24 June 2015
Australia's 300,000-strong DeafBlind community is celebrating the technological advances creating a bridge to the hearing community.
58 year old Stephen Hallinan was born hearing impaired and his vision began to deteriorate at the age of 10. He was totally blind by the age of 38.
The Newcastle resident’s only way of communicating was with hearing aids but, as his sight deteriorated, he realised he had been relying on lip reading to understand what people were saying.
Stephen is now one of only five people in the world participating in a trial of a braille telephone system (CapTel) and he is telling his story for Deafblind Awareness Week. The annual event is celebrated internationally to coincide with Helen Keller’s birthday on June 27, and encourages the community to become more aware of the challenges face by people who have vision and hearing impairment.
Stephen said he relies on technology to connect with his family and friends, and the rest of the outside world.
“At present the most important devices I use for communication are computer and telephone-based technologies,” Stephen explained.
“I have recently begun using an iPhone with a braille display connected via Bluetooth and this has given me the ability to send and receive texts – something I had never been able to do before.”
National non-profit organisation Conexu, which promotes communication technology for the deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired, has recently introduced braille CapTel to Australia.
Stephen said although access to technology was important, the work of the community and groups such as Conexu was vital in improving life for those who are DeafBlind.
“Support from various blindness agencies, from audiological services, from various specialist Deafblind agencies and user-led organisations have all made significant difference,” he said.
Conexu Chief Strategy Officer Rachel McKay said highlighting the lives of DeafBlind people in Australia would lead to a better understanding.
“An enormous number of people with vision and hearing loss can’t simply pick up the phone to do the things that so many of us take for granted,” Ms McKay said.
“They miss out on the easy joys of a quick chat with family or friends, and can feel very isolated and confined.”
During Deafblind Awareness Week, Able Australia is asking the public to donate any smartphones (and chargers) that they no longer need.
The phones will be recycled and adapted to be used as Braille interfaces and voice synthesizers.
Able Australia is also inviting the public to host a silent morning tea at their workplace or home on Friday 26 June.