Kathleen Mary Huebner, Ph.D., Pennsylvania College of Optometry and Susan Jay Spungin, Ed.D.
American Foundation for the Blind

Purpose of Project
The American Foundation for the Blind, through a grant from the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs conducted a five year Deaf-Blind Project. The U.S. Department of Education recognized the shortage of personnel specifically trained to teach children and youth who are deaf-blind, including those with multiple disabilities. The government further recognized that many of these students were being served in education al settings by teachers trained in other areas of special education, and therefore there was a need to develop self-study materials that these teachers and families could use to learn more about two specific areas of need, communication skills and Orientation and Mobility.

From the conceptualization of the project, through it's development, field evaluation, production and dissemination families, professionals and individuals who are deaf-blind were involved. A core group served as a consortium to the project, but ultimately hundreds of individuals were involved in the writing, review, and field evaluation s of the preliminary materials. Families were represented as consortium members, authors, and reviewers. The purpose of the project was to develop self-study materials that could be used by teachers, trained in special education but not specifically in deaf-blindness, to learn the essentials of communication and O&M strategies that would encourage learning by students who are deaf-blind, including those with multiple disabilities.

The focus of the poster session will be on the processes used for the many different aspects of the project. Some of the posters present the learner objectives and guiding principles of the resulting materials. Other posters depict the project design and timelines, and graphic data demonstrates the results of the extensive field evaluations including demographics and results. Drs. Huebner and Spungin will be available to provide explanations and respond to questions.

The project resulted in a set of products, known as Hand in Hand, that include a 2 Volume self-study manual, video and accompanying discussion guide, inservice training manual, reprint and annotated bibliography collection that focus on the communication and orientation & mobility needs of students who are deaf-blind.

The remainder of this paper focuses on one major aspect of the project, that being the implementation of a consortium model. When this project began, the American Foundation for the Blind did not have a vested nor a perceived bias toward the methodology applied to the education or rehabilitation of deaf-blind individuals. AFB recognized that it did not have staff who had expertise in deaf-blindness, and that they would need to hire full-time project staff with the needed knowledge and experience. It further recognized that the project would require contributions from individuals from related fields such as adult learning specialists, self-study and in-service training materials developers, authors and editors, and video producers, directors and editors. It further recognized the need to draw upon a wide range of experts from the field of education and rehabilitation of persons who are deaf-blind. AFB also knew that it needed more than the usual level of commitment given by others who served on AFB task forces and advisory committees. AFB knew the level of commitment required for this project would require a partnership, a consortium. This consortium would be involved from the conceptualization of the project and last well beyond the development of the project's defined and immediate goals. Other details about the Hand In Hand project are available in the presentation reports for this conference.

The Consortium Model

Consortium Composition and Structure

The AFB Deaf-Blind Project utilized a consortium in all phases of project and product planning and development. The consortium was composed of 17 individuals. Some were professionals working in education and/or rehabilitation of individuals who are deaf-blind, others were from related fields, represented individuals who are deaf-blind as their parents or deaf-blind individuals themselves, or represented organizations of and for individuals who are deaf-blind. Critical consortium members included a parent who was active in the national parent support group, and a deaf-blind adult who was active in the national deaf-blind consumer organization. The consortium was further represented by academics, those working in personnel preparation at colleges and universities; administrators, those providing educational services and/or supervising programs for individuals who are deaf-blind including coordinators of state and multi-state deaf-blind projects; and others such as experts on assessment, curriculum, evaluation, technical assistance, training, and materials development.

From this consortium, four individuals were asked to serve as an executive board. The executive board assisted in recommending strategies and agenda items for consortium meetings. They suggested tactics to apply to maximize cooperation from all consortium members, who, at times, were anticipated to bring their own agenda to the table. While some of the consortium members had made a commitment to the project at the time of the writing of the proposal, others, who had submitted proposals in the same competition, were invited to join after the American Foundation for the Blind was awarded the cooperative agreement (grant). Therefore, some members joined the consortium with their own conceptualization as to what and how the project should be realized. These conceptualization differed from AFB's approach. The executive committee members were sought out more often by the staff for their perspectives, recommended strategies, and support. During the last two years of the project, some executive board members were requested to facilitate some segments of the consortium meeting agenda .

