Center History

1983              W.I.S.H. (With Impaired Sight-Hearing) begins
1985              The Center for Deaf-Blind Persons, Inc. opened its doors
1986-87         The Center become a Helen Keller National Center Affiliate
1988              The Center evening program and services expand

1989              The Center began a support group for consumers to deal with issues of grief and loss.

1990-92         The Center relocates to Marian Center for Non-Profits and opens a new high tech training facility.

1994              The Center implements a peer mentor program and began offering employment services. 

1995              Three-year collaborative employment project with IndependenceFirst (formerly SEWCIL), the Center for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, and Goodwill Industries.

1996              Transition Program in conjunction with Milwaukee Public Schools gets off the ground.

1997              The beginnings of the Support Service Program emerge.

1998              Statewide technology drop-in Center launched. 

                      WISH celebrates fifteenth anniversary.

1999              The Center participated in National Trainings Programs for professionals in rehabilitation services. 

                      The Center celebrated its fifteenth anniversary.

2000-2003     The agency established Older Adult Program for seniors experiencing vision and hearing loss.

2004-2005     Distance training embarks to reach clients beyond customary geographic boundaries.

                      The Center celebrated its twentieth anniversary.

2010              The Center gets a public videophone and the Deaf-Blind Communicator. 

                       Unique fundraising opportunity – Center’s Staff and clients form a team known as the “Decibels” and put on their walking shoes to participate in the very first Milwaukee Walk4Hearing fundraiser. 

                       To show appreciation to the community, the Center hosted an Open House in honor of its 25th Anniversary. 

2011               Job placement services triples in growth.

                       The Center is a partner in a branding marketing venture of connecting individuals who are blind or experiencing changes in vision with service providers via the development of a portal website.

                       To capture federal technical assistance funds available to individuals who are deaf-blind in the state of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission submitted a grant proposal on behalf of the Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission, Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Deaf-Blind Technical Assistance Project and the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons.

                       The Center became an intern site for two students participating in the sign language interpreter training programs, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Milwaukee Area Technical College.

                        Consumer advisory board was created. 

2012                “Connections in Sight” branding marketing website portal was launched.

                        Five visitors from Bangladesh tours the Center to learn of its services.

                        Founder of this agency published a book.

                        Through Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission, federal monies were received to provide technical equipment and training to individuals who are deaf-blind in the state of Wisconsin.

 
1983
In September 1983, the first meeting of a social group for adults with combined hearing and vision impairments met in donated space at the American Red Cross Building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Prior to the meeting, Ruth Silver, an individual with the dual sensory loss, together with dedicated volunteers researched the need and identified potential consumers.  There were nine consumers and nine volunteer sign language interpreters at the first meeting.  The group decided to meet monthly and after a few meetings named the club WISH (With Impaired Sight-Hearing).  Although participation in the group helped to reduce loneliness and was enjoyable, it was obvious from the outset that there were many members in need of training and support, and that there was no agency in Wisconsin specializing in services to this population.


1985
The Center for Deaf-Blind Persons, Inc. opened its doors part-time on January 10, 1985, in donated space at St. John’s Center (St. John’s School for the Deaf) with seed money from the Wisconsin Council of the Blind.  This event was preceded by sixteen months of hard work on the part of a newly-formed Board of Directors who investigated the need, documented the lack of existing resources, wrote By-Laws, obtained non-profit status, located donated space, and implemented fundraising plans.  The agency started with five consumers, one teacher, one volunteer director/teacher, and several Center-trained volunteers.  By the end of the year, the agency was able to increase its hours of service and had served twenty-one clients and had helped another eight consumers through consultations with individuals or other agencies.  Clients ranged in age from mid-twenties to sixties with one lady of eighty-three.  Clients received instruction and were provided ongoing social opportunities and emotional support.  Based on assessed needs, they learned one or more alternative communication methods such as touch sign language, print-on-palm, Braille, and Tellatouch (a print-to-Braille device).  They received training in orientation and mobility techniques (safe travel) to find their way within the Center.  Some learned adaptive daily living skills, such as identifying coins and time by touch.  All participated in the leisure skills program and learned creative crafts and adapted games to fill empty hours.  Three clients received support and instruction to help them maintain their jobs.  This training was provided in weekly three-hour evening sessions (after work).


Due to the nature of our first-year clients, who were totally or severely deaf-blind and isolated, ongoing social opportunities were afforded.  Clients were welcome to remain at the Center during all hours of operation.  When not scheduled for training, they could play adapted games, receive help with letter writing, have interpreters sign current news to them, socialize, and share concerns with other clients and caring professionals.

