Communication Difficulties in the Deafblind Community

As a follow-up to my previous post, I thought I’d end Deafblind Awareness Week with a discussion of some issues that have been on my mind over the past week. To anyone else with lived experience of deafblindness, please feel free to share your own experiences or helpful tips in the comments section. At this point it seems important to clarify that the term deafblindness refers to anyone who has a combination of vision and hearing impairment.

 

Last Tuesday, June 27th, I attended a lunch to celebrate Deafblind Awareness Week. We had some very tasty Indonesian food for lunch, and a visit from a positive and friendly guest speaker from the Health and Community Services Complaints Commission (HCSCC). The thing I found challenging at this lunch was that a lot of us had quite different levels of vision and hearing, this resulted in a range of communication needs.

 

My vision is a lot worse than my hearing, so I rely on my hearing for communication. At least one person had enough vision to see an interpreter signing. One person was using tactile sign. At least one person had a microphone they could pass around that transmitted straight to their hearing device. I think two of the people present were non-verbal, and a couple of people had voices that were sometimes harder to hear. I think at least one person chose where they sat based on which ear had better hearing so they had a better chance of hearing the guest speaker. As well as the need to let the world know how to communicate with us, I think we need to learn how to better communicate with each other.

 

I have been in settings a few other times where there has been an Auslan interpreter, but this is the first time where I’ve been in a room with several interpreters at once. I found it quite confusing. I have to wonder if the interpreters had only ever worked with deaf people and didn’t have much experience of communicating with vision impaired people. I can’t really tell when someone is speaking for themselves and when they are interpreting. Also, even if I know someone is interpreting, I don’t always know who they are interpreting for, so don’t know where to direct my reply.

 

I have a few ideas, and will be discussing them with friends in the local deafblind community when I get a chance. If there’s a setting that requires interpreters, I think it would be helpful to have introductions at the beginning. For example, “I’m Jane, and I’ll be interpreting for Bob,” and then if the interpreter has something to say for themselves during a conversation, “It’s Jane, I’m speaking for myself right now”. I know I need to get more comfortable with asking people what their communication needs are. I’ve been wondering about learning some form of tactile sign. I’ve also been wondering about how to make meeting spaces more accessible for hearing aids and any other hearing devices.

 

I have a lot to learn, and some questions to ask, and a few ideas to share. I’m looking forward to more involvement with the local deafblind community. I am aware the communication barriers mean it may be challenging to find deafblind people out there in our local community who aren’t aware of our little group or of services that are available to them. Also, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who, like me, haven’t realised that they fit into the term of deafblind because they aren’t totally deaf or blind.

 

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