• August 12, 2020

CATES: It’s deaf-blind awareness week - Odessa American: Health

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CATES: It’s deaf-blind awareness week

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Posted: Monday, June 22, 2020 4:00 am

One of my favorite quotes is from Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Helen Keller’s story was required reading when I was in school. I hope that even though her story now is quite old, it still is told to our children. Helen Keller despite profound disability — she was both deaf and blind, not only triumphed over those challenges in her own life, she set a magnificent example of the power of determination and persistence.

One of the things Helen Keller did that is very dear to my heart is charge the Lions Club International with protecting sight. That is why the vast majority of Eye Banks across the U.S. and the world are managed by the Lions. She may not have had sight herself, but she has restored sight and given sight to millions through her work over her lifetime and beyond — and that is only one of her many, many accomplishments.

In the words of the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults, “Of all the obstacles people who are deaf-blind overcome, misconceptions don’t have to be one of them.”

Like so many things, often the solution to creating opportunities and correcting diseases is awareness. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation making the last week of June National Deaf-Blind awareness week to help increase awareness of the issues that deaf-blind people face and hopefully make their obstacles fewer.

When I was a kid, reading about Helen Keller, I remember thinking she had to be the only one.

In reality, deaf-blindness, though rare, is more prevalent than most people think. According to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commission, between 70,000 and 100,000 people in the U.S. are deaf-blind. Approximately 10,000 of those are children.

There are several major causes for deaf-blindness: genetic syndromes like CHARGE, Usher, and Trisomy 21, congenital anomalies like hydrocephaly, cytomegalovirus, or microcephaly; it can be linked to fetal alcohol syndrome; maternal drug abuse; prematurity; AIDS; rubella; herpes; syphilis; and toxoplasmosis.

It can also be cause by head injuries from trauma, stroke, encephalitis, meningitis and hypoxia (low blood oxygen — which can damage the brain). Deaf-blind does not necessarily mean no hearing and no sight, it is a range of hearing and sight disabilities, so some people may have some vision and some hearing, or some hearing and no vision, or some vision and no hearing, all the way to people like Helen Keller who were completely deaf and completely blind.

According to the Helen Keller National Center, there are many challenges for deaf-blind people but one of the biggest is making sense of the world with the limited information they have available.

Think about another person walking up to you. If you could not see or hear, how would you know you are being approached until that person is close enough to touch you? Knowing that it’s not surprising that many deaf-blind people as they are learning to live with their disability find the world an unpredictable maybe even threatening place.

Communication is also a big challenge. We have sign language for people who are deaf, we have Braille for people who cannot see, but how does a person who cannot see or hear communicate? Primarily thorough touch, and increasingly through technology advances.

In the era of COVID and social distancing, which is a challenge to all of us, imagine how incredibly difficult it must be for those people who are deaf-blind where every communication is also a potential exposure.

The best thing we all can do in regard to deaf-blindness is prevention.

Many of the causes of deaf-blindness are preventable. Good prenatal care can prevent many of these issues — it is so important for this reason and hundreds of others that pregnant women regularly visit with a health care provider who is qualified to provide pre-natal care (e.g. Obstetricians, family medicine physicians, nurse practitioners or physician assistants that specialize in obstetrics, licensed nurse midwives).

Seat belts, airbags and helmets can decrease the severity of head injury in trauma related injuries. If you suspect you or someone you love is having a stroke — call 911 immediately so that stroke has the best possible chance of being treated. Several of the diseases that are related to deaf-blindness can be prevented with vaccination.

Please take some time this week to think about hearing and sight, and how precious they are. If you would like more information on deaf-blindness, the National Center on Deaf-Blindness nationaldb.org and The Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths & Adults helenkeller.org are great resources.

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