The Center was able to implement a Communication Learning Center, a unique program, which included training volunteers.  Of the twelve volunteers (three deaf), nine were systematically trained to reinforce communication skills taught by the specialist.  Their participation allowed the Center to increase its hours of operation, motivate clients to use their new skills, and allow clients to remain extra hours to interact.

In its first year, the Center offered a public education program to heighten awareness as to the needs and potential of persons with a dual sensory loss.  Thirty visitors to the Center observed and interacted with clients.  Presentations and workshops were conducted.  These activities increased comfort level with consumers and, in some instances, promoted inclusion.

The Center was fortunate in its very first year to receive funds from foundations, civic organizations, businesses, individuals and three service agreements from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.

1986-87
The Center was selected to become a Helen Keller National Center Affiliate.  This included a modest grant for each of five years.  It also included the ongoing opportunity to be part of the nationwide affiliate program of information sharing with other professionals in the field.

 
Based on need, the agency implemented off-site services.  The staff traveled to homes to provide support and instruction to persons unable to come to the Center for medical or other reasons.  Follow-up services were also provided for Center-based clients needing reinforcement training at home. 

Service to family members evidenced benefits to both clients and their families.  Services included were support, information, instruction in communication methods and safe guiding, and tips on day-to-day living.

Public awareness and education expanded to include workshops for University interpreter training students, slide presentations and demonstrations in the community, and a deaf-blind awareness campaign targeting television, radio, newspaper coverage, and personal appearances.  

1988
The Center strengthened its evening program for persons employed during the day by working with their employers as well as training them after work hours on new skills needed to accommodate declining sight and hearing.


The Center began to provide adjustment services in conjunction with community mental health professionals for clients with extraordinary issues.  This year, the staff reached out to caregivers at nursing and group homes to demonstrate communication methods, safe guiding techniques, vibrating signal systems (for doorbell, phone, smoke alarm), etc.

In addition to the usual outreach efforts, the Center held its first open house.  The event brought 143 professionals and community residents to the agency.  Participants reported greater understanding after receiving information and observing specialized procedures for this population. 

The Center networked with more agencies and organizations.  The network included vocational rehabilitation, job sites, transitional living services, mental health organizations, social services, organizations for the deaf, blind, developmentally disabled, and group/nursing homes.

1989
The Center served individuals from seven neighboring counties and received calls for information and consultation from throughout Wisconsin.  Visitors came from as far away as New Zealand to observe the Center’s program and get ideas for developing services in their home community.  A total of 173 persons toured the Center, some attending our second open house.  Attendees not only observed and interacted with clients but also were able to talk with two employers who had hired consumers with a dual sensory loss.  The employees stood next to their employers and proudly demonstrated and described their job tasks.   


The Center implemented a support group for consumers to deal with issues of grief and loss.  This new program arose from the request of a young deaf woman who was losing her sight, and felt she could not enter the rehabilitation process until she had met others in a similar situation and resolve some concerns.  The support group has been ongoing since that time and requires sign language interpreters for clients who are deaf with low/no vision and assistive listening devices for those who are blind and hard-of-hearing.  Participants may invite family members to the group.  The support group has been heralded by consumers as one of the Center’s most beneficial programs in aiding in adjustment to deaf-blindness.

Members of the monthly social group took over its direction. They required adaptations for communication but otherwise took charge of planning and decision-making.  Since many individuals who are deaf-blind become accustomed to being managed, it took years of nurturing encouragement for them to truly believe they could be capable and independent managers.

1990-92
The agency had to move from St. John’s Center because the building was sold.  We leased space at the Marian Center (St. Mary’s Academy) and moved on May 31, 1991.  We were to occupy the school’s former cafeteria, necessitating extensive renovations.  These, together with setting up long-term lease arrangements, took two years to complete.  The Center operated in temporary quarters in the building during this interim, managing to reinforce old and add new programs.


The Center opened its first high-tech lab, which offered computer instruction with Braille and large-print access.  Clients interested and able to participate reported that this opened a window onto the world of information and communication with disabled and non-disabled people.

The Center offered a program of self-advocacy.  As a result of small group training sessions, clients learned more about themselves, their abilities, needs, and rights.  Their increased confidence made them more willing to communicate with visitors to the Center.  Some recorded spot announcements for radio broadcast, participated with the staff in workshops for university students, and gave presentations in the community.  Staff and clients learned that individuals who are deaf-blind are their own best spokespersons.

