If you mention that someone is deafblind, typically an image of Helen Keller comes to mind. Helen Keller was not born deafblind. She was able to hear and see until she was 19 months old. She lost her hearing and sight due to an illness, possibly scarlet fever or rubella. By the age of 19 months, her mind had developed the foundations for language and she had started to speak some words. Then suddenly, she was unable to hear or see.
If Helen Keller had been born in Ontario between the 1970's and today, she would probably have been classified as a member of the congenitally deafblind community and would have been enrolled in the deafblind program at W. Ross MacDonald School in Brantford.
The deafblind community is very diverse, but typically a person is considered congenitally deafblind or acquired deafblind. Within the acquired deafblind community, a large percentage of people are culturally Deaf and have vision loss, mainly due to a genetic condition known as Usher Syndrome. Usher Syndrome causes hearing loss or deafness at birth, and the vision loss that accompanies Usher Syndrome (Retinitis Pigmentosa) does not appear until adolescence, starting with difficulties seeing in dim light, and a reduced field of vision (tunnel vision). There are three clinical types of Usher Syndrome, type 1, type 2 and type 3. Types 1 and 2 are the most common. Approximately 3 to 6 percent of all children who are deaf and another 3 to 6 percent of children who are hard-of-hearing have Usher Syndrome.
With an ever increasing number of people over the age of 70 in today's society, a large portion of the acquired deafblind population are seniors who have lost their hearing and vision simply due to the aging process or illness. In a recent report produced in the United Kingdom, it is estimated that by 2030 the number of people with impairment of both hearing and vision will rise to approximately 569,000 (806 per 100,000) of which 245,000 (343 per 100,000) will have severe impairments.
Generally, CNIB Deafblind Services (DBS) supports the large acquired deafblind population although we do have some individuals who were born deafblind who receive intervenor or literacy support from DBS.
There are other agencies in Ontario whose primary mission is to support the congenitally deafblind population, the main agencies being: The Canadian Deafblind Association, Deafblind Ontario Services, Rotary Cheshire Homes and the Canadian Helen Keller Center.
The services offered to people who are deafblind in Ontario are one of a kind thanks to the Ministry of Community and Social Services!