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Celebrating Deaf Communities

Opening the World to Ontarians with Deafblindness

child with disability touching horse
Sponsored by:
child with disability touching horse
Sponsored by:
Cathy Proll

Cathy Proll

CEO, Sensity – Deafblind and Sensory Support Network of Canada

Deafblindness comes in many shapes and forms. Some people are born with dual sensory loss, while others come to it later in life. For all Canadians with deafblindness, however, access to intervenor services is the key to independence.

Independence is health. The ability to forge our own paths and the empowerment to direct our own lives is precious and too often taken for granted until it’s threatened by illness or disability. For deafblind Canadians — those with varying degrees of dual sensory loss encompassing both hearing and vision — nearly every aspect of the way our world is built represents a challenge to their independence. So the tools available to help win that independence back are valued above all else.

The most effective intervention to empower people who are deafblind is through the use of an intervenor, a specially-trained professional who is able to assist in communication and other tasks. “In layman’s terms, intervenors become the eyes and the ears of someone who is deafblind,” explains Cathy Proll, CEO of Sensity – Deafblind and Sensory Support Network of Canada. “Compared to, say, an ASL interpreter, who is typically only interpreting language, an intervenor will be interpreting the entire environment. It’s a unique role that intervenors play in bridging that gap and supporting people who are deafblind.”

It can be very isolating. But, with an intervenor, the possibilities are endless.

From “everything is impossible” to “anything is possible”

With the proper support, the degree of independence a person with deafblindness can achieve is without limit. Without proper support, however, the limits of life can shrink to a claustrophobic degree. “Deafblindness affects so many things beyond simply communication,” says Proll. “It affects your mobility and broadens the gap between you and the world around you. It can be very isolating. But, with an intervenor, the possibilities are endless. One gentleman we support has obtained his first teaching degree and now his law degree. We have people who engage in all kinds of recreational activities, from travel to whitewater rafting. When someone has access to an intervenor, it’s up to them to decide how they want to use those services.”

In addition to providing intervenor services for children and adults across Ontario, Sensity also provides advocacy and training to ensure that the needs of the deafblind community are being met. Unfortunately, good intervenors, proficient in skills like Two Hand Manual Communication — a highly specialized touch-based Sign language — can be difficult to find. As a result, it’s a continuous effort to recruit new professionals into this demanding but rewarding field, especially in more remote and rural communities.

“I have to give kudos to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services because they’ve been incredibly supportive, and they’ve built a great system,” says Proll. “I don’t know of anyone who wants intervenor services right now that’s going entirely without.”

Doing right by our most vulnerable

However, there remains a persistent gap in the services available to children at greater risk of developmental delay when their deafblindness is inadequately supported. “Students often aren’t getting the services that they require, and there’s absolutely nothing outside of the school setting for students who are identified specifically as deafblind,” says Proll. “Ontario is the opposite of the rest of the world in that way because, in most places, services for children are in abundance and services for adults are very scarce.”

In pursuit of equity and self-determination for all people with deafblindness in Ontario, better access to intervenor services for children and rural citizens represent challenges. But the biggest challenge of all is perhaps simply awareness. So many Ontarians live with sensory loss without knowledge of the services and supports that are available to them. More than anything else, Proll wants people with deafblindness to know that independence is within reach. Intervenor services are available, and they can reopen the doors to the world.

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