Interveners, Interpreters, & Co-Navigators (SSPs)


An intervener is a position designated to provide direct support to a student who is deaf-blind, for all or part of the instructional day, as determined by the student’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP). The decision to designate an intervener is based on the level of support needed by a student to participate effectively in his/her instructional environment(s) as described by the IEP. The intervener works cooperatively with parents and a variety of direct service providers and consultants including: classroom teachers; teachers of children with hearing impairments, visual impairments, or severe disabilities; speech therapists; occupational and physical therapists; orientation and mobility instructors; and other professionals as well as paraprofessionals.

The intervener is trained in communication and support strategies unique to a deaf-blind student:

Tactile sign language, tracking, close and far vision, speech, braille, picture symbols, tactile symbols, objects, gestures, signals, appropriate lighting, deaf-blind technology resources, and other communication forms.

  • Since the deaf-blind student misses a lot of what is happening around them, both visually and auditorily, the intervener must provide all of this information, in addition to interpreting and conversing with them.
  • Having missed environmental information in a variety of settings, the deaf-blind person may not have the background knowledge of a typical peer, therefore, the intervener needs to supply this expansion of conceptual knowledge.


Interpreting for Individuals Who Are Deaf-Blind

The spectrum of consumers who utilize Deaf-Blind interpreting services consists of individuals with differing degrees of vision loss and hearing loss. The amount and type of vision and hearing a person has determines the type of interpreting that will be most effective for that individual. Environmental factors must be taken into account in order for effective communication to take place. In addition, many Deaf-Blind individuals require support service providers (defined below) in order to fully access the environment. Each of these factors, as well as considerations for hiring interpreters, is explained below.

There is a continuum of vision and hearing loss among people who are Deaf-Blind. Persons within this community are not necessarily fully deaf or fully blind. Some Deaf-Blind people have a substantial amount of usable vision while others have little (limited vision and/or legally blind) or no usable vision (blind). The same is true regarding the degree of hearing. Individuals may be hard-of-hearing with usable hearing while others are profoundly deaf. The range and degree of both hearing loss and vision loss will determine critical communication factors between the consumer and the interpreter.

Factors that contribute to the diversity in communication within the Deaf-Blind community include:

  • type, degree and age of onset of hearing and vision loss
  • whether current vision and/or hearing is stable, progressive or fluctuating
  • level of language competencies in American Sign Language (ASL) or other signed
  • language systems and/or English
  • family, ethnic, socio-economic and educational backgrounds
  • physical, cognitive or other disabilities

The type and extent of the combined hearing and vision loss determines an individual’s mode of communication and needs regarding visual accommodations. Individuals who are Deaf-Blind employ one or more of the following communication modes:

  • sign language at close visual range (less than 4 feet) and/or within a limited visual space (often a small area including and just below the signer’s chin to signer’s chest)
  • sign language at a greater visual range (4-8 feet) to accommodate those individuals with limited peripheral vision
  • sign language received at close visual range with the use of tracking [hand(s) is/are placed on the interpreter’s wrists/forearms for the receiver to maintain signs within their visual range] sign language received by sense of touch with one or two hands (tactile)
  • fingerspelling received by sense of touch (tactile)
  • Print-on-Palm (capital block letters drawn on the palm)
  • speechreading at close visual range
  • hearing with assistive listening devices
  • reading via text-based devices and services (e.g., real-time captioning connected to a large visual display or refreshable Braille output)
  • sign supported speech

Experienced interpreters who work with Deaf-Blind people are knowledgeable about and sensitive to environmental factors that may significantly affect the interpreting process. Skilled Deaf-Blind interpreters are able to incorporate the speaker’s message while also transmitting visual, auditory and environmental stimuli that contribute to the context of the interpreted message.

Depending on the Deaf-Blind individual’s preference, the following components should be considered and may be incorporated during to the beginning of the meeting/workshop/conference:

  • the layout of the room (position of windows, color of walls/platform background, tables, chairs, doors)
  • specific visual background (signer’s shirt in contrast to skin color, high-necked collar, minimal jewelry/accessories)
  • seating positions (need for distance or proximity; logistics for teaming)
  • auditory factors (background noise; use of assistive listening devices)
  • identify who is speaking and location of the speaker
  • the speaker’s emotional affect and gestures
  • unspoken actions and reactions of people in the room
  • information from handouts, PowerPoint slides, other audiovisual materials
  • when a person enters or exits the room

The amount of information incorporated is at the discretion of the Deaf-Blind consumer and also requires considerable skill and judgment on the part of the interpreter

© Copyright 2002 Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. Updated 2007.

Co-Navigators / Support Service Providers

A Co-Navigator or Support Service Provider (SSP) has been trained to work 1-on-1 in the community with teens and adults who are deaf-blind, in order to provide visual and auditory information about the environment, provide sighted guide, and facilitate communication, for consumer-directed activities (i.e. shopping, writing out checks to pay bills, assisting to, from, and during meetings/conferences, vacations, etc.).  An SSP can be hearing, Deaf, or hard of hearing. Not all deaf-blind people use sign language, but most do. Even a hard of hearing deaf-blind person who does not use sign language may want to talk with someone who does, thru the use of an SSP or an interpreter.  An SSP does not make decisions for the deaf-blind individual.   An SSP usually volunteers or barters for their services.  An SSP is NOT an interpreter and is not required to hold state or national certification.

OHOA Learning Modules

The Open Hands Open Access (OHOA) Intervener Learning Modules are a national resource designed to increase awareness, knowledge, and skills related to intervention for students who are deaf-blind and are being served in educational settings (ages 3 through 21). The development of the modules is in response to Recommendation 3 of the Recommendations to Improve Intervener Services (NCDB, 2012).  Recommendation 3 is one of a set of recommendations intended to establish a strong national foundation for intervener training and workplace supports.

The module content was created by a diverse group of experts in the field of deaf-blindness including state and national deaf-blind project staff, parents of children who are deaf-blind, higher education faculty, teachers, educational interpreters, and interveners.  Each includes a variety of accessible videos, photographs, slide presentations, and learning activities.  The modules have been guided by an advisory committee, and reviewed by a variety of experts in deaf-blindness and the process of intervention, experts in module design, and field-test participants.

***As with any educational resource, the modules themselves do not  constitute a formal training program, nor does completion of the modules independently and in isolation from a training program result in one  becoming an intervener.

Learn about the FAVI Deaf-Blind Collaborative’s OHOA training cohorts