Role and Responsibilities of Consortium Members

The roles of the consortium members were similar for all, although each year members were requested to identify the areas in which they felt they could be of particular assistance toward reaching the objectives for that particular year. The result was that level of participation by consortium members varied.

Some of the major roles and responsibilities which most consortium members of the AFB Deaf-Blind Project fulfilled included:

advising project staf

participating in the development of the project's Guiding Principles and Learner


networking with other parents, individuals who are deaf-blind, direct service providers, administrators, and others for and about the project

identifying potential authors for self-study modules

reviewing previously published materials for the purpose of selecting publications for inclusion in the project's reprint collection and annotated bibliography

writing modules and/or sections of modules of the self-study materials

identifying potential pools of field test reviewers

reviewing self-study materials and video

disseminating information about the project's activities and outcomes

incorporating project products into post project pre and inservice training plans

Consortium or Advisory Committee

During the project, staff were often asked; "How is the Consortium different from an Advisory Committee or Board? Isn't it really the same and just a trendy 90s title?" The answer was an emphatic, "No". The question was a good one because it is important to note the they are not the same. The American Foundation for the Blind, has since its inception, utilized task forces for project specific and time limited projects and activities. It has long used Advisory Boards to help determine the needs of the field, suggest activities and approaches, and to set priorities. It was recognized, during the early brainstorming as to how to address the request for proposal, that a "partnership" would be needed that transcended the roles, responsibilities, and level of commitment that was generally requested from task force and advisory committee members.

The initial core of the consortium membership was developed during the proposal preparation. Phone calls and inquiries were made, rough project concepts shared, and an initial core of consortium members were identified and brought together during proposal preparation to share their ideas while the project proposal was being designed. Some would say, "That's not so different. A lot of projects bring people together to plan the proposal". True, but something this project staff did, that might be somewhat unique, is that once the project was funded additional members of the consortium were invited to join and work together. Several of these members had been AFB's competitors for this particular cooperative agreement.

Some ways in which the consortium was different from an advisory committee were the time commitment of four years, annual two day minimum working meetings, and significant efforts during the years based on project needs matched with members' capabilities, interests, and willingness. Advisory committees most often meet for a day or two a year and occasionally are asked to participate in activities during the course of the year, but significant time commitments are not expected. They were of the consortium. Often advisory committees are informed of project or program activities and new directions and are asked to respond and suggest new directions. The consortium members shared in the development of the project, frequently reached consensus, and participated beyond giving advice. Although the consortium was not an "approving" body, it was far more influential and powerful than an advisory committee. Their commitment is expected to live beyond the life of the project.

Why use a consortium model?

Based on the experiences the staff of this project had with the consortium model, there are several elements you may wish to consider before deciding to apply it.

Broad Base of Knowledge and Experience - The consortium can provide a rich and diverse pool of expertise and experience. The AFB Deaf-Blind Project staff examined their own strengths and limitations. They identified experts in the field of education and rehabilitation of persons who are deaf-blind, and related fields, who could fill the gap and, broaden the knowledge base existent in the staff. Consortium members were identified and invited because they had made significant contributions that were deemed critical to the project's goals. For some, their affiliations and stature in the deaf-blind community were also selection factors.

Views, Beliefs, Philosophies, and Exemplary Practices - All consortium members brought to the deliberations an interest in improving the educational opportunities for students who are deaf-blind. This may be where the similarities ended. The perspectives varied, opinions not only flowed but were encouraged, strategies were suggested, and philosophies pronounced. Politically correct positions were professed and urged to be incorporated into all the project's products. Current perspectives of exemplary or best practice were expressed. At times there were differences of opinion as to what was the best practice or whether something should or should not be included in the products. Professional, respectful, and intelligent deliberations ensued until agreement, and most often consensus, was reached.

Increased Time

Sometimes decisions and agreements were easily and quickly reached. Often, time spent reaching decisions was clearly more than it may have been if left to key staff alone. During this particular project, consensus regarding philosophy, the development of the guiding principles and learner objectives, which served as the foundation upon which the rest of the project was built, and decisions regarding the content to be addressed in the self-study manual took considerably more time. But here again, it is believed that a more complete and richer product will result. Discussion and deliberation required time and thought, but hopefully the product will be more culturally sensitive, not only in regard to nationality, ethnicity, and other socio-economic aspects but also with respect to geographic influences, school policies, deaf-blind individuals' and their families' concerns, systems change. In addition, involvement of the consortium throughout the project, added both time demands on the staff and cost to the project.

