A deaf-blind organization helps foster communication through the sense of touch

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“If I can’t see or hear it, my world kind of ends at the end of my hand,” says DeafBlind Ontario Services local representative

For over three decades, DeafBlind Ontario Services has offered a range of different services to help Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Non-Verbal and DeafBlind people achieve their goals and enrich their lives.

The organization was originally formed in 1989 as Independent Living Residences for the DeafBlind in Ontario (ILRDBO) after a group of parents lobbied the Ontario government as advocates for their deafblind children.

Their goal, said Shannon Girard, who works as a community engagement manager in Simcoe County, was to try to get funding for community-based independent living support programs.

In 2007, ILRDBO changed its name to Ontario DeafBlind Services and in 2021 officially merged with Array Services to improve specialty services across the province.

DeafBlind Ontario has been providing services in Simcoe County for about 10 years, Girard said, noting that they first started in the Innisfil area before coming to Barrie, where they run a supportive residential program in the south of the city.

“We personalize our approach with each individual in a unique way. Each person we support is different with their deafblindness, so they experience a varying degree of sensory loss (and) each person will use their own unique and individual way of communicating” , said Girard. BarrieToday.

The organization is now recruit in simcoe county. People who work as counselors act as the eyes and ears of the deafblind person through their sense of touch.

“We do a lot of hands-on (training) showing them what would be needed to replicate what it’s like to work alongside these people. We are really a champion of doing with and not for,” said Girard. “We want people to experience everything for themselves. We do not want to deprive them of this experience to actively participate in an activity.

Just going for a walk is a great example of how staff work to bring what most people take for granted to those they work with, she added.

“Ninety-five percent of what you learn comes from (sound or touch) and when the two are compromised, it’s our job to bring that world to them and allow them to experience that world. “, said Girard. “If I can’t see it or hear it, my world kind of ends at the end of my hand. It’s our job to bring that world to them and allow them to experience it and discover what’s out there.

A speaker must be unique in the way they do things, she added, noting that there is no one-size-fits-all technique.

“You have to be very aware of the person you are supporting what works for them or what does not work for them and sometimes you don’t know until you try,” she says. “We are really proud to be active participants in the community.

“Being there, we might not always do it in the most conventional way. Sometimes it takes time, especially when we’re doing things like grocery shopping,” Girard added. “Yes, it’s easier for me to just grab things and walk away…but that would rob that individual of that skill and that experience.”

For more information about the organization, visit www.deafblindontario.com.

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