The Rehabilitation Services Administration Supports Another 5-Year Cycle of Protactile Language Interpreter Training and Linguistic Research

October 10, 2021

CM Hall and Heather Holmes here. Hello!!! We're here to share some great news!

The Rehabilitation Services Administration Supports Another 5-Year Cycle of Protactile Language Interpreter Training and Linguistic Research

The DeafBlind Interpreting National Training & Resource Center (DBI) has been awarded another round of funding to continue work conducted during the 2016-2021 project. This next five-year cycle beginning October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2026 will build upon evidence-based practices and training of interpreters who work with DeafBlind individuals.

Protactile rumbles are causing tectonic shifts in the field of Protactile language interpreting. DBI would like to acknowledge the varied stakeholders who have been actively engaged in our work, including DeafBlind educators and mentors, hearing and Deaf interpreters, VR professionals, interpreter educators and most especially the DeafBlind community members across the country who have participated in our work and helped support the growth of interpreters in their community.

In 2020, Terra Edwards and Diane Brentari published a peer-reviewed article in Language, the flagship journal of the Linguistic Society of America, demonstrating that under the influence of the Protactile social movement, “PT” has broken away from ASL and is becoming its own independent linguistic system (Edwards & Brentari, 2020). They have shown that Protactile signs can be broken down into a finite set of units, which combine in rule-governed ways. However, the units are different from those found in ASL, and their rules for combination are different as well. On this basis, they have argued that Protactile is emerging as its own distinct language. Based on this linguistic evidence, DBI trains interpreters in Protactile language. DBI acknowledges that the traditional role of the interpreter is layered in systemic oppression due to distantism in interpreted interactions, which refers to the privilege of distancing senses (hearing and vision) instead of the use of touch as a means for communication. To support the autonomy of DeafBlind individuals, and their access to Protactile language, a significant shift in roles of interpreters must be made.

Najma Johnson, a DeafBlind cultural competency specialist shared, “There’s an immediate need for qualified interpreters that are culturally responsive and linguistically responsive to the DeafBlind communities and the need is escalating.”

To meet this need, over the past 5 years, DeafBlind educators trained over 150 interpreters in the use of Protactile language, and over 5,000 people enrolled in at least one of our online modules. This is only the beginning! The impact of these trainings is being felt in DeafBlind communities across the United States, with more DeafBlind individuals advocating for Protactile language and interpreting services, leading to more interpreters who are seeking intensive immersion training from DBI.

John Lee Clark, a DeafBlind poet, author, and DBI consultant said of the grant award, “Cultivating the professional growth of interpreters and their Protactile skills is not merely a project, but truly a cause. A meaningful and transformative way to bring about progress that benefits all DeafBlind people, directly and systemically.”

As DBI continues to move forward in our work, we are committed to the following activities:

Training DeafBlind educators and interpreters in the use of PT in identified geographic locations with large DeafBlind communities;

Development of training materials that include diverse models and perspectives, developed by DeafBlind leaders, researchers, educators, and trainers, on topics such as: PT, co-navigation, cross-cultural communication, systems of oppression (e.g., vidism, distantism, audism, racism, colorism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, cissexism), and interpreting practices;

Development of a PT interpreting assessment;

Implementation of accessible training programs that include remote learning, onsite immersion opportunities, and induction experiences;

Development of supplemental materials for professionals who work with DeafBlind individuals (e.g., VR, interpreter educators);

Establishment and maintenance of at least three Communities of Practice (CoP) and one listserv;

Archival of materials and resources for easy retrieval via the website; and

Active dissemination of training materials. All materials, resources, and trainings will be accessible and compliant in accordance with the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The DBI project includes program staff, consultants, trainers, mentors, content experts, contractors, linguistic researchers, assessment professionals, curriculum developers, and interpreter participants. DBI will continued to develop evidence-based, accessible materials that are delivered through self-paced modules, self-directed courses of study, cohort-based certificate programs (online, immersion, mentorship, and induction), as well as intensive Protactile language training through hand-on-hand convenings with DeafBlind educators and students.

This project draws upon the expertise of highly respected PT leaders, educators, and

Researchers and cultural competency specialists: Jelica Nuccio, Najma Johnson, Hayley Broadway, Jason “Jaz” Herbers, and John Lee Clark, who will provide training to the interpreter participants. DBI is committed to hiring two additional DeafBlind educators, who will serve on DBI’s Core Team and be involved in program development and instruction.

The next five years promise to be exciting and groundbreaking, and we hope you will get involved, as your participation supports needed systems change in the field of interpreting. Protactile language continues to grow, and on behalf of DBI, we hope that YOU will join in the PT rumblings!


Please share this announcement and these links with your networks!

For more information on DBI, please visit our website:
To access our free online modules, please visit this webpage:

The project is made possible through a grant from the US Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration, H160D160002; Training of Interpreters for Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing and Individuals Who Are DeafBlind program (CFDA 84.160D): Interpreter Training in Specialty Areas.

Hats off to all the DeafBlind educators, mentors, and interpreters who took part in our work over these past 5 years. We are thrilled to work with each of you, and as always want to express our sincere gratitude for your trust in us to work with and beside you all. And a HUGE THANK YOU for your letter of support for this work. We received high remarks in the review and were affirmed by RSA's support for this critical and timely work.


CM Hall & Heather Holmes
Co-Directors, DBI: DeafBlind Interpreting National Training & Resource Center

DBI envisions a world that celebrates the life and culture of DeafBlind persons, a world where DeafBlind people have influence and control over their destiny and dreams.

HallCM [at] mail [dot] wou [dot] edu
HolmesH [at] mail [dot] wou [dot] edu

Submitted by Chad Ludwig