Changing the Way Canadians Think About Disability
Deaf-blind persons have very unique needs. For example, those who
are blind rely heavily on speech to access information; those who
are deaf must rely on vision. Without either, deaf-blind people must
rely on touch. This mode of communication is conducted through a
trained professional called an Intervenor.
The deaf-blind do not all communicate in the same way, but use various techniques such as sign language, two-hand manual, finger spelling, writing, speaking, drawing and Braille. The individual challenges of each deaf-blind person will determine which techniques are best suited for them. In Canada there are about 3,000 people who are deaf-blind - some 600 live in Ontario and 150 in Toronto.
Two of the Foundation's most important projects were built especially for the deaf-blind - the Canadian Helen Keller Centre Inc. (CHKC) and the Rotary Cheshire Homes (RCH), both in North York. Opened in May of 2001, the CHKC is the first and only residential training facility in Canada for the deaf-blind to upgrade or gain independent living and technical skills.
The myth is that most deaf-blind people are reclusive, timid, frail, can't function in society, want to be left alone, or are profoundly (i.e. 100%) deaf and blind. It's simply not true.
One of the important skills taught at the centre is Orientation and Mobility (O&M) using the white cane to travel independently in train stations, subways, malls and other busy areas. Two-hand manual and sign language are also taught.
Auditory training (using implants and hearing aids) is important, and allows a deaf-blind person to listen for sounds such as cars starting up or backing up - all of which pose a safety risk. Computer skills are taught using low-vision software and Braille displays to help ease the visual strain of using a computer. Knowing how to use the computer and the Internet allow deaf-blind people to share information and communicate with each other in helpful peer support groups.
Participants must also learn to cook and clean safely with low or no vision. All this training leads to increased independence and confidence, better health and increased opportunities for an improved quality of life.
"Participants meet with other deaf-blind people and receive ongoing peer support in a safe, friendly environment. They can upgrade their skills and eventually become trainers of other deaf-blind persons,"says Executive Director Sharon Downie-Clarke
"Our goal is to grow and become a multi-service centre of expertise for Canadians who are deafblind, their families and service providers." The Centre is partially funded by The Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons and The Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Ministry of Culture.
CHKC also relies on private donations and must fundraise for its operating expenses. To donate or get involved in fundraising, call or for more information about the Canadian Helen Keller Centre, please contact:
Canadian Helen Keller Centre
210 Empress Avenue
Toronto, ON M2N 3T9