In response to the community’s request for a daytime sign language class, the Center offered one for adults followed by a summer class for children accompanied by a parent or other designated adult.  They were both successful.  The latter was such a hit that it received media coverage.

The Center took an active part in the new Wisconsin Deaf-Blind Concerns Committee, continued to be represented on the Board of Directors of the American Association of the Deaf-Blind, and maintained its working relationship with the Helen Keller National Center.

1993
In September, the Center’s renovation was complete.  The space had been transformed from a cafeteria to a model-training center for persons with combined hearing-vision impairments.  In designing the space, special attention was paid to maximizing remaining vision and hearing.  For those with remaining sight, there was color contrast and lighting options.  For those with residual hearing, acoustic ceilings (ceilings had been lowered) were installed and carpeting and drapes were selected to absorb noise.  In addition to classrooms for teaching high tech, low tech, and leisure skills--there was a modest apartment.  The latter allowed for teaching independent living skills in a real-life setting.  The stove, microwave, dishwasher, and washer/dryer had Braille/raised and large-print markings.  Cupboards and items within were also labeled.  A dining area allowed for staff and clients to eat lunch together, increasing social opportunities.


The support group was moved from evening to daytime, permitting more clients to participate.  The continued use of assistive listening devices and sign language interpreters provided access.  Family members and close friends were allowed to join the group with the consent of the client.

1994
At the request of the Milwaukee County Eye Institute, the Center director co-facilitated a new support group for older adults with combined hearing-vision impairments at the Institute.  The other co-facilitator was a low-vision specialist/counselor at the Eye Institute.  All participants used the Center’s assistive listening devices, with or without hearing aids, to funnel speech directly into their ears.  This was helpful in most cases, but there were two individuals whose hearing loss was so severe that they needed to have summaries of the discussions printed on their palm. 


The Center implemented a program of peer training.  Interested clients learned to work as peer tutors, helping new clients to interact and reinforcing skills taught by Center instructors.  The program proved gratifying and beneficial to all.

Other new or expanded areas included: retraining individuals for jobs as well as continuing the evening program of rehabilitation training for those working daytime; home tutoring for individuals with physical or mental-health issues; planning, preparing, and conducting of monthly social events by consumers with little staff assistance; gains in advocacy; more consultations than ever before; largest number of visitors to the Center; and formal collaboration efforts with other major agencies.

1995
The Center entered into the first of a three-year collaborative employment project with three other agencies:  IndependenceFirst (formerly SEWCIL), the Center for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, and Goodwill Industries.  The project focused on securing competitive and supported job opportunities for the traditionally underserved deaf and deaf-blind.  In addition to working independently, the agencies met on a regular basis to report on progress and address problems.  Northern Illinois University was a partner in the project, tracking and evaluating data.


1996
The agency started working with its first transition-aged students.  The Milwaukee Public Schools allowed two high school students with a dual sensory loss to spend a designated number of hours during the week at the Center.  This enabled the staff to work one-on-one on the assessed needs of each student, and also provided the opportunity to offer the schoolteachers with useful deaf-blind specific procedures.  The Center staff was invited to participate in M-Team meetings.  These revealed the vast benefit of the collaborative effort.


A new ruling mandated that the state of Wisconsin provide telephone access to every disabled resident.  The Center was selected to be the demonstration site for telecommunication equipment for persons who are deaf-blind.  Included were telephones with volume controls, loud-tone ringers, phones with typewriter keyboards and Braille/large-print displays, and flashing light or vibrating signals systems to alert the user to the sound of the ringing phone.  The Center staff assisted consumers in identifying appropriate equipment and provided the training and, when necessary, created clear instructional materials in Braille or large-print.  The availability of this formerly cost-prohibitive telephone equipment made an immediate and profound impact–opening window upon window of information and social contact.

This year the Center began working with its first supported employment client.  She was one of the new referrals to our Collaborative Employment Grant.  The other Center clients receiving training under this grant were seeking competitive employment.

1997
The Center implemented a Support Service Program.  Some clients, even those who had successfully completed comprehensive training, were without a family member or friend to assist them in the community.  The Support Service Provider (SSP) was to empower the disabled individual by providing access and information, thereby allowing the consumer to interact in the community and make informed decisions.  Areas of assistance included shopping, banking, mail reading, and apartment search.


