Working with Intervenors who are Deaf – Top 10 Reasons
The IOO supports and welcomes members of the Deaf community providing services to people who are Deafblind, be it as an intervenor, interpreter, communication facilitator or SSP (Support Service Provider). The impact that a member of the Deaf community can have when working with someone who is Deafblind can be invaluable, yet for some people, it leaves them puzzled; how can the role of an intervenor, being a person's eyes and ears, be performed by someone who does not hear? How do they relay auditory information?
The following is a list of the top ten reasons why Deaf people not only perform the role but do so very well. They are appreciated members of the intervenor and Deafblind community.
Visual World - An intervenor who is Deaf has a lived experience as a person who depends on visual information and a visual language, offering them a unique perspective; an attention to visual details that a hearing person would not perceive or realize. When acting as someone's eyes, this ability allows them to naturally and eloquently express the visual world in a visual way as this is hardwired into their way of thinking and communicating. To think and dream with images not spoken words, to live in a world of relative silence. For example, when a person or object is described using classifiers or a butterfly or sunset explained in such a way that it brings you to tears because its beauty has been brought to life in sign language.
Deaf Like Me - For those members of the Deafblind community (i.e. those who have Usher Syndrome type I) they are accustom to the struggles of communicating with the hearing world, and when an intervenor who is Deaf writes notes to relay a comment to a teller, or gestures to relay a person's order at Tim Hortons, this is seen as normal behaviour from the Deafblind persons' perspective and they understand and relate to the challenge. It is not seen as a hinderance or annoyance since this has been their reality too. It enforces the bond they have with a fellow Deaf person.
ASL Experts - We work with a diverse group of people; seniors, young adults, children. For those Deafblind individuals who use older signs, depend on fingerspelling, use home signs/gestures or those who have health issues, like Cerebral Palsy which affects their ability to form handshapes of restricts movement, an intervenor who is Deaf can be an excellent match. As native ASL users, an intervenor who is Deaf knows the historically used signs used in their community, sees fingerspelling as movements and shapes, picks up on the nuances of the language; grammatical features like head or body shifting, eye gaze, facial expressions and can understand the message with minimal difficulty.
Shadowing - As a native ASL user, an intervenor who is Deaf can shadow or relay signs to the person who is Deafblind; ASL to ASL adapted, or ASL to tactile ASL. They have an instant understanding of the source message and can shadow this message with relative ease. Shadowing is a skill that takes practice but having the source message in your native language, increasing the ability to copy and interpret the emotion and intent of the message.
Active Members in the Deaf Community - As with any language, new words are introduced or take on new meaning; languages evolve. For people who are Deafblind, due to their vision loss and reduced interaction with other members of the Deaf community, they may be unaware of these changes or it may take longer for them to be exposed to the new signs. An intervenor who is Deaf, can pass on these new signs i.e. Deaf community's agreed upon sign for iPhone, iPad, emoticons, Trump, Trudeau, etc. It is cultural appropriate and respectful for another Deaf person to show a new sign vs. a hearing person doing so.
Language Exposure - For those members of the Deafblind community who are not native ASL users, but see the benefit in learning sign language, a Deaf intervenor can be that language role model or tutor. For example, someone who has Usher Syndrome Type II and realizes the benefits of using signs as their hearing declines, or they understand the importance of communicating with other people in the Deafblind community who use sign. This exposure to ASL occurs during regular intervenor services as the intervenor who is Deaf uses the proper signs for items. For example, while grocery shopping (signs for food items), going to the bank (bank terms, numbers), relaying stories from the newspaper (wide range of vocabulary to share). This language exposure also transfers down to other people who engage with the person who is Deafblind, i.e. family members, peers, employers, other intervenors, volunteers, etc.
Deaf Events - When a person who is Deafblind is attending a Deaf or Deafblind event or social and the primary language is ASL, having an intervenor who is Deaf is ideal. The Deaf intervenor would typically know many people in the crowd (and that person's sign name) and can relay this visual information to the Deafblind person. Again, they are able to shadow and relay conversations in their native language and will not struggle to understand any of the Deaf members comments.
Shared Culture - The person who is Deafblind, if they are culturally Deaf, will have a sense of comfort and ease with a Deaf intervenor as they share cultural norms.
Team Work - Often, an intervenor who is Deaf will be asked to team with a hearing intervenor or interpreter when the expressive or receptive communication of the Deafblind person is seen as challenging or unique or when the content or concept is difficult to relay, due to several factors. A person who is Deaf, especially those who have worked or have been trained as a Deaf Interpreter, have a real skill at taking a concept and expressing it in a culturally appropriate way.
Helps Create Understanding in the Deaf Community - In a community that is often restricted in the number of people they can effectively communicate with, having a member of the Deaf community working with them, increases the number of people in that person's world and the Deaf person's exposure trickles down to other members of the Deaf community, hopefully increase the empathy within that community to the impact of Deafblindness.
As with any intervenor, the IOO hopes that an individual (hearing or Deaf) is chosen based on the behavioural competency framework – meaning they have the right personality and qualities for this specialized career, and that this person receives training based on the technical competencies. Both of these competencies were developed by the Intervenor Services Human Resource Strategy (ISHRS) initiative.
Historically, the intervenor training options for a person who is Deaf were limited. We congratulate George Brown College on their decision to accept people who are Deaf into the intervenor program and thank the ISHRS for considering the training needs of people who are Deaf when developing the competency framework.
The IOO hopes that more members of the Deaf community seek out this line of work and support the Deafblind community.