Alum Acts as Bridge to the World for Deaf-Blind Students

Samantha DurkeeTamarac Class of 2008 alum, Samantha Durkee works as an Intervener with a student who has Trisomy 12 and is deaf-blind.

“My job as an Intervener is to bridge the gap between my student and their peers, teachers, and even their family,” said Durkee. “Deaf-blind doesn’t mean a person can’t see and hear, it means they are legally deaf and legally blind.”

Like many who are deaf-blind, one of the road blocks is communication. Durkee has worked to gain her student’s trust and figure out what her student was trying to communicate through behaviors. She has taught her student new ways of communicating that others can understand.

“When my student moved into our classroom she had no communication at all, she was very behavioral and did not like other people around her,” said Durkee.

After a year of providing intervener services, her student has made many strides within the classroom. She is now able to sit at a table and do work, walk safely and greet people in the hall and socialize. The student’s behavioral plan has been discontinued due to these services.

Durkee earned a BS in art education from the College of St. Rose. She spent two years working as a preschool teacher and then started working as a Teacher Assistant at the Center for Disability Services.

After working as a TA, Durkee became very interested in the deaf-blind community and began taking sign language classes to learn to communicate with a wider array of individuals.

“I grew very attached to the children here at the school and I soon took many classes on special education,” said Durkee. “I spoke with another teacher who introduced me to Christopher Russell who works for the New York State DeafBlind Collaborative. He soon gave me information on where to take classes and I began my career right away.”

Durkee completed her intervener portfolio this past December and is now a nationally credentialed intervener.

“There is no typical day in special education where anything can happen,” said Durkee.

During a typical day, Durkee does many of activities with her student that uses her residual vision.

tactile books made bu Durkee

Tactile books made by Durkee.

“Everything I provide her is adapted for a tactical learner and mostly handmade. My student has to understand what I am trying to explain to her using mainly her touch and some tactile sign language,” said Durkee. “I write and make all of the tactile books she uses at school.”

 Any advice to students who are interested in going into your field? 

“Patience, a lot of patience,” said Durkee. “I also wish I had the opportunity to take American Sign Language while in high school. I use ASL more now in school and in public than I do Spanish.”

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