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Deafblind Worlds - Results from Deaf People

We thought Deaf people had a lot in common with Deafblind – that is why we set up this project.

We thought there were many hearing people providing services to deafblind but that this job could be done better by Deaf people. But we had to find out.

We interviewed Deaf people in the same places as the Deafblind in different cities in UK. It was easy to do the first interviews but hard to have the follow up – people forgot what it was about or were not available when we went back – or maybe they just lost interest.

Here is a summary of some of the things that Deaf people said and some background about the Deaf people themselves:

First of all some figures for the Deaf people who took part ...

There were 20 men from the 38 people

Just over half were married or living with a partner.

Three quarters were white – This is a low figure because we specially wanted to find more people in ethnic groups.

The average age was 42 years.

Almost all (95%) could not hear speech

Only 38% had learned BSL before the age of five years. This figure is below the usual figures because we picked Deaf people who had had less contact with DeafBlind people. Many Deaf learned to sign later.

Over 80% said that they preferred to sign and to be signed to.

Only 45% were in work.

What Deaf people actually said

Access

We asked about “access” as it is a very important issue for the Deaf community.

Nearly everyone talked about having barriers … mostly for language. They said that they needed sign language interpreters, subtitles and communicating directly with others who could sign. Almost no one was satisfied with the service provided at the moment.

People said they were frustrated and angry when they did not have “access”.

They had to use methods like trying to lip-read or figure out things from the way people looked or acted. People said that this might be OK in some limited situations with short information but not for longer information.

However, we also found out about the way Deaf people think about “access”. Sometimes access was easier if the Deaf person knew or trusted the hearing person. If there was this trust, then Deaf people were more likely to say the service was good. Access is then not just about information.

So it is not just the actual barrier – more like the way the Deaf person thinks of the situation.

Barriers

Barriers were the fixed things which affected Deaf people’s lives.

Sometimes the barriers were because of Deaf limitations – for example, people said their English was not good enough.

However, more people said the barriers were external or in the environment. That was because there were not enough people who adapted to suit and not enough situations which were Deaf friendly. There were very few people who could sign. This was because Deaf people were a minority group.

So the major barrier was in society.

Deaf Community

Most of the group said they were in contact with other Deaf people and with the Deaf community at least every week.

This was a major factor in identity and self-assurance. Deaf people could feel themselves as equal.

Using BSL to communicate was a major factor in feeling more self confidence.

Some people described how they became part of the Deaf community and changed from being isolated to being accepted.

There was a strong feeling of being part of the “community”, of relating to other people and this extended to children and older people.

However, some people also picked up on the negative aspects of small communities – “back-stabbing “for example.

For almost all the people who took part, the Deaf community was a very important part of their lives.

Other aspects in brief

Nearly all the Deaf people (90%) claimed to be happy with life.

This seems odd because all of the work we do is based on the idea that Deaf people’s lives need to be improved.

What they say probably means that they have a balance in daily life where what they want to do is changed to suit what they can achieve. This means there is less stress. It does not necessarily mean that all Deaf people are satisfied with life.

Some talked about improving the quality of life for other Deaf people.

Some people thought about material things – better car, house and so on.

However, many people did not really think about the future at all.

Deaf people often said that hearing people were not Deaf Aware – what they mean usually is that they do not know how to communicate. They gave a lot of examples which could also be part of the section on barriers, for example bad seating arrangements in rooms, poor equipment and so on.

One of the complex issues which came up and which we will compare to Deafblind people was Independence and being able to do things by yourself.

People mentioned not relying on others – for example,

  • use pen/paper rather than rely on family to interpret
  • look on internet for information rather than use Social worker
  • coping with bills etc
  • passing driving test – don't have to rely on others
  • “having own space”
  • developing a source of pride

Perhaps the most important point was how Deaf people relate to DeafBlind people. We will explain more about that in the section comparing Deaf and Deafblind views.

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