As a result of our collaborative employment grant and an increase, in general, in the area of work, the Center hired its first employment specialist.  This person worked on contacting employers to learn of local business opportunities, acquaint them with the potential of this population, and assure them of the support our agency would provide.  While identifying prospective job sites, the employment specialist worked one-on-one with clients.  Training areas included social skills, grooming, career exploration, resume writing, filling out applications, transportation options, interviewing techniques, and job shadowing, placement and coaching.  Although the job specialist had an uphill struggle to sell employers on the idea of hiring a person with combined hearing-vision loss, the pioneer effort began gradually to pay off.  The Center’s new job resource pool/employer education program together with the collaborative employment project increased options and successful job outcomes. 

The Center developed a state-of-the-art technology lab.  More clients took part in technology instruction this year than in all preceding years combined.  With Braille, large-print, or amplified speech access, they learned keyboarding skills, word processing, internet use, scanning and converting from print to Braille, and printing and embossing documents.  Motivation included college prep, future employment, and personal independence.  There is growing evidence that modern technology is narrowing the gap between individuals who are deaf-blind and their hearing-sighted counterparts.

1998
Following is a list of additions and/or program changes this year:  implemented a statewide technology drop-in Center for persons with a dual sensory loss using equipment purchased by the state; adapted tactile phone access to replace discontinued models; collaborated with other agencies to work with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Milwaukee County on an employment project; integrated more consumers into the community through support services; expanded leadership and advocacy opportunities through committee work and training; responded to requests for peer tutoring opportunities; first comprehensive preparation of a client for university entrance including an orientation to the campus for her and her dog guide; celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of the monthly social club (WISH); and increased direct service hours by fifteen percent.


His employer, Northwestern Mutual, selected Harvey Pogoriler, the president of the Center’s Board of Directors, as their “Exceptional Volunteer of the Year.”  His selection was based on ten years of outstanding service to the Center and its clients as well as his leadership of the Center’s dedicated Board.  The honor was accompanied by a $10,000 grant from the company to the Center.

1999
The Center celebrated its fifteenth anniversary.  The highlight was the successful completion of the first year of a two-year project, which allowed the technology department to create a computer-training curriculum.  Clients learned a variety of programs using Windows via keyboard commands (a tactile method) to replace the mouse and to do so using Braille, large-print, or amplified speech.


This year proved to be a banner year for strengthening programs and increasing successful outcomes.  It was also a time of gratifying invitations for the Center to share its expertise.  The Center gave presentations in the Northern Illinois University Deaf-Blind Certificate Program, the Helen Keller National Center Affiliate Program, and a host of others.

2000-2003
The agency established new services for older adults.  The Center had worked with some seniors over the years, most of who had one disability from early on and acquired the second in childhood or adulthood.  The new services were geared to older adults who had had normal sight and hearing and developed age-related losses.  The agency had noticed an increase in this population as people started living longer.  These individuals were totally unprepared for their disabilities and were often depressed, ashamed, and in denial.  The initial project offered an interactive series of five presentations at retirement homes, meal sites, and the like.  Seniors learned about hearing loss, vision loss, independent living tips, alternative communication, and coping strategies.  One-on-one training was provided when indicated.  Because of the unique needs of this population, special strategies were required that differed somewhat from those used by other categories of persons with a dual sensory loss. 


The agency undertook the design of its first website.  The goal was to inform people of the multitude of services available at the Center, as well as to offer information and resources on deaf-blindness.

The Center established a second two-year technology project.  It focused on research and development of adaptive software/equipment and training strategies.  The outcome was familiarization with the latest programs and equipment and the creation of help-reference outlines of deaf-blind specific procedures that consumers could learn to use independently.

2004-2005
The Center celebrated its twentieth anniversary.  The Board of Directors and staff were proud of the long list of accomplishments.  From its modest beginning, the Center had come to be nationally recognized as a program of exemplary services for persons with combined hearing-vision loss.   

 
For the first time, the Center implemented Distance Training for one client and her family through State Telecommunications Relay Services and adaptive e-mail technology.  At designated intervals, the client, spouse, (and sometimes her three young children) traveled to the Center for demonstrations, comprehensive checks on progress and reinforcement.  This distance training enabled the agency to reach beyond its customary geographic boundaries.  It is anticipated that this service will continue and expand.

