Spotlight on the Deaf-Blind Community

Shadowing René Pellerin

By Elizabeth Spiers

“I have a challenge finding clients,” René Pellerin joked. “Vermont has more cows than deaf or deaf–blind people.”

However, it is Mr. Pellerin’s job to find and serve deaf, hard of hearing and deaf–blind clients.

Mr. Pellerin, who has Usher Syndrome, is the coordinator of the Northern Vermont Resource Center, part of the Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. This center serves people who are deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind in northern Vermont. Mr. Pellerin oversees mental health, counseling and day programs for people with developmental disabilities and mental illness. He also coordinates a telecommunications distribution program for northern Vermont.

Mr. Pellerin supervises eight employees on his staff. In addition to his administrative work, he does about 15 hours a week of direct client service, where he provides counseling and support for his clients. He also works with his staff to develop treatment plans, behavior plans and address issues with his clients. He attends task force and legislative meetings.

Mr. Pellerin’s efforts have paid off. A few years ago, he was invited to join a national governmental task force focusing on the needs of low-functioning deaf and hard of hearing individuals. “I have always had a strong interest in low–functioning deaf, deaf–blind and hard of hearing individuals. They need to have a strong voice.”

“I like my job because I enjoy working independently,” Mr. Pellerin said. “I can develop projects where I see the need and my administrator is very supportive. For example, Vermont has no SSP services at all. I am working on establishing a pilot project to establish SSPs. We hope to have something ready sometime in July. We are also developing another small pilot project to provide services to deaf, hard of hearing and deaf–blind people who need services but don’t meet state qualifications to get them. I know clients who don’t fit the definition of developmental disabilities or mental illnesses, but need individual services.”

To do his work, Mr. Pellerin uses interpreters for staff meetings and meetings away from his office. He has a driver who drives him to various appointments around the state. He also uses videophone and video relay services. “This is much easier for me because I can focus on one person rather than trying to watch a group of people all at once,” he said.

Mr. Pellerin uses a mobility cane to get around and also uses a personal alert device both at home and at work. He commutes to work on the bus and car pools with his wife if she goes through the area. “I recently had a new bus driver who didn’t know me and I missed my connecting bus! I was able to get to work, but it was rather frustrating.”

Mr. Pellerin traveled a multi–faceted route to his current position. He received a BA degree from Gallaudet University, and shortly afterwards, worked in a group home for hearing people with developmental disabilities. “There were no specific group homes for deaf or deaf–blind people at that time, so I got the job that was available.” He tried teaching for a while, but discovered he disliked it. He then found a job working for the Vermont Association for the Blind, providing peer advocating and case management for people who were blind or visually impaired. He had a few deaf–blind people at that time, but only a few. Then he heard about an independent living program coordinator position open in Boston, Massachusetts.

“I moved down there with my wife and four children,” he said. “I quickly found out that the job was very demanding and required a lot of my time; I became overwhelmed very quickly. Also, my wife, who is an interpreter, often worked evenings and weekends as well. We didn’t have a lot of time for our family. When a position for a vocational rehabilitation counselor became available in Vermont, we moved back there. It was much quieter and I had more family time.”

Mr. Pellerin worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for two years, then took a position as state coordinator for the deaf and hard of hearing. He stayed in this position for 15 years before he became coordinator of the Northern Vermont Center four years ago. “I was ready for a change and wanted to try out some new things,” he said.

Mr. Pellerin has noted some challenges in this new position, however. “My vision is decreasing and some of my clients don’t understand my visual needs at times. My staff is great. They know they need to stay in one position and sign in a small space. It is harder for my clients to understand that so I face the challenge of understanding them and getting them to understand my vision loss.”

Family and Friends Campaign

Family and Friends Logo

AADB is kicking off its Family and Friends Campaign to support AADB's mission and activities. Our goal is to raise $30,000 so we can advocate for accessible technology for deaf-blind people to communicate with others, promote support service providers (SSPs) who are the “eyes and ears” of people who are deaf-blind, print accessible materials in braille and large print for deaf-blind readers, and increase awareness of deaf-blind people and their needs.

Your gift today will make a difference! Please visit our website at for more information on what AADB is doing. If you cannot access our website, please contact our office at for more information. Support AADB today!

Legislative Update


FCC Summit on Communication Facilitators and Video Relay Services

Recently, the American Association of the Deaf-Blind sent a letter to the Honorable Kevin J. Martin, the chairman of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), in regards to the lack of video relay services (VRS) for those deaf-blind individuals who cannot access this important service. We are requesting that the FCC host a summit as soon as possible to address all communication issues related to deaf-blind people, including the provision of Communication Facilitators (CFs). As one of the outcomes, AADB wants the FCC to require or mandate that all VRS providers to provide Communication Facilitators services to those deaf-blind people who need them so they can receive functionally equivalent telephone services under the Americans with Disabilities Act. To view the letter > >

Medicare Hearing Health Care Enhancement Act

Senator Tim Johnson and Representative Mike Ross are working on a bill that would allow patients covered by Medicare to go directly to a qualified audiologist for hearing problems rather than going to a primary care doctor first for a referral. AADB has written letters in support of this bill to both Senator Johnson and Representative Ross.

People can go to our website at to read the letters in full. If you cannot access the website, please contact the AADB Office.

Deaf-Blind Community Events

Upcoming AADB Exhibits

AADB will be having exhibits at two upcoming conferences, one at the American Council for the Blind convention in Louisville, KY, July 5 to 12, 2008, and another at the National Association of the Deaf conference in New Orleans, LA, July 7 to 11, 2008. Visit our booths and learn more about AADB and the deaf-blind community!

AADB Presentations

AADB staff will also co–present with staff from the Helen Keller National Center at two workshops at the NAD Conference. One will be on “Vision Loss in the Deaf Community: Understanding Causes and Types of Vision Loss.” The other will be on “Vision Loss in the Deaf Community: How to Cope Effectively.”

Deaf-Blind Camp 2008

This camp will be held on September 17-21, 2008 at Courage North Camp Retreat in Lake George, Minnesota. For more information, contact Mike Walton at

Deaf/Deaf-Blind Christmas Getaway

Deaf Travel Club will be offering a Christmas cruise to the Western Caribbean for deaf and deaf-blind people on December 21 to 27, 2008. For more information, call 1-800-419-0460, email, or visit

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