American Association of the Deaf-Blind

A New Beginning


Results of Support Service Providers
(SSPs) Program Survey- 2012

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Elizabeth Spiers



March 2012

By Elizabeth Spiers
Chair- SSP Committee

The AADB SSP Committee wished to determine how SSP programs around the country are training their SSPs, if they are trained the same way, and if a standard curriculum is consistently being used.  A survey was sent to 22 SSP programs around the country in December 2011, and responses were completed in February 2012.  The committee used the list of SSP programs compiled by the Helen Keller National Center in November 2010. 

Eleven agencies responded.  Four were state agencies, six were non-profit agencies, and another was a regional office of a federal agency.  The SSP programs are located all around the country—four are in the West, three are on the East Coast, three are in the Midwest, and one is in the South.

The SSP programs offered answers to 15 survey questions, listed below. 

  •  How many consumers do you serve a month?

The SSP programs served an average of 21 deaf-blind consumers at any one time.  The largest number served was 35; the smallest served was 5.   One agency said it does not provide SSPs per se, but rather, interveners for deaf-blind children with developmental disabilities in the public school setting.  Three said they do not provide SSP services to consumers.

  •  Approximately how many SSPs do you have in your program? 

The largest number of SSPs served was 28, and the smallest was 5.  The average number of SSPs provided was 12.

  •  What skills do you look for in potential SSPs?

Skills desired were: knowledge of sign language and different modes of communication, knowledge of deafness, blindness and deaf-blindness, friendliness, compassion, knowledge of different modes of communication.  It is also helpful to be service oriented, have an excellent work ethic, and have the ability to set boundaries.  One agency said it prefers that the SSPs have a car with insurance. 

 Another agency set up more formal requirements as a result of a series of dialogues with the local deaf and deaf-blind community.  This program requires that SSPs be Deaf and fluent in ASL, or possess

  • a  Level 1 certification in its state Quality Assurance Program
  • 100 volunteer or practicum hours,
  • three reference letters from deaf-blind community members,
  • training through a local ITP class,
  • 10 CEUs from deaf-blind/SSP workshop,
  • one professional letter of reference from ITP staff
  • a current driver’s license or state ID card, and proof of auto insurance.
  •  How is your training funded?

Four programs are funded by state agencies for the blind/visually impaired or deaf/hard of hearing.  Four receive grants, donations and contributions through fundraisers or private foundations (one of these four gets funding from Medicaid waivers as well as county and state funds). One state agency provides intervener services, through state agency dollars.  Two do not provide training.

  •  How often do you provide training to your SSPs?


Training varies.  One agency trains SSPs monthly for two hours and also provides mini-training on such subjects as attire, van policies, Usher Syndrome or other needed topics. Two provide 8 hour trainings two times a year to about 8 to 12 SSPs per training. One agency arranges for experienced staff to train new staff to act as SSPs.  One agency trains SSPs on a rolling basis individually for about three to four hours each; this agency trains roughly 25 SSPs a year.  Three agencies do not provide training. Three have deaf-blind people train their SSPs while the coordinator provides follow-up.  One agency staff person said she provides one-on-one training because she does not have the budget to provide formal training to the SSPs she uses, although she provides some basic training on time sheets and agency policies.

  •  How many SSPs do you train at one time? 


Three SSP programs provide SSPs on a one-to-one basis.  Two train 6 to 12 SSPs two times a year for 8 hours each.  In three programs, deaf-blind people train their own SSPs.  Three programs do not train SSPs. 


  •  Do you use a standard curriculum for the training (such as the one used

by the Deaf-Blind Service Center in Seattle)?  Or do you develop
your own?  What subjects do you cover?

Most developed their own curricula to meet the needs of their deaf-blind consumers and their SSPs.  A couple used parts of the Deaf-Blind Service Center curriculum and a similar curriculum presented at Helen Keller National Center, with their own additions to fit the needs of their consumers and SSPs.

Most SSP programs covered such basics as deaf-blindness (types and causes), vision and hearing information, assistive techniques and technology, orientation and mobility, guiding techniques, tactile signing, and visual and auditory information.  A few do not have a formal curriculum, but present information on topics on which SSPs and deaf-blind consumers need more information.  One agency developed policies and procedures based on SSP curricula, and use these policies and procedures to train their staff (who serve as SSPs).

One SSP program uses a 10 hour module, which they based on the DBSC and HKNC curricula; they also added some of their own training materials.  They first give a 10 hour module.  During this training time, SSPs are encouraged to get up to 6 CEUs elsewhere (such as deaf-blind events and camps such as Seabeck, local deaf-blind associations or HKNC). 

The module provides

  • a brief explanation of SSPs
  • who is considered deaf-blind
  • the roles and responsibilities of an SSP,
  • how to relay visual and environmental information,
  • how to guide deaf-blind people and facilitiate communication
  • how to ask for and use qualified interpreters and when qualified interpreters are needed, roles and responsibilities of deaf-blind people using SSPs,
  • how to use one’s other senses,
  • how to set boundaries,
  • policies and procedures,
  • code of professional conduct,
  • approved activities.


