10 communication tips that help me do a better job

6/14/2017

​Deafblind Awareness Month (June) is a special month for me because it shines a light on people that are Deafblind (people who have a combined loss of hearing and vision) and their abilities. This past April, I celebrated my 31st year working for Deafblind Services (DBS) with CNIB Ontario.

I am an intervenor.

Many years ago, I was working full time. I was also volunteering for my sign language instructor who was teaching English to deaf adults. I had never heard of Deafblindness. Deafness, yes. Blindness, yes. But someone with both hearing loss and vision loss – never! There were four learners in the class. People like me, working and living in the community, trying to do the best they could. However, their two main information gathering senses were greatly compromised. How did they do it? I wanted to learn more, I was hooked!

My friend told me about a job interview with DBS-CNIB Ontario. I called, sent a resume and got an interview. I learned a lot that day. I didn't get the job, but I expressed an interest in volunteering and that's where I started. As the expression goes, "the rest is history". It was the right choice for me. I enjoy my job as a Deafblind intervenor today as much as I did the first year I started.

Deafblindness is a distinct disability. It is a combined loss of hearing and vision to such an extent that neither the hearing nor vision can be used as a means of accessing information to participate and be included in the community. (from intervenors.ca

There are people who were born Deafblind (congenital), people that become deaf and blind (acquired) and others that have any combination of loss of those two senses who use intervenors; to bridge the Deafblind world to the hearing and sighted world, to reach a common goal. Each person is unique in their abilities and needs.

My description of an intervenor is a person who has been trained to work with a Deafblind person to access their environment -- medical, educational, work, social, emergency, etc. as long as it's legal -- to achieve as much interaction and independence as possible. The intervenor uses various alternate communication methods and techniques so the Deafblind individual can participate. Most people know the story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. Annie was an intervenor.

People who are Deafblind want what we all want. They want to be seen (acknowledged) and given the opportunity to communicate/interact with you, and have their thoughts, feelings and ideas heard with intention.
People who are Deafblind don't want pity or the initial response of each interaction to be focused on their Deafblindness. It's not who they are. This is a useful tip for people just learning about Deafblindness to know because it's the fastest way to move forward and enjoy the experience. I can guarantee you will never forget it.

I know it can be overwhelming the first time you encounter a person with severe hearing loss and vision loss. You may feel like you've lost control of a situation and struggle with "how am I going to communicate, what am I supposed to do, how long is this going to take?"

Relax and take a breath. This is where the person who has Deafblindness and their intervenor (they are a team) can put you at ease by quickly explaining their communication process and environmental needs so you can move forward. The intervenor's role is to facilitate the communication to go smoothly, ensure the intent of the information being shared is understood by all parties, including environmental and body language. The intervenor is the eyes and ears of the Deafblind person.

I feel the easiest place to start to make the world a better place for people living with Deafblindness (and everyone for that matter) is for all of us to commit to improving our communication skills.

Over the years, using observations and the feedback from people using intervention services, I created a list of my top 10 communication tips that have helped me do a better job.
  1. Cultural awareness
  2. Be assertive (not aggressive)
  3. Rapport
  4. Preparation
  5. Don't judge or assume
  6. Have a Plan B
  7. Feedback
  8. Active listening
  9. Sketch, shade, colour (SSC)
  10. Eye contact
These can't be learned in a day. Talk about them, practice them and they'll become second nature, eventually.

Communication requires a sender, a message and a recipient. It is complete once the receiver has understood the message of the sender.

George Bernard Shaw, the Noble Prize winning playwright said, "The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that is has taken place". Feedback is critical to effective communication between the sender and the recipient.

In 2016, I was asked to do a presentation at our annual Intervenor Symposium and I presented on this list in detail.

In April, I was asked to submit a blog (based on my presentation) for the Intervenor Organization of Ontario website (intervenors.ca). It was called "Top 10 Communication Tips".

Please visit cnib.ca/Ontario to learn more about people living with Deafblindness and the services they use. (dbco.ca is another site of interest).  

Throughout June, we encourage you to spread the word about Deafblindness and make a wave from coast to coast. Follow CNIB Ontario on Facebook and Twitter and share our stories to raise awareness about Deafblindness and the abilities of individuals who are living with a combined loss of hearing and vision.
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