Arkansas — A Pulaski County Special School District paraprofessional is the first in the state to become a deafblind intervener. People with these credentials have high-level training working with students who are deaf and blind.
About 245 students in Arkansas are being served under the deafblind census. PCSSD has approximately 18 students on the deafblind census.
While skilled paraprofessionals and teachers are working with these students every day, there’s only one person in the entire state with the certification to really help these students excel.
Nakia Morris helps students who are deafblind get the information they can’t get through seeing or hearing.
“You’re just kind of bridging the gap,” Morris said.
Morris works one-on-one with a student, helping them with communication and understanding concepts, as deafblindness is a unique dual-sensory impairment.
“It affects communication and development,” Morris said. “It affects your cognitive, it affects you behaviorally.”
Morris says it’s perfect job for her.
“Because when I was two, I was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer, retinoblastoma, which caused the removal of my right eye,” Morris said.
This helps her relate to the students she serves.
“So now I can help these kids and be a voice for them, the kids who can’t communicate for themselves,” Morris said.
Kids like Riley, who Morris has worked with since he was in pre-school.
“He became family for me,” Morris said.
Though Riley’s graduated, his face still lights up when he knows Morris is there.
“Riley calls her Mama Nikki,” said Riley’s mother, Michelle McClanahan.
“Having someone trained who really loved him and wanted to see him succeed was vital to his success in school,” McClanahan said.
And she says Morris’s three-year training and initiative touched her heart.
“You know, there’s no monetary benefit, there was nothing like that,” McClanahan said. “She just said, ‘I want to help and I want to be the best paraprofessional I can be.’”
There’s a growing national support for deafblind interveners in public schools.
The “Cogswell Macy Act” is in the U.S. Congress right now. It aims to strengthen the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”