What is the situation in Europe for people with deafblindness? And how does society offer the best support? These questions are on the agenda for the 2-year long Grundtvig Learning Partnership “Deafblind” , where people with deafblindness now have their own voice to speak up.
When eleven partners in the 2-year long Grundtvig Learning Partnership “Deafblind” would present their final report about their experiences during the project, , a very special speaker made her appearance on stage : the deafblind Charlotte Van der Molengraft from the Netherlands.Charlotte would start off by telling the audience how she takes on multiple roles during the day just like everyone else: as a mother, a wife, an artist, a cyclist, and the role as a deafblind. , Furthermore, that she does not consider her role as a deafblind to be that dominant in her life because of the support she receives from her family, friends and also in public. In her experience, family, friends and people in general are able to see through her handicap which means that Charlotte can do a lot of the same things as people without hearing or visual impairment..
Charlotte’s account would prove to be symptomatic for the Grundtvig Partnership that started in Glasgow in November 2012, and ended in the summer of 2014. The partnership included different organisations that all were a part of the European Deafblind Network. “The purpose of the project was to focus on the rights and living conditions of the deafblind in Europe – both persons who were born deafblind and those who developed the handicap later on”, consultant Helle Buelund from Centre for Deafblindness and Hearing Loss (Center for Døvblindhed og Høretab – Denmark) says.
“People with deafblindness and their families all came from several of the participating partner countries. Together they decided on and approved the seven areas in the project that resulted in a survey, to which almost a 100 people with deafblindness from different countries replied. The seven areas were: 1) The number of people with deafblindness demographically. 2) Private life and family life. 3) Choices and control. 4) Access to aid and services. 5) Education and lifelong learning. 6) Working life. 7) Income and poverty”, Helle Buelund explains. Helle Buelund is furthermore certain that the success of the project can be traced directly to the level of involvement of people with deafblindness.
“ The group of people, who was also the focus of the project, were actively participating and given a voice was an important factor in qualifying the project. This furthermore meant that we were able to continuously discuss whether we were moving in the right direction, and if there was anything we had failed to take into consideration. This was also of great value to the deafblinds, and some would express a how thismade them feel equal”, Charlotte Van der Molengraft explains.
Big national differences
It was a visit at the Centre for Deafblindness and Hearing Loss that lead the Catalan chairman of the European Deafblind Network to come up with the idea for a European partnership, which would help in mapping the seven areas of focus in a European context. The chairman’s inspiration to start up the partnership was brought about after having seen a publicly funded organisation offering new possibilities supporting the ability to live a dignified life as a deafblind. In Comparison to a lot of other countries deafblind organisations are usually dependent on funding and private donations.
“In Denmark, we have a pretty good idea of the number of people with deafblindness but this is not necessarily the case in other countries. Because of the Nordic welfare model, , we are able to offer services compensating for the loss of senses, so that deafblind will have the same conditions for a dignified life as people with a normal eyesight and hearing. This would turn out to be the foundation of the project: “What does it take to offer a good service in a country?” We experienced that the other countries were quite impressed with the level of support we are able to offer in Denmark, and the exchange of experiences was all in all quite rewarding and insightful”, Helle Buelund explains.
Contact in the European Parliament
Overall, the partnership which is a pioneering project within this particular field has helped in directing the focus on the approximately three million people living with deafblindness in Europe. Helle Buelund, however, points out that the data, the partnerships have access to, is insufficient because there is no coherent organ ??? for people with deafblindness on a European level. In Germany alone for example, there is a range of different organisations, but no single one to manage the process of working together to the same end. Therefore, the gathering of information still needs work, and the partnership has opened up for the possibility to this reaching this end.
“The fact that we are working as a team has helped to narrow down the area of focus. Also, it is now much easier to access each other’s information, because of the large network we have created”, says Helle Buelund. She is furthermore pleased to see how the partners have made contact with a deaf politician in the European Parliament, Mr. Adam Kosa, who is set on continuing working on this important issue.
“Through the partnership, we have attracted some attention to the deafblind’s much different situations in Europe, and we have sent this report, one of the results of the project, to several political institutions, so it will be interesting to follow the continuing efforts of this group”, Helle Buelund explains.
There were 11 partners from: Spain, Catalonia, England, Scotland, France, Austria, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Danish partner, Centre for Deafblindness and Hearing Loss