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Identifying the Technical Assistance Needs
of Community Based Rehabilitation Centers
Serving Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
Steven E. Boone, Ph.D
Douglas Watson, Ph.D.
University of Arkansas Rehabilitation Research and Training Center
for Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

This research and publication was conducted by faculty of the University of Arkansas Research and Training Center for Persons who are Deaf or hard of Hearing, which is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. department of Education under grant number H133B6002. The opinions contained in this publication are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Arkansas or U.S. Department of Education.

This paper presents the preliminary results of a national assessment of the technical assistance needs of community based rehabilitation centers (CBRC's) that serve persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Completed during 1998, the project was conducted in order to identify and prioritize the types of resources, support and assistance required to enhance the services delivered by community-based agencies to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. This paper overviews the study and its results. Content areas for technical assistance and as well as preferred strategies to obtain this assistance are discussed.

Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing receive postsecondary education and rehabilitation services to enhance employment from many entities. Often, these entities lack the specialized expertise to face the challenges posed by these individuals. They require technical assistance to orient their services to the unique needs and communication accommodations needed to provide these services. In response to this need, the Federal government has funded a number of agencies and initiatives to assist these programs.

Most recently, the Federal government funded four regional postsecondary education technical assistance centers. These Centers, collectively identified as PEPNet, were mandated to assess the technical assistance needs of the nations postsecondary training programs, including colleges and other programs that assist deaf or hard of hearing individuals to enhance their employability.

As part of the PEPNet mission, a national needs assessment was conducted to identify and assess the technical assistance needs of the nation's two and four year college programs (Hopkins & Walter, 1998). They surveyed 10,391 postsecondary institutions listed on the 1995-96 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) taken from the National Center for Educational Statistics. The study verified earlier estimates that approximately 20,000 deaf and hard of hearing students are enrolled in two and four year colleges in the United States.

Focused on students enrolled at two and four year colleges, the findings were targeted to the more academically capable segment of the deaf and hard of hearing student populations. The study did not include any special effort to survey community-based rehabilitation and career training programs -- not listed in the IPEDS database -- that nevertheless serve significant numbers of the nation's less academically qualified deaf and hard of hearing students.

Prior postsecondary enrollment projections, prepared by the Career Development Educational Outreach Consortium, a consortium of six federally funded postsecondary programs for deaf students, estimated that each year approximately 7,800 hearing-impaired individuals graduate or leave secondary schools in the U.S. (See Table One). These individuals can be functionally divided into three groups with varying needs for services. The lowest functioning group, those reading below the second grade level, number about 2,000 per year, are considered prime candidates for career and vocational training programs best provided by "Comprehensive Community-Based Rehabilitation Centers" (CBRC). The middle group, numbering perhaps 3,500 students who read between the 2-4th grade level are usually not prime candidates for college but are considered able to benefit from vocational training in CBRC programs or in non-college proprietary training programs. The top 2,130 of these 7,800 students, those reading between grades 4-12 with an overall grade achievement of 6-12, are considered to possess the skills to benefit from postsecondary support services in colleges and universities that offer special programs for deaf students (Watson, 1998).
Table One
Secondary School Leavers (n=7,800 annually)
Services Needed
Vocational Training Comprehensive
Number of School Leavers 2300 3500 2000
Overall Grade Achievement 6-12 4-8 2-4
Reading Grade Achievement 4-12 2-4 0-2
Service Providers Gallaudet, NTID, RPEPD*, 150+ Colleges VR Private Sources
Physical Capacity for New Students/Clients 2500 <3500 300
New Student/Client Demand 2500 >5000 >2000
Human Resources Capacity for New Students/Clients 2300 <3500 <50
Source: Watson, 1998 reference to data generated by Career Development Outreach Consortium, 1989.

