The pre-Constitution era in the story of DbI is what is referred to as the infancy of the organization. The roots of the organization 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 children who are deafblind and, on rare occasions, managing to visit each other.

It was in 1962 that this group first met for its first formal conference titled “Teaching Deaf-Blind Children”. Forty-one people attended this first conference which was hosted by Condover Hall School located near Shrewsbury in the UK. Subsequent worldwide conferences were held during the 1960’s in Denmark at the Aarlborg School (2nd World Conference), and in the Netherlands at St. Michielsgestel (3rd World Conference).

During this period, nearly all the membership in attendance was concerned with the education of children who are deafblind, thus the emphasis on “education” in the original title of the organization – the International Association for the Education of Deaf-Blind Persons (IAEDB).

During the 1970’s, world conferences were next hosted by Perkins School for the Blind in the USA (4th World Conference), by Condover Hall (5th World Conference), and then in Sydney Australia in 1976 by the Royal New South Wales Institution for Deaf and Blind Children. In the 1960’s 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 (the 6th World Conference) 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, IAEDB produced a very small, mimeographed newsletter of about eight pages. There was no budget for any other activities;so right up though the 1970’s, the only activities were the world conferences every three or four years.

The first world conference during the 1980s (the 7th World Conference) was hosted by our German colleagues at the Bildungszentrum fur Taubblinde in Hannover. 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 in attendance, continuing to influence the future directions of the organization. At that time the organization was still very Euro-centric and North American. It is important to remember that few participants were coming from developing countries. It is estimated that at that time, fewer than 250 deafblind children were being served in 11 developing countries, worldwide. A few professionals from these areas managed to attend the next world conference (the 8th World Conference ) hosted by the New York Institute for the Blind in New York City in 1984.

It was during the 9th World Conference held in Poitiers, France (1987) that the obvious rapid growth of the organization prompted the development of a constitution to ensure that the organization could function better in the future. A committee consisting of Bryndis Viglundsdottir (Iceland), John McInnes (Canada) and Rodney Clark (UK and IAEDB’s first Secretary) were appointed to draft a constitution. 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 it 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 people who are deafblind themselves. This decision has resulted in the rapid expansion of membership and a great growth in the scope of topics covered within our meetings and conferences.

It was similarly determined during the 1980’s that IAEDB must begin to take steps to expand itself into a truly worldwide organization, by encouraging 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 (CBM), the Hilton/Perkins Program and Sense International. The support of these organizations resulted in significant expanded participation from all corners of the world, beginning in Orebro Sweden with the 10th World Conference in 1991, and continuing through the present day.

It was during the Presidencies of Jacques Souriou and Marjaana Suosalmi (1991 -1999) that the organization evolved to take 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 and to revise the constitution. A draft Strategic Plan was discussed by the Executive Committee at the CDBRA Conference in Vancouver Canada in 1996 to gather input from the members. The recommendations of the task force were presented for the ratification to 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 (DbI), a name which the membership felt more accurately represents the array of issues and services represented 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 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 (DbI Review) and a web page (www.deafblindinternational.org).

Today, DbI represents programs and services for thousands of people who are deafblind people around the globe. The organization has evolved into a mature, broad based professional organization. During the 1980’s, DbI initiated regional conferences in Europe, the first of which was held in Brugge Belgium in 1986. Five of these have been held to date, with participation increased to now over 500 attendees. The 1st Asian conference was held in Ahmedabad India, in 2000, in conjunction with a regional conference of ICEVI. The 2nd Asian conference was held in Bangledesh in 2005. Other Regional conferences are expected in the future. Several networks (Usher Syndrome, Acquired Deafblindness and Communications) now hold their own 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 the Ukraine.

Currently DbI has a strategic plan to further develop the organization and promote services for individuals who are deafblind. The growth and expansion of the organization in the coming decades is limited only by the limits of our imagination.

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