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Photo Credit: CNIB Foundation

By Mallorie Rast

June is Canada’s national DeafBlind Awareness month, and this year Saskatchewan has a bigger reason to take notice as a new support program under CNIB and SDHHS is launching, making Saskatchewan the 2nd province in Canada to offer services to those who suffer from vision and hearing impairment.

When you think of being deaf and blind, you might imagine a black and silent world without sunsets, colour, music, and the voices of loved ones. Without any means of communicating with the outside world, your silent world might hold you captive in darkness and loneliness.

However, things are changing and June was chosen as National Deafblind awareness month since it is the birth month of Hellen Keller, an American DeafBlind woman immortalized throughout history.

Keller suffered from complete vision and hearing loss from a very young age, and it wasn’t until Anne Sullivan, a teacher and what we would now call an intervenor, managed to unlock the door of communication that Keller was able to truly experience the world in which she lived in. The Touch of Magic, Story of Anne Sullivan by Lorena Hickok, movingly describes the moment of true communication was “like a bright probing sunbeam, a new thought…penetrated the curtain that had held her mind a prisoner within its dark folds.”

While Keller is a notable person who triumphed over DeafBlindness, it is sobering to realize that between 1 – 2% (roughly 368, 412 based on the 2016 Census) of Canadians today experience the world Keller so vividly portrayed over a hundred years ago. Motivated by the need to pierce loneliness and raise awareness, the CNIB DeafBlind Community Services, based in Ontario, conducted research across the nation, evaluating the need for such services.

During the research, the Government of Saskatchewan stepped up to the plate. It quickly connected the DeafBlind Community Services to the Saskatchewan branch of CNIB and the Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (SDHHS) to complete the research.

The result of this teamwork and several months of effort by the CNIB, SDHHS and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services, a new program is ready to roll out later this summer for Saskatchewan residents, numbering roughly 151 according to Saskatchewan CNIB estimates, who have hearing and vision impairments. “We are pleased to see this program launching in Saskatchewan and would like to give a big shout out to the Government of Saskatchewan who are the first among the provinces, outside of Ontario, to start providing these services to people who need it.” Sherry Grabowski, Executive Director of DeafBlind Community Services, said in a recent interview with Kindersley Social.

With the launching of the program, plans are to start with at least one intervenor and add more over the next three years. The intervenor can take on four clients (6 hours a week per client) and serve as the communicator or “eyes and ears” for the client. “This means anywhere from driving the client to doctor’s appointments, to shopping in a mall, to helping them obtain and maintain a gym membership,” says Grabowski. “It is our goal to assist the DeafBlind to lead as normal and as independent a life they can.”

Grabowski explained that many of those who experience DeafBlindness typically have some degree of vision and/or hearing still available for them to use–it is the job of the intervenor to help the client capitalize on these.

“People who are DeafBlind can have a quality of life; they can get an education, hold jobs and own businesses. It just comes down to offering the support they need to accomplish it.”

Grabowski has been working with DeafBlind Community Services for over 25 years and is passionate about bringing public awareness to the DeafBlind. “Most people don’t know that there are people in their community who have vision and/or hearing loss, let alone know how this impacts their day to day lives.”

Grabowski hopes DeafBlind Awareness month doesn’t just create increased awareness but also brings hope to those who are experiencing it. “By promoting independence and letting people know that supports are available, we want to give them hope that they too can do almost anything.”

Kindersley resident Doreen Gronning, blind since a horrific car accident over 40 years ago, is enthusiastic about bringing awareness to the DeafBlind community. Gronning is a principal organizer of a peer-support group for those with vision impairments in the Kindersley area and noted that it is not uncommon for people, especially as they age, to experience both vision and hearing impairments.

In light of this knowledge, Gronning is thrilled to hear about the DeafBlind services coming to Saskatchewan. “Sometimes, people feel that they are all alone and that there is nothing left to life. But I want to let them know that they are not alone and there is still so much to live for. I think that this new program will be one way of helping people to get the support that they need to enjoy life.”

Persons who are interested in qualifying for or getting involved with Saskatchewan’s new DeafBlind program should contact the CNIB’s Regina Head Office at 306-525-2571.

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