Knoxville Conversation Will Examine VR Services for Those Who are Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing

/ January 4, 2018

By Tiffany Kelley

About the Author

Tiffany Kelley hedshot

Tiffany Kelley, the Director of Field Operations for Services for the Deaf for Vocational Rehabilitation services, has been involved in the Deaf community since childhood. After graduating from Maryville College with a Bachelor of Science degree in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies and a minor in psychology, Tiffany continued her education at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville and received a Master of Science degree in counseling with a concentration in Vocational Rehabilitation with a Deafness focus. In her current role for Vocational Rehabilitation, she ensures that quality and timely services are provided to individuals who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deaf-Blind in securing employment.

Our hope is that this blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at


The Tennessee Department of Human Services’ Division of Rehabilitation Services recognizes the unique needs of individuals who are Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing. The Division of Rehabilitation Services is responsible for the Vocational Rehabilitation Services program, which includes determination of eligibility, determination of the nature and scope of VR services and the provision of employment-focused rehabilitation services for individuals with disabilities consistent with their strengths, priorities, and resources.

In 2005, the division established a unit to provide specialized vocational rehabilitation services to eligible clients who are deaf, deaf-blind or hard of hearing. There are Vocational Rehabilitation counselors who are specially trained to work and communicate with persons who are deaf, deaf-blind or hard of hearing. These counselors provide services that enable their clients to enter, retain, or return to competitive employment.

In spring 2017, I, as the director of Field Operations for Services for the Deaf for Vocational Rehabilitation Services, attended the National Deaf Center’s Engage for Change state convening. The convening brought together state representatives from the Department of Education and Vocational Rehabilitation programs to set aside time to discuss barriers, needs, and services in each state. Alison Gauld, from the Department of Education, and I brainstormed how to best target areas within Tennessee to hear the concerns of the Deaf community and improve services. Together, we decided that the “Community Conversations” model would be the best place to start.

As you may know, Community Conversations is a model established in Tennessee by TennesseeWorks and Erik Carter, a professor of special education at Vanderbilt University and a principal in the TenneseeWorks project. Community Conversations are creative and engaging ways of bringing together a variety of community members to generate both ordinary and unique solutions to a key challenge facing their city or county. Moreover, the events always include refreshments as a way to help people relax and engage. In the case of TenneseeWorks, the focus was on expanding the limited opportunities people with disabilities have to share their talents in the workplace. So while TennesseeWorks hosted a number of these events focused on employment, the model can be adapted for any issue that would benefit from a conversation among stakeholders in the community. Other Community Conversations have addressed issues such as the need for improved autism services, how faith communities can better include people with disabilities and what do people with disabilities need to achieve their vision of independent living.

The Tennessee Department of Education and the Department of Human Services’ Vocational Rehabilitation program are collaborating to launch a Community Conversation in Knoxville. This conversation will focus on services for people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind and will be held Jan. 18 from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. in the new high school building on the Tennessee School for the Deaf campus. American Sign Language interpreters and communication access real-time translations (CART) will be available to facilitate the discussions. Light refreshments will be served.

I am hoping that you will share information about this Community Conversation with anyone in the greater Knoxville area who might be interested. We would love to have a large turnout and lots of lively discussion.

If the event proves successful, the state agency hopes to host more Community Conversations across the state.

If you have questions about the Knoxville Community Conversation, my contact information is:

Voice Phone: 865-594-6861
Cell Phone: 865-361-7845

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