Resources-Financial and Human

There are both monetary expenses and the cost of additional staff time associated with working with a consortium. There is also an element of shared costs. Although the project paid for all expenses associated with travel for annual meetings incurred by consortium members, there was no per diem honorarium. The consortium members gave much valuable time to the effort beyond the time directly associated with the annual meetings, and biannually for the executive committee. The value of the members' time far outweighed the actual cost to the project. Additional costs to the project related to the consortium included the cost of phone calls to seek guidance as well as to share information, conference calls, and mailings.

One of the project coordinators had as a primary responsibility the coordination of consortium activities. It is critical that the individual assigned to coordinate consortium activities relate to all consortium members to assure a mutually beneficial relationship. This individual is key to the success of the consortium effort. A consortium will add human and financial resources to a project.

Product Credibility

Although needs assessments drove the project goals, and extensive field testing (110 participants) of project products was conducted to determine the response of potential product users, the consortium input throughout the project added to the credibility of the project outcomes. The consortium was, after all, composed of individuals with personal and professional experience related to the project goals.

Because of the consortium's early, continued and significant involvement in the project, the members became stakeholders. The project products represent their views and decisions. They also, with project staff and authors, determined what was most important to include about communication and orientation and mobility for individuals who are deaf-blind. It was anticipated that they would use the products in parent training programs and professional pre and in-service training programs, encourage the use of the self-study materials, and in general advocate for the application of the materials for the purpose of improving the communication and orientation and mobility skills of individuals who are deaf-blind. The consortium members were valued not only for their expertise but for their positions of influence. It was anticipated that the consortium members would be the project's and its products emissaries.

In Retrospect

There are additional characteristics of the consortium model applied in the AFB Deaf-Blind Project: Hand in Hand that, if done again, would be repeated and others that would be modified. The size of 17 was manageable. It could have been increased to 20 without jeopardizing the manageability of the group. Geographic distribution of representatives was inclusive of all regions of the country. This was valuable. It is important to have representation from a variety of states, large, small, educationally progressive, economically sound as well as economically distressed, and states representing a variety of needs and service delivery systems.

Some things that would be modified, if the model were applied to a similar project, include additional parent and consumer representation. It is also recommended that the consortium meet together more than once annually. It would have been helpful, in this particular project, if the consortium met twice annually during the first two years. Although conference calling was an approach heavily used among project staff and moderately used with sub-groups of the consortium, it was not used to bring the entire consortium together. This may have been a useful strategy to apply.

It may also have been helpful if sub-committee structures had been applied to allow for concentrated work needed for certain tasks. An example was, a sub-committee of the consortium could have been used to review the video for the purpose of generating key points to address in the video's discussion guide. In lieu of bringing the consortium together, which would have been costly, two consortium members were invited to attend a focus group meeting to generated discussion guide topics. They were asked to bring their graduate students and employees. Other experts from the immediate vicinity of project headquarters participated.


The federal government recognized the critical need to provide effective educational programs and services for students who are deaf-blind. The AFB Deaf-Blind Project responded and prepared and published self-study and in-service materials, Hand in Hand, for use by teachers who work with these students. The materials, developed with broad national input from the project's consortium, teachers, and experts in the field of deaf-blindness present comprehensive coverage of theory and practice for teaching communication and orientation & mobility skills to students who are deaf-blind. These materials are expected to have a significant impact on the lives of students who are deaf-blind, their families and their teachers.

In preparing these materials and in developing the project AFB used a consortium. A consortium model is recommended for application for other projects requiring significant levels of commitment from individuals with expertise in the area under study or development.

NOTE: Much of the material for this document is from: Huebner, K.M. (1995). A Consortium effort: The American Foundation for the Blind Deaf-Project. JVIB News Service. 89, #5, pp.7-11.

Dr. Huebner was the Project Director for the Hand in Hand project and resulting materials and Dr. Spungin served on the Consortium and as Vice-President for the American Foundation for the Blind during the project.

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