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Recognising deafblindness as a unique disability is the key to early intervention and improved life outcomes for Aussies living with multi-sensory impairments

This Deafblind Awareness Week (June 24 to June 30), a group of leading service, research and community organisations are urging government to change the way they address deafblindness in education so that children with multi-sensory impairments can obtain appropriate intervention and support.

Deafblindness is a combination of sight and hearing loss, which impacts a person’s ability to communicate, access information and participate equally in society. Sometimes also called ‘dual sensory loss’, it is estimated* that 0.2-2% of the Australian population – 50,000-500,000 people - has deafblindness.

“Deafblindness is much more common than people realise, and as we age, it is likely that more of us will require deafblind-aware services”, said Lynette McKeown, CEO of Able Australia.

According to Dr Meredith Prain, Head of the Centre of Excellence, Deafblind at Able Australia, people with deafblindness are less likely to experience successful educational outcomes than their sighted and hearing peers, leading to greater rates of unemployment and poverty.

“This is because there is still a lack of understanding of deafblindness, particularly in the education system,” said Meredith.

Emily Shepard, Founder and Director of UsherKids Australia, agrees that understanding deafblindness as a unique disability will result in better outcomes for someone who is deafblind.

“We need more resources in classrooms so that we can intervene sooner rather than later,” said Emily.

“Resources may include a dedicated deafblind consultant in schools, as well as mandatory training for regular and specialist teachers in deafblind education standards, which Victoria doesn’t currently implement.”

Other organisations, such as CHARGE Syndrome Australasia and Vision Australia, said that the current system is fragmented, and more tailored resources and support should be created.

“A lack of information and resources from the government on deafblindness means that kids with multi-sensory disabilities may slip through the cracks, leading to an increased risk of isolation,” said Ron Hooton, CEO of Vision Australia.

“Someone who is deafblind is more likely to experience isolation and depression, as they may struggle to communicate and feel connected. However, with access to the right supports such as communication guides and assistive technology, they can flourish,” said Madelene Rich from CHARGE Syndrome Australasia.

Rodney Baskett is deafblind and a committee member of Deafblind Victoria. According to Rodney, we need to do better as a society to recognise and identify the complex issues that the Deafblind community are faced with.

“Greater awareness can lead to early identification and intervention, which in-turn can lead to a more fulfilled life for someone who is deafblind,” said Rodney.

“We have a lot to offer and can thrive if given the right services and tools to do so.”

Able Australia, UsherKids Australia, CHARGE Syndrome Australasia, Vision Australia and Deafblind Victoria are leading service, research and community organisations that cater to the needs of Australians living with deafblindness.

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