June 2021 marks the 6th anniversary since the Senate passed a motion declaring June as National Deafblind Awareness Month. Each June, members of the deafblind community and their supporters come together to bring awareness about the special needs and abilities of people who are deafblind into the public sphere.
Individuals who are deafblind can have a substantial degree of both hearing and vision loss; the combination of which results in significant difficulties in accessing information and in pursuing educational, vocational, recreational and social goals and interests.
While many of us rely on sight and sound for accessing information through conversation or technologies like television and mobile devices, this can present many barriers for a person who is deafblind.
A person who is deafblind experiences life in a wholly unique way, and requires specialized services and adapted communication methods – often a trained intervenor who provides them with visual and auditory information.
Many people are familiar with the story of Helen Keller but are unaware that her experience as an individual with deafblindness is all too real for more than one per cent of Canadians – or 460,000 individuals. In a recent report, Canadians who are deafblind identified many gaps in services across the country, including differences in the availability of services between provinces, limited funding for intervenor services, limited intervenor hours and choice, and a lack of diversity in the services they require.
This year, as part of an international initiative, the Canadian Deafblind Association is encouraging members of the deafblind community to participate in a global arts awareness campaign of yarn bombing – a form of street art where yarn is knit, crocheted, or wrapped to adorn objects in public spaces. Proponents have called it a unique, creative and safe way for communities to work together and raise awareness, especially during these COVID times when strict physical distancing protocols are in place.
As we commemorate National Deafblind Awareness Month, OPSEU/SEFPO remains committed to continuing our efforts to improve accessibility in our workplaces, our union and to build a better, more inclusive Ontario.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer
Gillian Axten and Janet Heyman
OPSEU/SEFPO Disability Rights Caucus Co-Chairs