DeafBlind Central Staff

People who are DeafBlind have unique needs and we are here to help!


Beth Kennedy, Ph.D. is the director of DeafBlind Central: Michigan's Training & Resource Project and the director and instructor for the online Deafblind Intervener Training Program offered online through Central Michigan University. She has worked in the field of deafblindness since 1991, having held positions at Perkins School for the Blind and the Florida DeafBlind project prior to returning to Michigan, her home state.  She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts at Boston and her Master of Education degree in Special Education, with a specialization in deafblindness, from Boston College. Beth led teams to develop four of the Open Hands Open Access (OHOA) training modules available on the National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB). She completed the Educational Leadership Ph.D. Program at Central Michigan University, studying the process of how interveners learn to support students who are deafblind in school settings for her dissertation.
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Project Coordinator

Laura Johnson, M.A.CTRS is the Project Coordinator for DeafBlind Central: Michigan's Training & Resource Project. She has a background in Therapeutic Recreation, getting her master's degree in the field in 2011 from Central Michigan University. Laura has since held positions within inpatient mental health, long-term care, and community recreation working with persons with varying diagnoses. She has also previously held a faculty position with Central Michigan University from 2015-2017, teaching in the Therapeutic Recreation department. Laura's work has specialized in increasing the social emotional, cognitive, physical, and spiritual functioning of clients to facilitate full participation in life and recreation.
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Julie Unatin, M.A. graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a degree in Special Education-Visual Impairment and received her Master’s from Western Michigan University in Orientation and Mobility for the Blind. She began her career at a multi-disciplinary low vision center working with patients experiencing vision loss and then moved to Oakland Schools where she has just finished her 30th year as a TVI and COMS with Oakland Schools. In 2020, Julie completed her second Master’s degree in teaching students who are DeafBlind from Texas Tech University. Julie has presented nationally on braille literacy and most recently has presented on the impact of dual sensory loss, including strategies to enhance learning and best practice. Julie conducts functional vision evaluations on students birth-26, including assessment and considerations for DeafBlind students. She has a direct caseload of students whom she consults with, including some who need braille instruction. She spends a tremendous amount of time integrating instruction for students who are DeafBlind in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program in Oakland County. Julie works daily with interveners who have their National Intervener Credential and promotes collaboration with teams to ensure access, understanding, and literacy for each student. She enjoys mentoring new staff. In addition to her work for Oakland Schools, Julie works as an as-needed consultant for DB Central.
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Kelly Merrifield is the mother of a pre-teen child with CHARGE Syndrome. Her daughter was born with hearing loss, vision loss, swallowing difficulties, heart defect, neurological issues, and many other medical challenges. Her daughter was in the NICU for 6 months and has had several surgeries. Her daughter has a BAHA implanted hearing aid and communicates using American Sign Language (ASL). Having a child who is deafblind brings many challenges and Kelly has a passion for helping families who are new to this journey. Because of her passion for helping families, Kelly became a parent guide for Michigan Hands & Voices and began working as a Family Consultant for DB Central. Kelly has done presentations on her lived-experience as a parent of a child with multiple disabilities that cover infancy to current day struggles and triumphs. Kelly looks forward to meeting with families and making family-to-family connections, so that people can learn from one another and work together to improve the lives of their children.
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Jill A. Gaus, LPN was born with Usher Syndrome Type II. She is a Licensed Practical Nurse with over 44 years of experience. Jill was a certified oncology nurse, but now primarily works at campus, volunteering for Deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind programs for children and adults. She provides valuable insights for family members and service providers because of her lived experience. She has served as the director of the DeafBlind Workshop, a camp for adults who are DeafBlind, an immersion training for interpreters and real time caption providers for many years. She also provides lectures at community college programs for nurses, emergency personnel, and interpreters. Jill has served on several advisory boards for state and national organizations. She was the co-founder and past president of the longstanding state DeafBlind organization, Self Help for Independency in Michigan Equalizing the DeafBlind (SHI-M=DB).

Laura McMullen, M.A. has three children, the youngest of whom was a micro-preemie, currently has multiple diagnoses, and is on the project census. Laura has been mentored by seasoned Michigan Hands & Voices board members to run a quarterly, virtual meeting for parents who have a child who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing and has one or more additional disabilities. She supports families, assists with project events, and does presentations that tap into her expertise working with people who have English as a Second Language and her continued training as an American Sign Language Interpreter.

Lisa Rowinski, M.A., NIC has a master's degree in Social Work and previously served as the Family Engagement Coordinator for the project. She has continued to work for the project as a Nationally Certified ASL Interpreter to provide accessibility measures for webinars and virtual meetings. Lisa will be involved in events for DeafBlind teens and young adults in addition to being able to support families to negotiate support systems.

Graduate assistant

Graduate assistant Erika Doetkott, B.S. is a first-year Au.D. student in Central Michigan University’s Doctor of Audiology Program. She earned her Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders at University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2023. Her capstone project focused on the development of a social enterprise within a trauma-impacted community, where accessibility to resources was foremost in mind. Erika has experience working in schools as a paraprofessional, as well as developing tutoring programs focused on the individual needs of each student. She looks forward to providing further support to the DB Central community.
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The contents of this website were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education H326T230033. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. - Project Officer, Rebecca Sheffield.

Website: U.S. Office of Special Education Programs IDEAs That Work