Deafblind Awareness Week running from 24 - 30 June, is challenging all Australians to learn about the condition and consider learning a new way to communicate.
In Australia, approximately 332,400 people (or 1.49 percent) have a dual sensory impairment, indicating a loss of both hearing and sight, of which approximately 324,800 are aged 65 years or older
Chief Executive Officer of disability service provider Able Australia, Kate MacRae is encouraging people to learn tactile signing, a method of communication often used by deafblind people involving clasping the hands over the person signing to ‘feel’ the words.
“This year, we have a real focus on encouraging the general public to educate themselves on the condition and consider how they can better communicate with the community,” she says.
“Whether this be through learning some sign language or considering how they can make their websites or workplaces more accessible.”
Ms MacRae says deafblind people can achieve the same things as anyone who does have sight and hearing, provided they are given the right opportunities.
“Often, the only difference between a person with deafblindness and any other person is the language barrier. We want to change that.”
“Deafblindness can be an incredibly isolating condition so having a week for deafblind people and their families where they can celebrate and be given a platform to share the challenges of deafblindness is extremely important.
“It is an opportunity for the general public to learn about deafblindness, as well as for the deafblind community to come together, connect and learn from each other.”
Alisha Hill from Adelaide became deafblind eight years ago after developing a medical condition known as Neurofibromatosis Type 2, which causes hearing and vision loss and difficulty with balance.
Previously working as a teacher, Ms Hill had to give up her employment, ability to drive and studies before she found the right support to continue working and getting out in her community.
Today, she is employed as a Community Development Worker at Able Australia where she works with service providers supporting deafblind people, teaches deafblind awareness workshops, supports clients and works as a communication guide.
She says the main challenges she faces include communication, mobility and isolation, mirrored by many deafblind people.
“It’s hard to get out into the community and as I need to rely on people to do that sometimes I stay home, or sometimes the activity itself is not accessible to me … and with that comes things like depression.”
Ms Hill says awareness of deafblindness is so important, as well as access to the right supports.
“It's great to raise awareness. Just because someone is deafblind it doesn't mean they’re incapable.
“We can get out, we can do things, we can participate in the community.
“As long as we have the right support, deafblind people can do anything,” she says.
“Currently, there are lots of support services for people with one sensory impairment,
hearing or vision loss, but few services that accommodate both.” Ms MacRae says.
“We are proud to be an organisation that meets the needs of these everyday Australians.”
To celebrate the lives of people who are deafblind and their supporters around the country, Able Australia, Deafblind Victoria and Deafblind Australia held an awareness week event at Ross House in Melbourne’s CBD on Wednesday 19 June.
Ms MacRae says it was a fantastic opportunity for old friends to catch up and connect, as well as meet new friends, learn about Able Australia’s new Centre of Excellence for Deafblindness, engage with other supports and create some art using techniques adopted by deafblind people.
Able Australia is also running Ablelink, an e-learning hub for people with deafblindness at Ross House throughout the week.
To find out more about deafblindness visit https://www.deafblind.org.au