Advocate Says Province Underfunding DeafBlind

By Sandra Thomas, Vancouver Courier January 28, 2011   

Deafblind Services Society directors Ellen Faustman (left) and Debbi Salmonsen, at Eddy Morton’s desk.
Photograph by: Dan Toulgoet, Vancouver Courier(visit link below to view image)

The executive director of Deafblind Services of B.C. says being both deaf and blind in the province of B.C. isn’t enough to receive assistance from the
provincial government.

“If you’re an adult and not developmentally challenged, just being deafblind isn’t enough,” said Debbi Salmonsen.

While adults in B.C. who were born deafblind are entitled to intervenor services, individuals who lost their site and hearing later in life are not. An
intervenor helps the deafblind not only communicate, but also navigate their surroundings.

Intervenor services for the deafblind are provided through Community Living B.C., a provincial crown agency mandated under the Community Living Authority Act, to deliver supports and services to adults with developmental disabilities and their families. According to Salmonsen, there are about 150 known deafblind adults and children in B.C., but she added there are many more who haven’t been deemed as such because they have numerous disabilities. Deafblind adults, without developmental disabilities, who became deafblind over time are entitled to some free intervenor services such as during medical appointments. They’re also able to pay for those services on their own, but since many deafblind adults live on disability pensions, it’s difficult for them to afford the average cost of $25 per hour.

As a result, society staff are forced to fundraise almost full time to raise money for intervenor services. It was the society who paid for those services
during a recent interview with Eddy Morten, who has acquired deafblindness. Morten says he’s perfectly capable of looking after his own needs when it comes to running his household, it’s when he ventures out to do errands such as grocery shopping or banking that an intervenor is vital.

Morten, who works part-time as the society’s intervenor services coordinator, said limited funding for intervenor services means many adults with acquired deafblindness with no close friends or family, are living in isolation and fear. Morten said he meets many acquired deafblind individuals through the society who are in desperate need of intervenor services, but can’t afford them.

“I met an older woman who lived with her sister, but her sister just passed away,” says Morten. “Now she’s completely alone and stuck at home. She has little food and has lost weight. I’m very concerned about her. It’s very sad.”

Ellen Faustman, director of intervenor services for the society, said intervention for the deafblind is so much more than interpretation. “An interpreter
just works with words,” said Faustman. “But a specially trained intervenor is an information gatherer. When a deafblind person walks into a room an intervenor lets them know, ‘There’s a plant here,’ or that someone just walked into the room and they’re shouting.”

Even using HandyDART or a taxi is a challenge for the deafblind. Taking for granted the deafblind adult has a buzzer system to allow the driver access to
their home, without an intervenor the individual can’t see the driver, has no idea they’re being dropped off in the right place and can’t tell if they’ve
been given the correct change.

“Without an intervenor they stop going out and become isolated,” said Faustman. “It’s a vicious cycle.”

sthomas@vancourier.com

Twitter: @sthomas10

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