By Sean Meyer
DeafBlind Ontario Services supports individuals who have dual sensory loss, which means they’re not deaf or blind, they’re both.
As such, the organization provides residential training programs, assists individuals in finding homes, and works alongside other agencies supporting those who are deaf and blind, so they can live in the community as they choose.
All that said, perhaps most the most important service they offer is training in sensory integration communication.
“When you can’t see and can’t hear, you have to use all yours senses to communicate. There are people we support who are considered total/total, which is total vision loss, total hearing loss,” said Amanda Mesko, community engagement manager with DeafBlind Ontario Service. “When dealing with somebody like that, the sense of touch is really important, communicate through different objects, smells, gestures, body language, all that. It’s integrating all the senses into one form of communication.”
Amanda has been working in her current role for about a month, but she’s been with the agency — which was founded in 1989 — for more than 13 years.
Her interest in this work started when she was quite young as her best friend at the time was deaf. Amanda learned sign language and picked up a bit of the alphabet and words to make it easier for when the two were out in public.
She later enrolled in Western University’s psychology program and while on campus one day she saw a job posting for working with a deaf/blind individual.
From that day she was sold on the work.
“It was curiosity. I had the skill of sign language I wanted to develop; I had a very basic skill. So, developing that was a huge plus,” she said. “But seeing the successes they had, the little small successes, seeing them thrive and become independent people was definitely my decision-maker.”
Clients — nine of which are supported in London — are often born deaf/blind, while others lost their vision and hearing at a young age or, in the case of many seniors, had their senses deteriorate over time.
Regardless of their particular situations, Amanda said they all face something in common.
“One of the things we find is deaf/blindness is very isolating. But we’ve been doing research into how many people are actually affected by it and we’ve come to the realization the numbers are much bigger than we expected,” she said. “One of the things we want to do is get people connected, let people know we are here and are able to support them.”
To help deaf/blind individuals get them connected, DeafBlind Services Ontario had to do the same.
That mission led Amanda to Innovation Works, which just happen to “totally fit” what the organization was looking for.
The space has been personally, “very invigorating,” Amanda said, but is quick to add what it’s doing for the organization, and the people it works with, can’t be discounted.
“We would love this type of environment at each of our hubs. This is what we were looking for in terms of bring engagement into the community. We do a bit of tracking of stats, how many meetings, what kind of connections, not just us, but with this person to that person,” she said. “The ability to connect with not-for-profits, social enterprise, to have meetings spaces that are open, tech that is great for our meetings . . . we have everything we need.”
For more information visit www.deafblindontario.com.