* RPEPD: Regional Postsecondary Education Programs for Deaf Students

PEPNet program personnel recognized the fact that there is a parallel need to conduct a similar needs assessment for the community-based rehabilitation programs that provide career training services to enhance employment of persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. To address this need, they invited leading CBRC's in deafness and the University of Arkansas RRTC for Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (RT-31) to a series of program review meetings with federal staff at OSERS in order to determine how to best survey the needs of community-based training programs serving students who are deaf or hard of hearing. This paper provides an overview of this study and its preliminary results.

The RT-31 National Survey
of Community-Based Rehabilitation Centers

In the Spring of 1998, in collaboration with PEPNet, RT-31 initiated a study in response to the federally identified need to identify, prioritize and offer technical assistance to community-based rehabilitation programs that serve deaf and hard of hearing persons. In order to meet the long range goal of designing a National Technical Assistance Network for Community-based Programs, the project focused on three key goals:

The impetus of the RT-31 study came from limitations in the needs assessment conducted by PEPNet (Hopkins & Walter, 1998). By design, the PEPNet study focused on two and four-year colleges and other non-degree postsecondary training programs. Thus, the results did not focus the nations needs on community-based programs that serve deaf and hard of hearing persons who are not college-bound, the majority of the deaf and hard of hearing population. The RT-31 study surveyed these community based programs using parallel questionnaires to complete the picture of technical assistance needs for the population.

Questionnaire. A four page questionnaire was developed based upon the PEPNet College Survey format. Questions were worded to be parallel to the PEPNet survey, with changes made to fit issues relevant to community-based as opposed to college programs. Items included multiple questions regarding the level of services provided to persons who are deaf and hard of hearing, the number and populations of persons served, the outcomes of these services, the types of assistance desired, and preferred strategies to obtain this assistance.

Sample. The sample was identified from prior RT-31 research (Scherich, McGee, Watson, & Geyer, 1995). In this study, a national list of programs were compiled from multiple sources and sent to state rehabilitation and commissions for the deaf or hard of hearing in each state. These agencies were asked to review the list and add or subtract community programs that provided services to deaf or hard of hearing persons. For this needs assessment, these programs were again traced resulting in a total of 969 programs. The programs were geographically distributed across the United States. Figure One shows the geographical distribution of responding programs across the four PEPNet regions.

Fig 1: Community Sample

Procedures. A cover letter explaining the purpose of the study and the questionnaire was mailed to all programs. Four mailings resulted in responses from 452 programs, for an overall response rate of 46.6%. Geographically, these programs can be divided into parallel regions as those of PEPNet. As may be seen in Table Two, the response rate as well as the geographical distributions are comparable to results obtained in the PEPNet college survey. Data from the returned questionnaires were coded, error screened and prepared for data analysis using appropriate statistical procedures.

Table Two
Response Rate Comparisons
PEPNet Survey
of College Programs1
RT-31 Survey
of Community Programs
Northeast (NETAC) 1068 23 129 28.5
Midwest (MCPO) 1065  23 129 28.5
South (PEC) 1275 27 113 25
West (WROCC) 1286 27 81 17.9
Total Responses 4694 45 459 46.6
1Source: Hopkins & Walters, 1998

Populations Served

A total of 429 programs reported serving an average of 1872.31 (SD=7512) consumers. Of these programs, 395 programs provided information regarding the consumers that they served. The majority of these programs (386, 97.7 %) serve or plan to serve persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Only 9 programs (2.3 %) indicated they have no current plans to serve these persons.

Most programs served persons with a wide variety of hearing losses. As may be seen in Table Three, the programs served significant number of persons with hearing loss, averaging 528.6 (SD=2187.4) persons. As may be seen in Table Three, the programs primarily served deaf consumers followed by those who identified themselves as hard of hearing. As expected, fewer numbers of persons were served from subgroups of the population of persons with hearing loss.

Table Three
Number of Persons Served by Type of Hearing Loss
Type of Loss
Deaf 238.7 1122.2
Late Deafened 27.9 148.9
Hard of Hearing 174.7 899.1
Deaf-Blind 11.4 62.3
Low Functioning Deaf 36.9 198.8
Other 47.5 533.7

Service Information

Data regarding the services delivered during 1998 is provided in Figure Two. As may be seen in the Figure, almost 80% of those identified were receiving ongoing services (39.5%) or had completed their program (37.3%). A substantial number of persons (20%) had been referred to other program for services. Very few individuals had been terminated from the program (2.2%) or had their program interrupted (.9%).

