For the month of June, the Gaskin Lion statue in Kingston’s Macdonald Park will take on a more colourful look than usual. As part of Deafblind Awareness Month, members of Kingston’s deafblind community have ‘yarn-bombed’ the statue, covering it in a colourful quilt with the goal of raising public awareness of the experiences of those who are deafblind.
Those who took part in the yarn-bombing event on Thursday, Jun. 1, 2023, hope it will encourage people to ask questions and become more comfortable interacting with the members of the deafblind community. “Mainly, this is to attract people to come look at the information we provide and also for people who are around when we’re doing this [to come] see some of the stuff we do,” said Armando Del Gobbo.
For Anna Lindsay, events like Thursday’s ‘yarn-bombing’ and Deafblind Awareness Month are also important ways to educate deafblind people about services available to them. “The more people promote awareness, the better it will be for everyone else,” she said. “There’s very few of us in Ontario. The more we put out the awareness, the more people will come out and say, ‘Oh, I need this help.’ Some people don’t realize there is help for [those who are] deafblind.”
Held each June, Deafblind Awareness Month is intended to help Canadians become more aware of and familiar with people in their communities who are deafblind. Organized by the Canadian National Institution for the Blind (CNIB) Foundation, yarn-bombing events take place throughout the month, creating tactile art installations which can encourage people to learn more about those who are deafblind — individuals living with dual sensory loss or impairment.
As to how members of the community can make Kingston a more inclusive place for the deafblind community, Del Gobbo said the key is to ask questions: “Come talk to us and become more aware of what deafblindness means to different people… It’s like any other disability: people don’t pay an awful lot of attention unless it hits them personally… So the more we spread the word, hopefully the more contact will happen.”
When communicating with someone who is deafblind, Del Gobbo noted the importance of giving clear signals to the person you are engaging with. “[A] very important thing to remember is to let the person know you are actually talking to them. You [should] make some kind of contact, like tapping them on the arm.” Without clear signals, Del Gobbo warned it might be difficult for deafblind people to know you are speaking to them: “Otherwise, we get into conversations, at least I do, where [we] don’t belong,” he said with a laugh.
As is the case with many disabilities, no two people who are deafblind have the same level of impairments; according to Del Gobbo, this further illustrates the importance of open communication between those who are deafblind and those who are not. “It’s different with each person. Some of us have a little bit of hearing, some of us have a little bit of sight,” he said.
“We have different ways of communicating, [too]… like two-hand manual communication, plain language, and some people can do hand-over-hand sign language,” added Lindsay.
Often it’s the wide range of impairments and abilities that creates further confusion amongst certain members of the public. “People think that once you get a hearing aid, everything’s fine [and] there’s no other problem. But you have to pay attention: it says ‘hearing aids’ not ‘hearing replacement,’” said Del Gobbo. “Because we wear hearing aids, it helps a little but. [But] just like somebody wearing glasses, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to have 20/20 vision,” he added.
Deafblind Awareness Month also draws attention to those who play an important role in helping deafblind people navigate a world that largely caters to those who can see and hear: deafblind intervenors. “Otherwise, you’re pretty isolated,” Del Gobbo explained. “If you can’t see or you can’t hear, your world is shut down to your arm’s length. [Intervenors] help us to come out of our closed room and open up the world to us by describing what we would be seeing [or hearing].”
One mistake people sometimes make when communicating with those who are deafblind, Lindsay said, is that they direct their communication to her intervenor as opposed to speaking to her directly. “When people talk to my intervenor instead of [to me], [it] feels a little degrading, like I’m invisible. But I’m not invisible,” she emphasized.
When asked what the City of Kingston could do to further support the local deafblind community, Del Gobbo pointed to the need for greater community outreach. “The accessibility has to happen with the community at large, rather than just the physical city. The City could add [more] signage for low-vision people… but in general, it’s people’s attitudes. For example, this morning I was at the hospital, and they didn’t have a clue how to help me or how to guide me… So I took time to say, ‘OK, this how you guide a blind person, this is how you communicate,’” he said.
“Don’t be afraid to come up to a deafblind person and see if they need help,” added Lindsay
The Gaskin Lion will remain yarn-bombed throughout the month of June. A sign with more information about Deafblind Awareness Month will also be added to the statue, including a QR code which people can scan to obtain more information about the cause and about the deafblind community.