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April 28, 2006

Deaf Talkabout: Residential home real 'dutch treat'

From: Belfast Telegraph - United Kingdom - Apr 28, 2006

During a conference in Holland some years ago we were invited to visit a residential home for retired deaf people just outside Amsterdam, which has been described as the most enlightened in the world.

Surrounded by beautiful grounds within walking distance of the town, 300 hundred older deaf enjoy hotel-like amenities in three purpose-built apartment blocks with shops and leisure facilities. Staff provide meals and other services if required, but the emphasis is on creating an environment just like home.

All private rooms are equipped with flashing lights for the door and smoke alarms, and staff, (many of whom are deaf themselves), are not permitted to enter without first pressing the doorbell and asking permission. Privacy is assured for those who desire it and a residents' committee draws up the rules.

We have nothing like this in the province and RNID director Brian Symington told me research proves there is a demand for such a facility and the main problem is not financial but finding a location convenient for all. There's no point in building a lovely home in the middle of nowhere far from the shops or too remote for visits from family and friends.

On the death of a spouse some of our older deaf have found their homes too difficult to manage alone and a room in an ordinary retirement home has been the only option. But no matter how kind the staff are and how good the facilities, deaf people who have lived all their life in the company of other sign language users never feel at home in this environment.

As we saw on a recent See Hear programme, retirement homes for English and Scottish deaf do not always succeed and one manager reported on the difficulties of trying to arrange deaf awareness and sign language training for staff on top of their other duties. There are health and safety issues concerning deaf workers in this situation. Can they be overcome?

Modern deaf folk travel all over the province to socialise and our cars and mobiles have revolutionised the old idea of an evening out. Hotels and restaurants now replace the deaf club as the place to be. Would a retirement home not seem dull and stale by comparison? Can it be made attractive as well as comfortable? And can we make it appealing to the hard of hearing as well as the signing deaf?

The set-up in Holland depends a lot on generous financial support from the Government and the positive, happy atmosphere of the residence reflects on the gloomy, depressed picture many of us associate with retirement homes. Most of us are living longer and there is a real need for such a pleasant, efficient and welcoming home for our older deaf.

The Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People (CACDP) is holding its annual meeting on Thursday, May 4, in Wilton House at 7pm. Guest speaker is Mary Wilmot and others will share memories on the Centenary Year of WH.

© 2006 Independent News and Media (NI)
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