In the dark about people who are deaf-blind?
Courtesy of the Helen Keller National Center.
Most people who are considered deaf-blind are not totally blind and totally deaf. There is tremendous variety in the degrees or vision and hearing loss, and a great range of individual abilities and needs among this population estimated at more than 70,000 Americans. This figure excludes the escalating number of older adults who are losing vision and hearing, due to the aging process, who strongly desire to retain their independence. Today, many "fragile" premature babies are surviving due to advanced technology, but often have vision and/or hearing impairments. Recent statistics indicate that there are nearly 11,000 children, age 0-21, who are dear-blind, and that number is growing.
According to Dr. Robert J. Smithdas, assistant director at the Helen Keller National Center, deaf-blind since the age or 4 1/2. "Independent living means an ability to function smoothly and easily within the structure or society, being able to communicate with others to obtain useful information, travel freely and without fear and have the ability to perform chores that are necessary for survival."
During the last 25 years much progress has been made in providing education and specialized vocational rehabilitation training. Today, people with dual sensory disabilities have options, make choices, and express preferences. Individuals may live in their own homes, a shared apartment or group home with support staff. Aids and devices including low vision clocks, tactual wake-up devices, tactile signal alerting systems, large print and braille telephone devices make independent living feasible. (Sufficient and appropriate residential sites, however, remain a critical need.)
People who are considered deaf-blind work in jobs ranging from food service at a local hospital or restaurant, to data entry at AVIS, stock clerk in "the GAP," teaching at a technical college. Some folks use public transportation buses and trains, or taxis, and can travel comfortably to work, visit families, or shop in town. Others may need someone to accompany them. Communication, the key to learning, knowledge and access to people, varies from the use of voice, tactile sign language, writing in large letters on the palm of a person who is deaf-blind, to the use or portable braille devices like the Braille Lite. Individuals with limited language skills may use a communication book which could have pictures, tactile graphics and printed words to indicate what the dear-blind person wants.
Pictured in the 1997 awareness poster and public service ads are Sandra and Scott Storrel. Deaf as a young child, Sandra started to lose her vision at age 21. She discovered that she had Usher syndrome, a genetic condition combining hearing loss and Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a major cause or dear-blindness. Afraid to attend college and pursue her interest in nursing, she stopped planning for her future. After enrolling in a rehabilitation training program, she soon acquired the skill she needed to regain her independence. She met a fellow student, Scott, diagnosed with "Storrel syndrome," a neuro-muscular disorder. He was legally blind and had experienced a severe hearing loss at age 18. Friendship blossomed into love and they married in July 1996. Today they live in an apartment on a large university campus where Scott is majoring in computer science and creative writing. Sandy is working towards a certificate program in medical transcription at a nearby college. Both are following their preferred interests, using their talents and facing the joys and problems or everyday life.
Originally proclaimed by Congressional resolutions and Presidential signature eleven years ago, Awareness activities and events featuring information about significant vision and hearing loss, or deaf-blindness, now occur throughout the year, beginning in June, the month of Helen Keller's birth date.
All citizens, health organizations, civic groups, libraries, schools, and agencies are encouraged to plan state and local activities during the month of June, and especially during the week of June 22-28. A sample proclamation, a radio public service script list or suggested activities, 1997 poster, and ad slicks are available at no cost from the Public Relations Department, Helen Keller National Center, 111 Middle Neck Rd., Sands Point, NY 11050, or by calling Barbara Hausman, 516/944-8900, ext. 235 (Voice), 516/944-8637 (TTY), or faxing 516/944-7302.
The Helen Keller National Center in the United States
is the only national program which provides diagnostic evaluation, short-term
comprehensive vocational rehabilitation and assistance with jobs and residential
placement for all Americans who are deaf-blind. Local services and training
are offered nationwide to these individuals, their parents and professionals
in the field through HKNC's ten regional offices, some 40 affiliated agencies.