Texas Health and Human Services

Awareness Fair Challenges Senses

On June 23, Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed June 25-30 as Hellen Keller Deafblind Awareness Week. From left to right, Dana Williamson, Policy Development and Support director; Ron Lucey, Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities executive director, Tammy Martin, Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program manager, holding the governor's proclamation, and Keisha Rowe, Office of Independence Services director.

More than 80 people gathered June 21 for the Deafblind Awareness Fair in Austin, learning about available services, sharing their stories and stepping into the shoes of someone who is deafblind.

“We needed to have something to celebrate and bring the community and stakeholders together,” said Jackie Souhrada, a policy specialist for HHS’s DeafBlind with Multiple Disabilities program. “We had presentations by HHS leadership, managers and members of the deafblind community tell their stories and demonstrate different communication systems.”

Participants of the fair heard stories of people who are deafblind, learned about services available and took part in exercises that simulated the deafness and blindness.

More than 80 people attended the DeafBlind Awareness Fair on June 21 at the Winters Building in Austin. Participants heard stories of people who are deafblind, learned about services available and took part in exercises that simulated dual sensory loss.

The celebration included a sensory scavenger hunt in which participants wore sleep shades and ear plugs to simulate being deafblind and used their other senses to search for prizes.

“We had a station with water beads, a treasure hunt with rice and small toys, and we also had a texture station,” said Cassondra Glausier, a deafblind specialist with HHS’s Blind Children’s program. “Participants wore blindfolds and earplugs. It gave them an idea of how much we rely on our vision and hearing. Eighty percent of our sensory information comes through vision and hearing.”

Attendees learned about programs available, had the chance to visit with other families and were able to network with service organizations.

“There were resources available to families and people they could contact directly in the room,” Souhrada said. “Transitioning was a theme and we had people from long-term services and support programs.”

Souhrada, who worked at DARS before it merged into HHSC and the Texas Workforce Commission, said getting everyone together in the wake of transformation to assure clients and stakeholders the services are still there was a big part of the fair.

“Blind services are separate now, with children and people needing long-term services and supports coming to HHS, and those working and interested in pursuing employment being served by the Texas Workforce Commission, or a combination of the two agencies,” she said. “We want to help people know who the players were.”

Glausier hopes future events will be even bigger. 

“We want people and the community to know people with deafblindness can live productive lives,” she said. “We want to connect families, give them an opportunity to share their stories and make sure they have the resources they need.”

For more information on HHS programs for people who are deafblind, visit the Deafblind with Multiple Disabilities and Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program websites.