History

The pre-Constitution era in the story of Deafblind International (DbI) is what is referred to as the infancy of our organization. The roots of DbI go back to the 1950s when just a few organizations around the world were beginning to collaborate. Among this group were organizations and schools such as Condover Hall in the U.K., the school for the blind in Hannover, Germany, the Institute for Defectology in Moscow, St. Michielsgestel in the Netherlands, Perkins Schools for the Blind in the USA, and several schools from the Nordic countries. This group corresponded by mail, sharing the results, successes, and frustrations of their work with deafblind children and, on rare occasions, managing to visit each other.

It was in 1962 that this group first met for a formal conference, “Teaching Deaf-Blind Children”, hosted by Condover Hall School near Shrewsbury in the UK. Forty-one people attended this first conference. Subsequent worldwide meetings were held during the 1960s including the Aalborg School in Denmark, and at St. Michielsgestel in the Netherlands. During this era, nearly all the membership in attendance was concerned with the education of children who were deafblind, and thus the emphasis on “education” in the original title of the organization.

During the 1970s, world conferences were next hosted by Perkins School for the Blind in the USA, by Condover Hall once again, and then in Sydney by the Australian schools serving deafblind children. During the early part of this decade, the group met officially as a Sub-committee, on the Education of the Deaf-Blind, of the larger mother organization known as the International Council for the Education of the Visually Handicapped (today known as ICEVI). Attendance at conferences was in the 100-200 range. Many more organizations began to attend meetings, especially from Europe and North America.

It was during the Sydney conference in 1976 that the International Association for the Education of the Deafblind (IAEDB) was officially born, electing Keith Watkins of Australia as its first Chairman. Membership was strictly individual, at a cost of about $10 per year, which most members prepaid for four years at the world meetings. Due to the limited revenue of the organization, the IAEDB had a very small, mimeographed newsletter of about eight pages. There was no budget for any other activities, so right up through the 1970s, the only activities were the world conferences every three or four years.

The first world conference during the 1980s was hosted by our German colleagues at the Bildungszentrum fur Taubblinde in Hanover. This conference brought together people from around the world who understood each other and spoke the same professional language since we were all concerned with the education of children who are deafblind. This conference was early enough that most of the Founding Fathers of our field were still very much in attendance, and influencing future directions of the organization. The organization was still very Euro-centric and North American. It is estimated that, in this era, fewer than 250 deafblind children were being served in 11 developing countries, worldwide. A few of these members managed to attend the very next world conference in New York City, in 1984, which was hosted by the New York Institute for the Blind.

It was during the world conference held in Poitiers, France, in 1987 that the obvious rapid growth of the organization prompted the development of a constitution under which the organization could function better in the future. A committee was appointed for this purpose. Bryndis Viglundsdottir of Iceland, with assistance from Rodney Clark of the UK, our Secretary at the time, drafted a constitution that was presented to our Executive Committee and approved in Madrid in 1997, later to be ratified at our world meeting in, Cordoba, Argentina in 1997.

A few significant changes in the makeup and focus of our organization came about as a result of the Constitution. It was decided that IAEDB would no longer have a sole focus on education, but that we would concern ourselves with service delivery to the full spectrum of deafblind people, from infancy through adulthood. It was consequently determined that members need not be only teachers concerned with education, but may also be a great variety of people interested in deafblind services, including, but not limited to, administrators, clinical specialists, family members, rehabilitation and adult services workers, and deafblind people themselves. This decision has resulted in the rapid expansion of membership and great growth in the scope of topics covered within our meetings and conferences.

It was similarly determined during the 1980s that IAEDB must begin to take steps to expand itself into a truly worldwide organization, by encouraging the development of services and participation of members from the developing world, especially in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Over the next few years, international efforts were founded within organizations such as the Swedish Federation of the Deafblind, Christoffel-Blindenmission, the Hilton/Perkins Program, and Sense International. The support of such organizations resulted in significantly expanded participation from all corners of the world, beginning with the world conference in Orebro, Sweden, in 1991, and continuing through the present day.

At the Cordoba Conference in 1997, there were some planning discussions headed up by Bernadette Kappen!

It was from 1996 to 1999, during the Presidency of Marjaana Suosalmi, that the organization took on its current configuration. A Strategic Planning Task Force, comprised of several leaders of the field, studied the nature of the organization, and recommended several changes to the structure. The recommendations of the task force were presented for the ratification of the membership at the world meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1999. Many important changes resulted from this reorganization. The IAEDB was reborn as Deafblind International, a name in which the membership felt more accurately represented the array of issues and services we represent in the current era. The organizational structure was reinvented, recognizing that the organization is essentially an organization with a strong network sub-structure, in which people of common interests meet and interact more frequently between conferences. A new governance structure was established, in which the former IAEDB Executive Committee was dissolved and a Council and a Management Committee were put in its place. A fee structure was established for small and large corporate members, resulting in greatly increased income for the organization. This increased revenue has resulted in a much greater array of activities and efforts that DbI can support, including a modern, state-of-the-art magazine and web page.

Today, DbI represents programs and services for thousands of deafblind people around the globe. The organization has evolved into a mature, broad-based professional organization. During the 1980s, DbI initiated regional conferences in Europe, the first of which was held in Brugge in 1986. Five of these have been held to date, with participation has increased from about 300 to now over 500 attendees. The first Asian conference was held in Ahmedabad India, in 2000, in conjunction with a regional conference of ICEVI. The next of was held in Bangladesh in 2005, and others are expected in other developing regions of the world in the future. Several of the networks now hold their own smaller meetings and conferences on topical themes, and some of these have as many as 200 attendees. DbI membership now includes professionally active persons from places as diverse as Cuba, Tanzania, Indonesia, Nepal, China, and Ukraine. The growth and expansion of the organization in the coming decades are limited only by the limits of our imagination.

Name
Term of Office
Keith Watkins (Australia)
1976 – 1987
John McInnes (Canada)
1987 – 1991
Jacques Souriau (France)
1991 – 1995
Marjaana Suosalmi (Finland)
1995 – 1999
Michael Collins (USA)
1999 – 2003
William Green (Italy)
2003 – 2011