AG looks at how technology such as hearing aids can help people with deafblindness lead independent lives.
In the UK alone it is believed that there are around 250,000 deafblind people – which is a combination of sight and hearing impairment. The disability is one with very little understanding, and public awareness of how it affects people’s abilities is low. We rely on our sight and hearing for everyday tasks, and the world around us can present many challenges for deafblind people.
For people who are deafblind, the barriers they face can be a lot more challenging than people who have just a single impairment. Blind people, to a certain degree, can compensate by using their hearing – and vice versa. However, multi-sensory impairment raises many challenges, and many deafblind people rely on sensory aids to help tackle everyday tasks. Speaking to AG in February, Gill Morbey President of Deafblind International highlighted some of the causes for sensory loss: “Causes of deafblindness vary across countries,” she said. “They can include infections during pregnancy, prematurity, rare syndromes, such as Usher and
CHARGE, illness and accidents, and sensory loss in old age.
“In the UK, vaccination has almost eradicated rubella however in some parts of the world the absence of vaccination programmes such as MMR means that children are still being born with the entirely preventable Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS).” 1 Morbey pointed out that no matter what the cause is, deafblind people have a unique set of needs and require specialist support.
Hearing aids can be a substantial benefit to people who suffer with sensory loss. Quality of life can be greatly improved especially for elderly people who have mild or moderate hearing loss. Sense, the national charity that campaigns and supports people with deafblindness, estimates 63.5% of people aged 70 or over have a mild or moderate hearing loss problem.
Many deafblind people rely on their hearing aids for environmental cues to help navigate outside their homes and give them confidence to leave the house. In a recent study carried out by Sense and the Ear Foundation, deafblind people were found to be reliant on their hearing aids, with 94% wearing them all the time.
Suffering from both hearing and vision loss increases with age, with estimates suggesting that 220,000 people aged 70 or over currently suffer from duel sensory loss. It is thought the number will more than double by 2030. 2
Living independently can become near impossible for a deafblind person. Without specialist support, just carrying out one-on-one conversations are a difficult task.
North Staffordshire CCG recently launched a consultation about their proposal to stop providing hearing aids to adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. However, concerns have been raised by Sense about the negative impact this could have on quality of life.
The concerns raised by Sense following the consultation includes that early intervention of hearing aids for progressive cases of hearing loss, such as presbyacusis, can allow people to maintain existing communication methods or provide them with the auditory input they require to develop new ones.
Sense also believe that restricting hearing aid provision will affect the ability of deafblind people to access healthcare in terms of communicating with health professionals and obtaining appointments. For example a deafblind person without a hearing aid might find it difficult to hear instructions for their prescription or even make GP appointments over the phone.
Hearing aids also provide deafblind people with environmental help in regards to hazards around them. For many people the aids provide them with a sense of security around the home and also in the outside environment.
Technology has had a great impact on the lives of people with duel sensory loss. As well as hearing aids, braille systems, computer aids and screen readers are just some of the examples that help deafblind people live independent lives.
“Advancements in communication technology have had a huge impact on deafblind people,” added Morbey. “At last, through computers and tactile displays, deafblind people can be supported in employment and complex tasks through to simple but important things such as directly contacting friends.
“More advances in technology have the potential to make real life changes for people who are deafblind and disabled.”
Lack of access to technology such as hearing aids could considerably impact on the independence of a deafblind person, and reduce their confidence to leave their house.
For more information regarding the consultation please visit http://www.sense.org.uk/content/ourresponse-north-staffordshire-ccgs-proposals-hearingaid-provision