“There are complex layers to life during a pandemic for everyone. But, what if we add another layer to accommodations that must be made? What if a person is both deaf and blind?” said Dawnelee Wright.
Deafblindness is a combination of hearing and vision loss. Although each individual with deafblindness will experience a varying degree of sensory loss, its impact can lead to social isolation and affect a sense of community.
Dawnelee is deafblind.
“All my life I have been blind… My blindness is congenital. In 2016, I contracted a virus that lead to neuropathic hearing loss. There is a vast spectrum to the dual disability of sensory loss,” said Dawnelee.
Dawnelee is also a wife, a mother of two, a student, and she works part-time. Her world is brought closer with the support of an intervenor.
Intervenors are professionally trained to provide visual and auditory information to individuals with deafblindness through the sense of touch. They are communication partners, connecting the person to other people and their community.
For people with deafblindness, the impact of the intervenor is immeasurable.
“My intervenor does not live with my family. Because of COVID-19, I have not had her essential support for months. I felt at a loss… Without her, I cannot do things independently from my family. I lost a sense of privacy too.”
“This pandemic has led to vast changes in our interactions with others. Social distancing can be extremely isolating for an individual with deafblindness, especially without an intervenor to be your ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’.”
“As the province begins to reopen, my bubble is expanding and my intervenor will soon return to work. However, it remains difficult to explain to business owners and their employees that I cannot social distance from my intervenor, I cannot stand six feet apart from her. I also cannot avoid inspecting objects by touch and I cannot hear staff who are masked and behind plexiglass barriers.”
Over 1% of Canada’s population or approximately 466,420 people are deafblind. Individuals with deafblindness across Canada, like Dawnelee, have inconsistent access to support like Intervenor Services. This is because each province or territory has a varying degree of funding available to provide specialized services.
“Not having access to an intervenor during COVID-19 is a reminder of what it was like to not have one at all,” said Dawnelee. Although Dawnelee was able to access Intervenor Services shortly after her hearing loss in 2016, there were limited hours available until funding changed, increasing her time allotment.
Throughout National Deafblind Awareness Month in June, members of the deafblind community are advocating for a level playing field for Intervenor Services across Canada.
“An intervenor makes all the difference in the quality of life a person with deafblindness experiences. Access to Intervenor Services or Support Service Providers is a basic human right,” said Dawnelee.
National Deafblind Awareness Month was proclaimed by the Canadian Senate five years ago in 2015. It is held in June because it is the birth month of Helen Keller, one of the most internationally recognized people with deafblindness.