'Representing the Deafblind Community in Victoria'

Covid impact on Deafblind Victorians

As Deafblind people, we are especially vulnerable to Covid:

  • The virus spreads through close contact, and we are often in close contact with others for tactile communication and guiding.
  • Covid19 is more serious for older people, and most DBV members are older because deafblindness progresses with age.
  • Many of the measures used to prevent the spread of the virus present challenges for Deafblind people: social distancing, using masks, QR codes and changing to online meetings.
  • We already struggle with isolation and a lack of supports. Lockdown has increased isolation and reduced support even further. Some of us were not able to continue living independently through lockdowns. We were unable to get tactile interpreters for counselling and medical appointments.
  • The messaging from the government has been confusing and frightening for Deafblind people and we often felt left out.
Click through to YouTube for a transcript of the video

DBV stayed open for members through lockdown to provide essential support. This included Auslan translations of Covid information, help understanding lockdown rules, getting vaccination certificates, and fixing our computers, phones and communication devices. We worked hard to keep members connected through email, Facebook posts, newsletters and reaching out to vulnerable individuals. These communications included tips for communicating in hospital, if no interpreters or support workers are available, and information about vaccinations. DBV’s Alex Sar shared his experience with vaccination as a Deafblind person, to encourage others.

Catherine Dunn interviewing DBV members about Covid

DBV made a short video for the Self Advocacy Resource Unit to talk about what impact Covid has had on our group. A transcript is available on our YouTube page in the video description.

Deaf Victoria has a Covid outreach project to find out more about how Covid impacts the Deaf community. Catherine Dunn interviewed DBV members to make sure a Deafblind perspective is included. Contact Deaf Victoria to get involved: info@deafvictoria.org.au

Jasper Cleland, DBV’s Covid safe marshall, has also been meeting weekly with Bec Swansson, the Deafblind services coordinator from Able Australia, to collaborate on messaging to the Deafblind community regarding support workers and Covid safety.

DeafBlind World workshop with Bendigo Deaf Hub and Deaf Victoria

Deafblind Victoria members Joe & Heather with interpreters

On Thursday 25th November 2021 Deafblind Victoria ran their first regional Deafblind World workshop with Bendigo Deaf Hub (BDH) online via zoom.

Due to lockdown restrictions between regional Victoria and Melbourne area, Deafblind Victoria had to postpone their visit to the Bendigo Deaf Hub for many months unfortunately.

However with regular meetings between DBV and BDH online through facetime, zoom and emails, we were all very determined to work together on still having the Deafblind Workshop and decided to try deliver it online via Zoom.

Participants attending the workshop online via Zoom

At DBV we created our first ever Deafblind Experience Kit with some props such as blindfolds and earplugs, activity sheets and resources which we posted out to the participants before the workshop for them to experience deafblindness from home on the day of the workshop. If we couldn’t meet in person for the workshop we wanted to try bring the experience to them instead.

We are always trying new things like this at DBV.

Of the 15 participants that attended we had a mix of Deaf, Hard of hearing, and hearing people including interpreters, occupational therapists, counsellors, teachers and staff members from Bendigo Deaf Hub and Deaf Victoria.

The workshop was presented by two Deafblind Victoria members, Heather Lawson and Joe Montelone, sharing  various life experiences, information, running activities and answering many questions.

DBV members Joe & Heather presenting online with interpreters nearby

Here is some of the feedback we got from Bendigo Deaf Hub:

“A huge thank you for today’s workshop, it was amazing! It was a massive logistical effort by you all.

The Bendigo Deaf Hub team learnt so much from it and all the feedback we have got from participants has been really positive too. We really enjoyed learning about what it is like to experience deafblindness from both Heather and Joe”

Thank you to the Auslan interpreters who worked with DBV for this Deafblind World workshop, often not an easy task when on working online but in the end it really was a great success!

Also thanks to Ntennis and Justin for their support such as with the technology for the Zoom workshops.

-Heather and the team at Deafblind Victoria.

DBV Newsletter #7, Oct 2021

Click here to download the October newsletter. This newsletter includes:

  • stories from DBV members about art and craft
  • a recipe by Jo Porter
  • a resource for deafblind hospital patients
  • an announcement about Claire Tellefson’s award
  • news and updates about DBV

New resource – learn the Auslan alphabet from text

There are many styles of communication in the Deafblind community. Some deafblind people grew up using spoken English and now want to learn Auslan. However, most resources for learning Auslan are visual. DBV has produced a new resource for blind and deafblind people, with a text description of the the Auslan alphabet showing each letter’s handshape, position and movement. This resource can be accessed in braille, through a screen reader, or in large print.

There are three versions: the Auslan alphabet for right-handed people, the Auslan alphabet for left-handed people, and Deafblind palm fingerspelling. This resource was developed by our wonderful volunteer KJ who continues to support DBV from home while we are in lockdown. We welcome feedback! Let us know if you found this guide useful, or if we can improve it in any way. You can download the resource by clicking on the links below for your preferred version:

DeafBlind tips #6: QR code cards by Heather Lawson

Photo description: Laminated white card with large black print that says “I am deafblind. I can’t photo QR code. Please add my details to the written list: Mary Poppins, M:0394838171 sms only”

I created the card called QR code card. I tested it by showing staff who work in shops, café, supermarket. They took the card from me for them to read while writing in the QR book or typing on QR device for me and gave the card back to me. I know they did it.

Why I use the QR code card? I am blind. I cannot see where the QR screen are at any shops so I can’t scan it by my iPhone. Only way I could try at the shop counters showing the lamination card I keep in my bag or coat pocket.