2010

After some phone line rewiring, a public videophone was installed at the Center.  In addition, the Deaf-Blind Communicator (portable print-to-Braille device with a keyboard, Braille display and cell phone used to make phone calls and facilitate communication between one who is sighted and one who is deaf-blind) was acquired.  A user guide for that device was developed.

In June, the Wisconsin Hearing Loss Association hosted the Hearing Loss Association of America National Convention in Milwaukee.  They had a unique strategy to create awareness of hearing loss, bond with the community and kickoff the national convention in Milwaukee by sponsoring a Walk4Hearing.  Even though this walk’s focus is to raise funds for the Hearing Loss Association of America in its efforts to create awareness of hearing loss – the hidden disability, alliances were created with community non-profit organizations.  By creating an alliance, community non-profit organization formed teams raising funds on behalf of the Hearing Loss Association of America.  In exchange, the community non-profit organization received 40% of the funds raised by its teams.  The Staff and clients all made an effort to raise funds and walk.  On that day, 500 walkers gathered to create awareness of hearing loss.

In honor of the Center’s 25th Anniversary, it was decided to host an Open House as a means of thanking the community at large for its support.  Personal invitations were sent out to anyone who has had contact with the Center over the past 25 years.  In addition, display ads were placed in the community newspapers inviting the community to join us in this celebration.  Mr. Greg Berg from WGTD 91.1 FM radio not only provided a public service announcement but also conducted a radio interview the Executive Director regarding the Center and the services it provides.  On September 30th, approximately 150 people attended the Open House.  A special thank you to all of you that have supported the Center throughout the years.

2011

Job placement services triples in growth.  The employment specialist has been very busy and successful.  With the Temporary Work experience program through the State of Wisconsin, Department of Work Force Development – Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, employers are becoming aware of individuals who are deaf-blind as viable employees.

Collaborating with ABLE (Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement), Beyond Vision, Vision Forward, and WTBBL (Wisconsin Talking Book & Braille Library), a branding marketing venture is underway for connecting individuals who are blind or experiencing changes in vision with service providers.  Focus is to brand a portal website containing all service providers serving individuals who are Blind or experiencing changing vision within the Milwaukee area to medical providers, professionals, and individuals.  This website is a means to inform people of the various agencies and to learn about vision loss.

To capture federal technical assistance funds available to individuals who are deaf-blind in the state of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission submitted a grant proposal on behalf of the Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission, Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Deaf-Blind Technical Assistance Project and the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons.  Federal government has allocation $10 Million dollars a year for the next two years to aid individuals who a deaf-blind in accessing this world of information and technology.  The state of Wisconsin is eligible for $174k.

The Center became an intern site for two students participating in the sign language interpreter training programs, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Milwaukee Area Technical College.  Both staff and clients provided support and feedback to sign language interpreter training students.  These same two students braved the true experience of deaf-blindness by attending the American Association of the Deaf-Blind’s one week convention in KY.

A consumer advisory board consisting of five members was established.  The focus of this board is to provide feedback on Center services, identify unmet needs, and assist the Center with program improvements and new developments if necessary.

2012

Ms. Ruth Silver, founder of the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons, not only wrote a book but also had it published!  “Invisible:  My Journey through Vision and Hearing Loss” hit the bookshelves in June.  A “Meet the Author” event was held at the Center in October.

“Connections in Sight” branding marketing website portal was launched in July with a press conference at Discovery World.  Later that evening an art exhibit featuring artwork of various artists who are blind or have some type of vision loss was hosted at the Medical College of Wisconsin.  The art exhibit served as a means to inform the medical professionals at the Medical College about the portal website.  Their Web site is now up and running.  To receive much more information, please visit them at www.connectionsinsight.org.  

In late 2011, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission submitted a grant proposal to capture the potential federal dollars available for technical equipment and traIning to individuals who are deaf-blind in the state of Wisconsin.  In July of 2012, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission received notification of the grant award.  The Center for Deaf-Blind Persons, Inc. and the Wisconsin Deaf-Bind Technical Assistance Project are now leading this project.  In this role, the Center will become more aware of the needs of individuals throughout the state who are deaf-blind.  For more information, please visit:  www.icanconnect.org.

In September the Center had the honor of hosting five visitors from Bangladesh.  Through the International Visitor Program, these individuals are touring various community-based agencies to learn about their program services, and volunteerism in general.

2013

In May of 2013 the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons, Inc. joined FaceBook.  Please stop by and visit our page.  In addition, do not forget to give the Center a "like."  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Center-for-Deaf-Blind-Persons-Inc/251730191634868