In commemoration of Blind-Deaf Awareness Month in Ontario, the Canadian Helen Keller Centre (CHKC) and Rotary Cheshire Homes (RCH) hosted the 12th annual JuneFest awareness festival last week on Wednesday.
“I’ve gone (to JuneFest) every year since it started,” said Megan McHugh, training instructor at CHKH, on Empress Drive in North York.
“It’s a really great event to provide awareness to the community and for blind-deaf people, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get together.”
JuneFest was held at Mel Lastman Square, on Yonge Street north of Sheppard Avenue, where there were demonstrations of storytelling in American sign language, two-hand manual language and orientation and mobility tutorials.
There was also live entertainment, music, A barbecue and other activities.
More than 100 students from five schools across Toronto participateD in the festival for a second year in a row. Youth-oriented programs and games will give them the opportunity to learn how to read Braille, sign the American Sign Language, and many other forms of communication.
Information booths from non-profit organizations and service agencies were set up to provide information about their resources. As well, there were booths displaying the latest technological devices to enhance communication for blind-deaf persons.
“People will assume that if you’re blind and deaf, you have no vision and no hearing,” said McHugh.
“But the majority of people who are deaf-blind have some vision or some hearing.”
McHugh teaches computer technology training to help deaf-blind people get the most accessibility out of their computers, iPads and iPhones.
Technology has a huge impact in how deaf and blind people are able to communicate and connect with people, and she said the smartphone has probably played the biggest role.
There are simple ways to adjust a smartphone’s interface to change the background, font size, voice command system and other features to accommodate a person’s needs.
McHugh’s eyes are sensitive to light and she has a very narrow field of vision. Her iPhone’s screen is adjusted to have a negative interface and the font is large enough for her to read at arm’s length.
McHugh said training is important for giving deaf-blind individuals as much independence as possible.
“For me, it’s everything.”
An estimated 15,500 Canadians are both deaf and blind. The CHKC and RCH provide services for those who live in Toronto, but they are looking to expand.
“There are people outside of Toronto who desperately need this training,” said McHugh. “We need our funding to provide for people in all of Ontario.”
CHKC provides a range of training programs to teach deaf-blind individuals basic skills – cooking, money management and using an intervener or interpreter – as well as a range of alternative communication methods.
RCH provides a housing facility in North York for deaf-blind individuals. Its tenants are active adults and seniors who live independently in their own apartments.
RHC staff are fluent in various communication methods to offer a barrier-free environment for the tenants.