has been totally deaf all of her life and totally blind since 1982. She graduated from the Texas School for the Deaf and has received training at the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center. To communicate, she prefers American Sign Language, which she receives tactually.

She wakes up at approximately 7:30 a.m. in her own apartment in the Deaf-Blind Community Based Program. After preparing breakfast in her microwave, which has been brailled and marked with raised lines, she gets dressed and puts on her Silent Call receiver. This adaptive equipment alerts her to visitors or emergencies. She recently obtained a Telebraille which is allowing her to use the telephone for the first time since she lost her vision.

Ila Mae is rarely bored. She is constantly either writing poetry on her Braille-N-Print, allowing readers of either braille or print to enjoy her work; or she is creating artwork for an upcoming holiday. She also takes pleasure in planning field trips and hosting parties.

Other uses for her Braille-N-Print include making grocery lists and preparing budgets. In order to get to the grocery store, she receives assistance from the apartment staff; Other residents, however, prefer to arrange their own transportation for shopping.

In the afternoon, Ila Mae readies for work. She is picked up in the afternoon at 3:30 p.m. by the Austin Special Transit System. This service is prearranged via the Telebraille that she is learning to use. The drivers ring her doorbell, triggering her Silent Call System and notifying her of their arrival. She returns home around 9:15 p.m. using the same transportation.

At work, Ila Mae rolls silverware for a restaurant. She carries a communication book, written in braille, English, and Spanish, which allows her to communicate with her coworkers. She raises a flag to indicate she is ready for more utensils or wishes to communicate with someone.

Upon her return home, she frequently walks to the office for assistance in reading her mail and to have the news interpreted to her by either apartment staff or one of her friends in the program who is able to read print. Before leaving, she generally plays with the apartment cat, Thompson, and makes sure he has been fed.

On Wednesdays, she enjoys going out to lunch with her friends, and twice a week she goes to exercise class at the Criss Cole Center. On Saturdays, she goes with the "gang" to work in the Community Gardens. On Sunday, she goes to church. One Sunday, however, she waited for volunteers from her church to pick her up. They never came. She later learned that the church volunteers accidentally picked up someone else who was waiting to go to a different church. Consequently, the neighbor visited Ila Mae's church and Ila Mae did not attend church at all that Sunday

In a recent television interview, Ila Mae explained that she has bounced from program to program over the years. She added, "I lived in a nursing home in Dallas. Now I live by myself, and I work. It is a new situation for me and it is wonderful!"

The poems on this page share her feelings about her new life.


Deaf and blind woman Ila Mae Windham Moved into new apartment Feel her life stay.

Life began Cooking in her own kitchen Reading braille in own living room Shopping for food Searching for art supplies. Happy, come see.

Exercise Work Travel Austin places Happy, come see.

Cook new food Stay with fry pans Potluck, Lutheran Church Bring Ila Mae pleasure. Happy, come see.

Deaf and blind woman Feel her life best Many futures in new apartment. Happy, come see!


Happy all people Cat Thompson comes Lays on soft pillow in big box In bathtub.

Wake up Go outside to field Watch Catch green and black lizards, brown squirrels Birds, mice, rats Return

Come see Cat Thompson Tired, resting, sleeping, laying on soft pillow in big box In bathtub.

Cat Thompson See doctor, vet. Feel it go body well. Get new medicine Feel it go body well. Come see Cat Thompson happy Too much cat food and water Go rest Lay with soft pillow in big box In bathtub

Mr. Feille is Supervisor of Deaf-Blind Services, Texas Commission for the Blind, Austin.
COPYRIGHT 1995 U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Deaf-Blindness; Deaf-Blind Community Based Apartments
Author:Feille, Randy
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Jun 22, 1995
Previous Article:A specialized approach to job readiness training.
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