Fig 2: Services for 1997

A substantial percent (19.1%) of those served received employment related services. These services led to the employment outcomes depicted in Figure Three. These outcomes indicate a high degree of success in employment, with over 60% of the sample becoming employed. Employment outcomes were in competitive settings (39.7%), supported settings (13.7%), or sheltered settings (10.9%).

Fig 3: Outcomes achieved by those receiving employment-related services

Another 20% were seeking employment. Less that 17 percent of the overall group were not employed and not seeking employment. These findings argue for the success of these programs in producing employment outcomes.

Technical Assistance Needs

What are the technical assistance needs of these programs. As may be seen in Table Four, programs expressed needs in virtually all areas. High priority needs revolved around resources to assist consumers and to promote access to the programs. More medium priority needs were in the area of staff development. Lower priority needs could be categorized as program/staff management.

Table Four
Technical Assistance Needs
Would like assistance with:
Strategies to Obtain Funding to Operate Program (Grant Writing) 3.89 1.30 350
Strategies to Improve Services 3.83 1.12 353
Self-advocacy Training for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Individuals 3.66 1.25 350
Strategies to Recruit Deaf and HOH Consumers 3.46 1.31 350
Technology to Facilitate Accessibility (ALDS, Realtime Speech to Text, Etc) 3.46 1.27 340
Resource Materials for Employer Development 3.44 1.41 337
Mentoring Programs Matching Persons Who Are Deaf or HOH with Adult Peers 3.44 1.30 339
Technology to Facilitate Learning (Distance Learning, Computers, Educational Media) 3.43 1.25 341
Resource Materials for Workplace Literacy Skills 3.40 1.42 340
Resource Materials for Problem Solving 3.39 1.35 342
Training Staff to Work with Deaf and Hard of Hearing People 3.38 1.29 350
Strategies to Retain Deaf and HOH Consumers 3.37 1.35 344
Resource Materials for Job Maintenance/advancement 3.35 1.36 338
Resource Materials for Job Accommodations 3.35 1.33 343
Developing Communication Instruction/strategies for Staff 3.33 1.30 343
Resource Materials for Assessment of Basic Skills and Individualized Planning 3.33 1.34 339
Program Management (Computers, Etc) 3.32 1.25 339
Recruiting, Scheduling &/or Evaluating Interpreters 3.32 1.47 346
Resource Materials for Work Experience and Placement 3.28 1.40 337
Professional Enhancement Workshops for Interpreters 3.28 1.49 341
Strategies to Recruit Deaf and Hard of Hearing Staff 3.23 1.32 346
Professional Enhancement Workshops for Counselors 3.19 1.40 342
Working in Partnership with VR Counselors 3.19 1.26 346
Laws Related to Disability and Service Delivery 3.18 1.39 343
Program & Facility Access for Deaf and HOH Individuals 3.10 1.31 339
Resource Materials for Job Interviewing 3.08 1.40 336
Strategies to Retain Deaf and Hard of Hearing Staff 3.03 1.35 343
Financial Aid for Tuition, Fees, Etc 3.02 1.49 340
Professional Enhancement Workshops for Assistive Technology Specialists 2.96 1.33 333
Resource Materials for Resume Writing 2.95 1.39 336
Recruiting, Scheduling &/or Evaluating Counselors 2.91 1.34 340
Recruiting, Scheduling &/or Evaluating Assistive Technology Specialists 2.79 1.26 336
Recruiting, Scheduling &/or Evaluating Captioners/CART Reporters 2.70 1.33 339
Professional Enhancement Workshops for Rehabilitation Instructors 2.58 1.38 333
Professional Enhancement Workshops for Captioners/CART Reporters 2.57 1.35 333
Recruiting, Scheduling &/or Evaluating Rehabilitation Instructors 2.45 1.30 336
Professional Enhancement Workshops for Tutors 2.43 1.32 326
Recruiting, Scheduling &/or Evaluating Tutors 2.43 1.26 334
Recruiting, Scheduling &/or Evaluating Notetakers 2.37 1.26 336
Professional Enhancement Workshops for Notetakers 2.31 1.25 327
Total Means 3.1295 1.331 340.2

