IM this article to a friend!

June 10, 2004

Intervening on group's behalf

From: Winnipeg Sun - Winnipeg,Manitoba,Canada - Jun 10, 2004

Deaf-blindness poses a challenge

By laurie Mustard

Ever thought about what it's like to be born deaf? My sister, Bonnie (much, much older than me), doesn't have to wonder. My mother had the misfortune of contracting German measles during her pregnancy, resulting in Bonnie being born extremely hearing impaired. Almost totally deaf.

It was only through a tremendous effort on my parents' part that Bonnie, unlike most deaf kids back in the 1940s, learned to talk, was able to attend regular school instead of being institutionalized (as the specialists were recommending), and had the good fortune to grow up as a mainstream kid.

However, even now, with the help of two state-of-the-art hearing aides, she still depends greatly on lip-reading to "hear" what you're saying.

Imagine the mess she'd be in if she'd been born blind as well, or lost her sight over the years.

Living it

Winnipegger Gayle North-cott, 50, doesn't have to imagine how that would feel. She's living it.

Born hearing-impaired, Gayle was coping quite well with her hearing deficit, till she developed retinitis pigmentosa as an adult, and now has very little sight left.

"Living with this dual disability is really something else," she says to me over the phone yesterday." (She's able to hear a loudmouth like me with her phone turned way up, and wears hearing aids for regular communication.)

For the sake of information, which is what today's column is all about, deaf-blindness is a unique disability that combines both vision and hearing loss, not necessarily complete deafness and complete blindness. Deaf-blindness can range from partial sight (as in Gayle's case) to total blindness, and from mild to profound hearing loss.

Individuals who are deaf-blind use intervenors, who act as the eyes and ears for them.

I, on the other hand, am acting as a voice for the deaf-blind folks out there today, as they asked if I might help spread the word that June has been proclaimed Deaf-Blind Awareness Month, and on their behalf, to invite one and all to a joint awareness day this Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at The Forks.

Gayle Northcott is just one of the deaf-blind reps who'll be on hand, more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

You shouldn't have any problem finding her.

"You can't miss me," she says with a laugh. "I'm short (4-foot-10), fat, with white hair and a crazy sense of humour!"

And is most articulate regarding the challenges and needs encountered daily by her group. Gayle will be there along with representatives of four different support organizations for the deaf-blind in Manitoba, all providing information on the disability, on the different forms of communication utilized by the deaf-blind, and services available.

"Without intervenors, without support, we'd never get out of our homes," says Gayle, in serious mode momentarily. "We need opportunities for education, to get a good job, without which we can't afford the 'aides' (technical and other) that help us function in society."

Go meet this extraordinary segment of society folks. Learn what they're about. Get Gayle to tell you some jokes.

Oh, what some of us take for granted.

Copyright © 2004, CANOE, a division of Netgraphe Inc.All rights reserved.