The Deaf Mentor Project is sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Human Services Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division and the Minnesota Department of Health. The program focuses on the communication needs of families with children who are deaf and hard of hearing birth to age 6. The program assists families by providing instruction in American Sign Language, early visual communication methods, and Deaf Culture, through a trained, paid Deaf Mentor.
Minnesota can only serve a small number of families each year because of limited funding. To address the waiting list for Deaf Mentors and the high transportation costs, MNCDHH is collaborating with the Minnesota Department of Human Services and Minnesota Department of Health to pilot a mentorship program via technology. The Great Plains Telehealth Resource and Assistance Center has offered support and guidance in developing the pilot program.
The pilot connects mentors with families via a computer, webcam, and video software. In the future, in addition to increasing access to families and providing additional flexibility the video mentorship could expand to:
- Allow mentors to collaborate and attend trainings remotely.
- Provide families with options to various mentors throughout the state.
- Expand to include hard of hearing mentors.
We have collected data about the current pilot program through participant and mentor evaluations. The data are used to evaluate the effectiveness of mentorship through technology and learn how we can improve services. The current pilot family receiving Deaf Mentor services via technology shared, "It is nice to have the mentor with you in your home, but this is a great alternative to learning." In addition, they expressed that the quality of mentoring sessions was excellent and that they would recommend "mentoring by video" to another family.
MCDHH has conducted two surveys of Minnesota families to determine interest in mentorship via technology. The combined results from 2010 and 2011 showed that almost 80% of families (19/24) that participated in the survey were interested in Deaf Mentor services via technology.
Value of Deaf Mentorship
Approximately 94% of children born with a hearing loss are born to hearing parents. Most parents have limited or no experience interacting with individuals who are prelingually deafened. Deaf and hard of hearing adults can provide parents with a positive and hopeful perspective. The following research demonstrates the value of deaf adults working with families:
- Hitermair (2000) interviewed 317 parents and found that those who reported having contact with deaf adults also reported less depression, less isolation and increased interactional responsivity to their child.
- Walkins, Pittman, and Walden (1998) found that parents who received services from a Deaf Mentor reported less frustration in communicating and interacting with their child and knew and used six times as many signs with their child than parents in the control group that did not have access to Deaf adults on a regular basis.
- At the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Summit in Minnesota in 2011, Susan Elliot gave a presentation about the importance of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Mentors on a child's identity development, self-esteem, and family relationships. Her presentation will be posted here when available.