Recognising those living with deafness, blindness
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Johannesburg - This week, until June 27, is Deafblind International (DBI) Awareness Week which is recognised worldwide
What does it mean to be deafblind? Deaf-blindness is a rare condition in which a person’s hearing and vision are both impaired. Imagine being in a world where you can neither see nor hear. Of all the challenges the deafblind community face, persecution should never be one of them.
Deafblind SA says 920 000 people in South Africa are deafblind. Some 0.2% of the world's population is living with severe deafblindness. More than 70 causes of deaf-blindness were identified in the 2019 National Deaf-Blind Child Count.
The most common causes are complications of prematurity and CHARGE syndrome which includes coloboma, heart defects, atresia choanae (also known as choanal atresia), growth retardation, genital abnormalities, and ear abnormalities, each causing about 10% of cases.
DBI is synonymous with the name Hellen Keller who became blind and deaf after contracting an illness when she was two years old. Despite many obstacles, she became one of the 20th century’s leading humanitarians. She became the co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union and a beacon of courage and hope for those living with disabilities.
In honour of Keller – and her birthday on June 27 – DBI is celebrated annually. Despite popular belief, a person who is deafblind will not be completely deaf and blind, but both senses will be impaired to the point where daily activities will be difficult.
The following are signs someone may have a hearing problem:
If you speak to them from behind, they will not hear you.
Having to increase the volume on the TV or radio.
Difficulty following a conversation, especially if several people are talking at the same time.
Unable to hear sounds around them, such as a knock at the door or the doorbell ringing.
Requesting that others speak more clearly, loudly, and slowly.
Listening by leaning in close to hear what's being said.
Vision loss can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including:
Issues with vision in low or bright light.
Trouble recognising people they know.
Trouble deciphering facial expressions.
Relying on touch more than usual to locate and identify items.
Requiring close proximity to the TV or holding books or newspapers close to their face.
Difficulty moving around unfamiliar environments – colliding with or tripping over objects frequently.
Not looking you in the eyes or maintaining proper eye contact.
“Tragically, many children who are deafblind from birth are often either misdiagnosed or never diagnosed at all, remaining at home, deprived of their right to development, education, freedom of expression, and association,” says Murray Hewlett, chief executive of Affinity Health.
“As these children grow older, exclusion and discrimination escalate.
“While it's not always possible to treat the underlying causes of deaf-blindness, there is a range of care and support services available to help people with the condition, especially if diagnosed early. Every deafblind person is entitled to the best possible support,” says Hewlett.