By Cameron Spark
I have done many profile interviews with
our clients before. We schedule a time to speak over email, I call them at the
determined time and we chat. Most of the time, there aren’t many barriers to
communication when you are talking to an individual with vision loss. When you
chat in person, there are a few tips and tricks you need to learn such as
addressing them by name, announcing your presence, etc., but the conversation
style doesn’t change much. When these interviews are conducted over the phone,
as most of mine are, vision levels don’t change a thing.
This one was different. Santo is Deafblind. He used an interpreter to communicate. I had no idea what to expect.
I had very little experience interacting with someone who used sign language,
let alone someone who also had vision loss.
Even leading up to the interview, there was
some hesitation about the best way to contact him. Do we contact him directly?
Do we go through our Deafblind Services staff? Is it preferable to use email or
the phone? I decided that the right thing to do was to contact Santo directly
rather than trying to coordinate something on his behalf. Despite being told
that contacting the intervenor staff first might be the easiest course of
action, it seemed disrespectful to treat him differently than I would anyone
else I was trying to set up an interview with.
Sure enough, emails came back from Santo
that were verbose and positive. He was very excited about the opportunity.
Once we had coordinated a date, I still had
uncertainties about the process. My interview style tends to be very casual. A
few general questions about certain topics, but always very open-ended. I
prefer to treat them as a dialogue, where we simply chat. I find that is how
you really get to know a person and truly capture their story.
But would that work through an interpreter?
Would the back-and-forth flow easily enough for us to hold a conversation?
Would things get lost in translation?
As it turned out, it was not an issue. The intervenor was able to work incredibly quickly. There was no hitch or delay in
our conversation. It would have been impossible for us to communicate without
the intervenor. But with her, we didn’t skip a beat.
I was also amazed at how well Santo’s
personality was still able to shine through. He spoke fast and
enthusiastically, to the point where it was hard for me to keep up with my note
taking. He cracked jokes, to both me and the intervener. He shared his love of
sports and how he used to impress all the girls at school with his ability on
the soccer field.
*Interesting side note – As a result of his
passion for soccer, I asked if he was excited for the Euro 2016 tournament,
which was a few weeks away at the time. He mentioned that he was and that he
was an Italy supporter. Being a soccer fan myself, I knew when he was trying to
use the term “the Azzurri”, which is a nickname for the Italian national team,
even though the intervenor was unfamiliar with that phrase. It highlighted some of
the limitations of the process.
The profile I wrote on Santo definitely
covered the basics. It described his early life, learning to deal with vision
and hearing loss and how CNIB services have changed his life for the better.
However, I felt it was unable to capture his spirit. Chatting with Santo
one-on-one was the only way to see just how vibrant and full of life he is. And
I believe that is the most important takeaway from an initiative like Deafblind
Awareness Month. I came in knowing nothing and felt unsure and nervous about my
interactions and I came out feeling like that weight had been lifted. It really
is possible to lead a positive, fulfilling life.
I wish every one of you had the opportunity
to meet and chat with a Deafblind individual for yourself, as it is the
absolute best way to break down the stigmas that exist. But, absent that, I am
hoping my profile of Santo, and this blog post highlighting my thought process
throughout, can serve as the next best thing.
If you’d like to learn more about CNIB’s
Deafblind Services, please visit http://www.cnib.ca/en/ontario/programs-services/Deafblind-Services.
This post was intended to provide additional insight into writing a client profile of Santo Calidonna for Deafblind Awareness Month. You can read Santo's profile here: http://www.cnib.ca/en/news/Pages/CNIB-client-shares-experience-with-Deafblindness.aspx