Also, included are tips for deaf-blind people on how to direct their own SSPs (Hints for Being Your Own Boss), and a list of resources.  The program has a second module in which deaf-blind leaders train SSPs, and a final module, where deaf-blind people and SSPs work together.

  •  Who pays for the interpreters, if needed?


Most state agencies paid for interpreters used during the training, and provided assistive listening devices to those who needed them.  None provided CART because CART was not requested (or needed). One agency paid for SSPs who provided simple communication facilitation, but if interpreters were needed the agency paid them for a particular assignment.  Others provided training one-on-one and staff who provided that training are fluent in sign language, so no interpreters were needed.  Most agencies paid out of their own budget, or used grants, contracts or donations.  Three agencies do not provide training.

  •  Who presents? Is this person paid or volunteer?


Eight agencies used paid staff to present and train.  A couple invited members of the deaf-blind community to present as volunteers.  One agency pays deaf-blind trainers to work with SSPs. 

  •  How and where do you advertise?  What advertisements do you use?  Email

advertisements, flyers, word of mouth?

Three advertise through word of mouth only.  Three do not train or recruit SSPs.  The other five use word of mouth as well as professional networks, professional publications, websites, social networks, community colleges, programs for deaf and hard of hearing people, programs for blind and visually impaired people, interpreter training programs, vocational rehabilitation, service agencies or deaf awareness events.

  •  Where do your participants obtain their hands on practice after your

trainings?  Do you provide mentors for your new SSPs?

Two encourage their SSPs to be involved with local deaf-blind associations.  Two provide formal training in which deaf-blind trainers and SSPs work together.  Four programs have deaf-blind people and SSPs work together, and staff provide troubleshooting and assistance as needed.  Three programs do not train SSPs.

  •  Do you provide other accommodations, such as CART or assistive

listening systems for your participants?  If so, how do you pay for

One program provides assistive listening devices to deaf-blind people who need them or they provide their own.  One provides interpreters when needed.  One other program provides CART if needed.  Most do not provide accommodations as they are not needed, since SSPs and deaf-blind people with similar communication modes are matched (SSPs who sign are matched with signers, for example).   One agency provides accommodations for agency staff, and consumers who receive other services (instead of or in addition to SSP services). However, they provide direct communication to SSPs and deaf-blind people in SSP trainings.

  •  Does your training focus on all the spectrum of communication

modalities in the deaf-blind communities?  Or does your training focus
on mainly one specific group, e.g, people who use tactile ASL, hard of
hearing people with restricted vision who use speech and residual

Eight agencies match SSPs based on the needs of their deaf-blind consumers.  SSPs who sign are matched with deaf-blind people who sign.  SSPs who are experienced in talking to hard of hearing people (who don’t sign) are matched with those hard of hearing individuals who do not know signs.  Three programs do not provide training or SSP services.


  •  Do your SSPs get CEUs or college credits for the training?  If so, how?

None of the programs provide CEUs.   In one program, presenters associated with a local RID chapter get CEUs.   SSPs get training elsewhere (through state interpreter associations, IEP classes or DB workshops offered elsewhere.  They are then matched with DB people in the community.  One hopes to offer CEU credits in the near future. 

Additional comments:

One program asked if AADB can help with CEUs for SSPs or help SSP providers standardize curricula on the state level.  It is too difficult to do so on the national level.   Most people are providing SSPs at the state level.

One program also provides information and training to both SSPs and deaf-blind people when those deaf-blind people are using guide dogs.  Most deaf-blind people use either SSPs or a guide dog, but a few want to work with both SSPs and guide dogs at the same time.

Notes on terminology:

One agency interviewed provide interveners to children who are deaf-blind.   Interveners work one on one with deaf-blind children and facilitate access to the environmental information that is usually gained through vision and hearing, but which is unavailable or incomplete to the child who is deafblind, facilitate the development and/or use of receptive and expressive communication skills, and develop and maintain a trusting, interactive relationship that can promote social and emotional well-being for the children who is deaf-blind (source:

Other agencies interviewed provide SSPs.  Support Service Providers (SSPs) serve as the eyes and ears of the person who is deaf-blind.  There are two key components of an SSP’s function: 

  •  providing access to the community by making transportation available (by car, bus or other conveyance, and serves as a human guide while walking.
  • The SSP relays visual and environmental information that may not be heard or seen by the person who is deaf-blind.  This is done in the person’s preferred language and communication mode.  (

How to contact AADB:

For more information, or to get permission to reprint, copy or forward this survey, contact:

  • American Association of the Deaf-Blind
    8630 Fenton Street, Suite 121
    Silver Spring, MD 20910
  • 301-495-4403 (Voice)
  • TTY: 301-495-4402
  • Fax: 301-495-4404
  • Videophone: 301-563-9107
  • Email:
  • Website: