“Knox United Church are more than just our neighbours on Northumberland Street, they are a community that has warmly welcomed the people we support with deafblindness”, said Amanda Albrecht, Client Services Advocate at DeafBlind Ontario Services.
Deafblindness, a combined loss of hearing and vision, affects access to information, communication, and mobility. Its impact can lead to social isolation and interfere with a sense of community. However, with the right supports in place, the potential of a person with deafblindness is limitless.
It is with the support of an intervenor that Michael, a young man with deafblindness, volunteers at Knox United Church. Intervenors provide visual and auditory information to individuals with deafblindness. DeafBlind Ontario Services’ professional intervenors foster independence through a holistic and person-centered approach of “do with, not for”.
For over a year, Michael has volunteered at Knox United Church where he helps fold the bulletins and deliver them to the sanctuary. The intervenor is a communication partner, connecting Michael with members of the church and providing guidance when necessary to encourage independence in his role.
“Volunteering at Knox United Church allows Michael to give back to his community and it gives him a sense of purpose. The administrative tasks have expanded his skillset and he has a strong relationship with many members of the church”, said Jennifer Leung, an intervenor at DeafBlind Ontario Services.
“Michael plays a vital role in our church administration. The work that he does each Friday has freed up our office administrator to take time for other tasks”, said Gail Fricker, Minister at Knox United Church.
When Michael first started volunteering, the sanctuary was not accessible. Recently, Knox United Church completed an accessibility project thanks to a grant from Service Canada’s ‘New Horizons for Seniors Program’. Now, the church has an easy access ramped door, an accessible washroom, and a lift into the sanctuary.
“Our accessibility upgrades mean that many more seniors and those with mobility challenges can access programs at the Church. The lift to the sanctuary on the second floor allows Michael to utilize this space to work, and now anyone can worship with us”, said Gail.
These accessibility upgrades also benefit Shalom, another young man with deafblindness supported by DeafBlind Ontario Services. On Sundays, Shalom attends choir rehearsal and participates by drumming along to the beat of the music. With the new lift, he can now stay after practice and join for the sermon.
“Music has a way of connecting with everyone in a deeply spiritual and soulful way. At rehearsal, Shalom will often respond with sounds of joy. Members of the choir are inspired when they see the impact of their singing for Shalom”, said Gail.
“Our relationship with Knox United Church began shortly after we opened our residential location in 2014. The church has always been such an inviting and inclusive environment, which is why we named them a 2019 ‘Friends of DeafBlind Ontario Services’. This award recognizes individuals, groups and organizations, who, over time, have contributed extensively to the people we support”, said Amanda.
“Their acts of kindness have made a huge difference in the lives of the people we support”, said Amanda.
“We are called to live together in community. Working with Michael and Shalom has been a practical way of living out our faith. Their involvement wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of DeafBlind Ontario Services’ team of intervenors”, said Gail.
About one percent of Canada’s population or approximately 368,400 people are deafblind, like Michael and Shalom. In Ontario, an estimated 147,736 individuals are deafblind.