Preferred Strategies for Assistance

Given the broad need areas that were expressed, it is not surprising that preferred strategies for obtaining this assistance emphasized opportunities for training, collaboration and access to resources. Table Five illustrates the preferred strategies to obtain assistance.

Table Five
Preferred Assistance Strategies
Types of Technical Assistance Needed: Mean
State or Regional Seminars 3.75 1.13 346
Workshops for Service Providers 3.75 1.18 344
Collaborating with Professional Colleagues 3.74 1.10 343
Agency Faculty/staff In-service Training and Staff Development 3.70 1.16 343
Resources Materials Center 3.65 1.20 346
State or Regional Networks 3.64 1.16 338
Publications (I.e. Best Practices, Proceedings) 3.62 1.14 342
Access to the Information via World Wide Web 3.58 1.29 346
Newsletters 3.54 1.10 344
National Networks 3.45 1.27 337
National Conferences of Community-based Programs 3.36 1.32 340
National Standards for Community-based Services 3.35 1.27 339
Satellite Broadcasts on Specific Topics 3.27 1.30 337
Peer Review Process to Identify Program Strengths & Needs 3.18 1.22 336
On Site Consultation 3.07 1.30 338
Total Means 3.51 1.209 341.3

This paper presented preliminary results from a national survey of the technical assistance needs of community-based programs serving deaf and hard of hearing persons. Clearly, the results indicate there are substantial numbers of programs that serve or desire to serve this population. A substantial number of the individuals served do receive services that target enhancing employment outcomes. For the majority of those served, these outcomes are positive in terms of resulting in employment in competitive, supported or sheltered settings.

Despite this optimistic picture, it is evident that programs see the need for broad based technical assistance. Such assistance would allow programs to improve their service delivery efforts. In contrast to the needs identified by a PEPNet national survey of college programs which emphasized program development (i.e. staffing, management), the RT-31 survey identified a need for resources and associated training for staff to use these resources. This finding argues need for the national technical assistance initiative directed toward these programs. Such assistance should involve the development of needed resources and well as the establishing a mechanism to deliver these resources and training in their use.

Creative strategies are required to accomplish both these goals. One possibility would be to link organizations that actively research and develop needed resource materials (such as the federally-funded Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers) with other entities that are responsible for technical assistance (such as PEPNet). Another possibility would be to establish a formal network of community based programs. Policymakers and advocates should accept this challenge by funding such efforts in order to better serve persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. The challenge is to collaborate to find an appropriate strategies, organizational mechanisms, and method to accomplish this goal.

Additional information regarding the RT-31 study or other activities of the University of Arkansas Rehabilitation Research and Training Center for Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing may be obtained from the RT-31 Website:


Hopkins, K. & Walter, G. (1998) PEPNet Needs Assessment: Summary of findings. In M. Kolvitz (Ed.) Empowerment through Partnerships: PEPNet '98. Conference Proceedings of PEPNet.

Scherich, D., McGee, S., Watson, D., & Geyer, P. (1995). Identifying community-based rehabilitation services for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Presentation at the American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association, Kansas, MO.

Watson, D. (1998, February). The challenge of tomorrow for deafness: Rehabilitation of LFD persons in the United States. Invited presentation, OSERS/PEPNET Conference for Planning Postsecondary Training for Deaf or Hard of Hearing Persons who are LFD, U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Washington, D.C.

 Direct suggestions, comments, and questions about this page to:
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Northwest Outreach Center
Regional Resource Center on Deafness
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Last modified 20AUG1999