Call for recognition of Deafblindness as a distinct disability in Ireland

A presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on Thursday, May 24, will call for official recognition of Deafblindness as a distinct disability, and increased state support for specific essential services for people living with dual sensory loss.

According to the European definition of Deafblindness, a person is considered Deafblind if their combination of vision and hearing loss causes difficulty with access to information, communication and mobility. The disability is also referred to as dual sensory impairment or dual sensory loss.

Having a hearing impairment or a vision impairment creates many challenges for people. Having a combination of both hearing and vision loss creates another set of challenges because one sense cannot adequately compensate for the loss of the other.

It is estimated that over 10,000 people in Ireland are currently living with dual sensory loss and this figure is expected to increase as a result of our ageing population and increased survival rates for infants with severe disabilities. There are currently more than 80 different causes of Deafblindness, including genetic conditions such as Usher syndrome, pre-natal congenital complications, post-natal non-congenital complications and older age.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Person’s with Disabilities makes a clear distinction between people who are Deaf, people who are blind and people who are Deafblind. Ireland has signed up to this Convention but is one of the few European countries that has yet to ratify it.

Only once ‘Deafblindness’ is recognised as a disability, can a care pathway be developed and implemented and appropriate supports identified and provided.

Deafblind people need specific means of communication to have access to education, career opportunities, leisure and social life. Knowledge about the communication abilities and difficulties that a person who is deafblind has can guide public policies to create measures that aim at improving access to communication and information and therefore independence.

The presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee will be made accessible to the Deaf community through sign language for first time. Sign language interpreting will also be added to the recording of the meeting and made available to download from Oireachtas TV after the event allowing sign language users to observe Irish democracy in effect for the first time in the history of the State.

Fighting Blindness is joining with the Anne Sullivan Centre and other stakeholder groups and calling on Government to recognise Deafblindness as a distinct disability so that appropriate services can be made available for people living with dual sensory loss.