A History of Washington State DeafBlind Citizens (WSDBC)

Washington State DeafBlind Citizens, was first established in 1980 to organize community activities and to begin the process of self-advocacy on a group, rather than an individual basis. Together, we are stronger.

Dan Mansfield was the first President, Don Meyer the first Vice President. Arlene Motulsky and Theresa Smith were the Secretary/Treasurer and Member at Large. These officers wrote the By Laws, organized business meetings, and coordinated with the recreation committee that planned outings and get-togethers for social activities.

It was an exciting time. The American Association of the DeafBlind (AADB) began having national conventions in 1975 and was growing rapidly. Every year the conventions were bigger. This AADB needed sites for their conventions. In 1982 the WSDBC bid for the 1984 convention to be held at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

The WSDBC was only two years old when it made the bid for the AADB convention. It took two years of planning. There were 20 committees with almost 100 volunteers just for the preparation. We were able to recruit many skilled signers (Deaf and Hearing) as SSPs (Support Service Providers). The convention was a huge success and drew even more DeafBlind people to the city. The local community grew.

Seattle's mild weather, good bus system, skilled interpreters and opportunity for work at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind (LH) were strong attractions but the biggest reason that DeafBlind people wanted to move to Seattle was the combination. The DeafBlind community itself had energy, leadership and respect from interpreters. We continued to work hard to build a strong social network.

WSDBC began with community and recreational events. We evolved ways of communicating clearly with one another. We organized transportation for groups. We developed leadership. We worked together to improve our lives and we also had fun together going out to restaurants, to dance clubs, and holding picnics. We had business meetings to inform each other, and to make plans. We had a spring banquet to honor those who worked so hard on our behalf. Some of the first people honored at spring banquets included Colleen Cook, who organized many of the social activities; Holly Ahje Delcambre, who organized the week-long Trailblazers horse trip into the Cascades, and Ellie Savidge, who mentored many of the DeafBlind leaders as well as volunteered regularly.

These gatherings at restaurants, dances, banquets, picnics, pot lucks, and long conversations in cabins and hot tubs nurtured members of the community, including new interpreters. But as more people began moving to Seattle it put stress on the volunteer hours that had helped to support the community. New interpreters were eager to learn from us in social situations. Experienced interpreters enjoyed social times with us, their DeafBlind friends. But as we became more active, more involved, we also needed SSPs to help with regular chores like shopping, banking, reading the mail and doing errands. We turned to professionals at the Lighthouse for the Blind and to our friends.

Together we met with administrators in the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) and together we established the DeafBlind Service Center (DBSC). This agency expanded the advocacy and support for ourselves begun with the WSDBC. The By-Laws of the DeafBlind Service Center was written to require at least 50% of the Board of Directors to be DeafBlind people or family members. This helps to assure that the agency stays true to its mission in spirit as well as in form.

The focus of WSDBC has been Community strength and growth. We reached out to DeafBlind people across the nation when we sponsored the AADB convention and we reached out to our peers in England when we sponsored the Seattle-London exchange. We continue strengthen our base and broaden our opportunities.

We work as a team with teachers and students in interpreting programs. We work with the director and advocates of the DBSC, with administrators at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, and with the director of the Community Service Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing on their projects involving DeafBlind people. We educate the legislature about our need for SSPs, about how much the annual, week-long retreat means to us and about our need for General Funds to pay for interpreters outside of work.

Today the WSDBC is continuing to work towards building and strengthening our community. In the near future we hope to: recruit more DB citizens to the state of WA, people who can participate in and lead the community, making it richer, fuller and stronger;establish ongoing funding sources for interpreting and other self-advocacy needs such as affordable housing and toincrease our visibility in the public eye; to make DeafBlind people a more understood and more familiar part of the larger community.

As a part of our on-going history we want to honor those who have given of their time, energy and heart, who have worked so hard to serve as our presidents. Past Presidents of the WSDBC (all DB) include:

1982 - 1987
Dan Mansfield

1987 - 1989
Janie Neal

1989 - 1991
Stephen Ehrlich

1991 - 1993
Robert J. Steppler

1993 - 1997
Les Petersen

1997 - 1999
Janie Neal

1999 - 2000
Nancy Sommer

2000 - 2003
Jelica Nuccio

2003 - 2007
Jean Healy

2007 - 2009
Jeremy Sasser

2009 - 2011
Jenné Chalfant

2011 - 2015
Caryn Tenin

2015 - 2017
Paul Ducharme

2017 - 2019
Adam Drake

2019 - present
Debra Kahn