I feel more in control to use the QR card. No matter if I go out with Commguides or friends or on my own. I have the control to do this independently.

You may want to try yourself in different ways of communication needs. It depends if you have or not have the iPhone or your iPhone may not work well. It’s best to have back up  to use card. I have the message in my iPhone voice mail saying

“hello Heather here. I am deafblind, I can’t hear you talking on the phone so please SMS me and I can read your text  by using my braille device thank you”

See photo and text description of a sample of QR code card to the right hand side of text:

Here is a short video of Heather demonstrating how to use the QR card in a Melbourne café.

By Heather Lawson – email: dbvheather@gmail.com

Assistive Technology – lunch and learn workshop by Guide Dogs Victoria

Deafblind Victoria attended the Lunch and Learn online workshop held by Guide Dogs Victoria on Tuesday the 7th of September, 2021.

Presenter Glen Morrow discussed the new Apple iOS15 for iPhones and iPads, as well as various accessibility settings like individual app settings for high-contrast, dark background with white large text, adding descriptions to photos as well as using dictation on Samsung smart phones.

Every month, Guide Dogs Victoria will have regular half-hour workshops covering many different topics relating to accessibility and technology for people with low vision needs.

Here is a short video of Deafblind Victoria member Andrew Howard talking about the assistive technology workshop he attended in Auslan.

Translation of video :

“Hello DBV!

They explained about AT (assistive technology) on mobile phones and iPads, and using apps on them. If the app’s background is white, it can be hard to read. You can change the background to black. That’s good! You can set it for any app.

The second thing was photos. There is a VoiceOver description for photos. It connects to braille so you can read it in braille too. That works for any app.

The third thing is… ummm…. dogs, shopping, technology… [Andrew tries to remember]

iOS 15 will be released soon – some time in the next few weeks. That’s all. Bye!”

Deafblind tips #5: Raised dots and braille labels for appliances

For many years I have used a microwave oven to cook or heat up food. I stick raised dots on to the screen of the microwave on top of the stop and start button. This helps me to feel which dots to press for restart or to stop cooking. Also when travelling anywhere and staying at any accommodation such as motel, hotel or at friends, where there are no raised dots, I find ways to be independent. I bring my own blue tack and make small dots to stick on temporarily. It works well. Your choice whether you prefer to have raised dot or braille labels for your microwave oven. You can buy raised dots or braille labels from the Vision Australia shop through your NDIS funds.

Heather Lawson – dbvheather@gmail.com

DBV Newsletter #6, August 2021

Click here to download the latest DBV newsletter. There is another Deafblind Tips article about how to make microwave oven buttons accessible, a report about a new smartphone app, a story from a DBV member about their experience with Covid vaccination, and more. While we can’t meet in person due to lockdowns, the newsletter is a great way for members to stay in touch with each other. Submissions are now open for the next newsletter – send us an email with your story!

NDIA awareness training workshop

On Tuesday 3rd August, Deafblind Australia (DBA) and Deafblind Victoria ran a Deafblind awareness workshop for NDIS workers in metro Melbourne.

The workshop was delivered online from Ross House due to Covid-19 restrictions. This was the first time that DBV held a workshop for NDIA staff online. Four Deafblind presenters presented information about the Deafblind community, culture, language, barriers and technology.

Image descriptions:

1. Heather sitting with a tactile Auslan interpreter. Attendees and interpreters stand nearby. Another interpreter stands by Heather’s shoulder using haptic interpreting

2. Joe presenting in Auslan with Heather sitting nearby with a tactile interpreter.

3. Alex presenting with an Auslan interpreter standing by his left side. Michelle is sitting nearby with a tactile Auslan interpreter

4. Michelle seated at a tactile interpreting table demonstrating her Braille display to access her smartphone.

We hope this training will improve the experience that Deafblind Victorians have with the NDIS.

We wish to thank Deafblind Australia for working with DBV for this workshop.

We would also like to thank the four Deafblind presenters – Heather Lawson, Joe Monteleone, Alex Sar, and Michelle Stevens – along with the interpreters and commguides.

Thank you everyone for making this a successful day!

Deafblind Awareness Week 2021 report

What a great week! There were six different activities for DBAW 2021. On June 23, we celebrated with an event at Ross House. It was attended by 15 Deafblind people and a number of supporters, including representatives from the Tree Project and Melbourne City Library. DBV members spent the morning decorating trees and poles in Flinders Lane with colourful yarn bombing creations alongside a window display outside Ross House. The yarn bombing was made mostly by DBV members, who set up a craft group with a grant from the Tye Recreation Fund. Crocheted and knitted squares were also donated, including a number from the Country Women’s association Boroondara. Thank you!

We held an exhibition in the pedestrian underpass, Campbell Arcade, that connects Flinders Street station to Flinders Lane. The exhibition, titled “Deafblind Awareness: a tactile imagination“, features photographic portraits by Jessica Leane and showcases achievements of Deafblind people, including arts and crafts, tactile Auslan and interpreting tables, braille and parenting. The exhibition was up for the whole month of July.

DBV also gave a workshop to Auslan students from Melbourne Polytechnic, with DBV members Heather Lawson, Alison Rawson and Alex Sar presenting. We raised funds by selling Deafblind awareness t-shirts that will be worn and seen in the community, and we had a special week of video posts from DBV members on our Facebook page all week, showing the diversity of our community.

A big thank you to all the wonderful DBV members and volunteers who made it happen.