A new digital inclusion project launched by Deafblind UK is the latest in a string of firsts being celebrated by the charity during Deafblind Awareness Week (24th - 30th June), as part of its 85th anniversary celebrations.

Online PR News – 24-June-2013 – Peterboroough – Since its inception in 1928, Deafblind UK has pioneered ways to improve the lives of people with a combined sight and hearing loss. From launching the first magazine for a deafblind readership (1929) to providing purpose built flats for people with a combined sight and hearing loss (1963), Deafblind UK continues to introduce new ways to enable its members to retain independence and avoid social, and more recently digital, exclusion.

The latest project, Connecting Lives, is unique in demonstrating the accessibility features and software now available on mainstream devices that can work to enrich the lives of people who are deafblind. It works to show deafblind people that, with the right technologies, the internet can provide them with a simple means to communicate with families and friends (via Skype, email or social media), access information without help (from reading the news to getting information from a support agency) and provide a means of entertainment (games, puzzles and books).

In addition to providing one to one sessions for people with a combined sight and hearing loss, Deafblind UK helps people to identify the right equipment and software for their needs. If the individual cannot afford to buy the equipment, Deafblind UK can also help to source potential funders.

Jeff Skipp, CEO at Deafblind UK said: “We are passionate about providing deafblind people with the same opportunities as everyone else and email is one very simple way in which we can do this. Getting our members online and set up with an email account enables them to communicate with the rest of the world on an equal basis, whether they wish to contact their local MP, a friend or an energy supplier. Most of us take these activities for granted, but for a deafblind person, trying to communicate with the outside world can prove to be incredibly difficult and frustrating. We are working with our members to help them understand how these simple technologies can make such a huge difference to their quality of life.

“Connecting Lives is a fantastic new project but is just one of the many services that we offer to our members. Technology may have come on in leaps and bounds since our charity began, but the need for human contact has been a constant throughout our long history. Through our continually expanding range of services, including a free advice and information line, volunteer befrienders, support to attend medical appointments and peer support groups, we work closely with our members to enable them to remain living in, and participate with, their local communities – to the benefit of us all”.


What is deafblindness?

Defined as “a combined sight and hearing loss causing difficulties with communication, access to information and mobility” (Social Care for Deafblind Children and Adults, LAC 2009(8), Department of Health), deafblindness ranges from people with some residual sight and hearing to those with profound loss who rely on touch to communicate.

In the UK today, there are an estimated 356,000 deafblind people. From this number, 222,000 are aged over 70. Our ageing population means that by 2030 this number will almost double to 418,000, from a total number of 569,000 deafblind people in the UK (Sense).

Impact of deafblindness

The Department of Health states that “people who have dual sensory loss are among those who are most disabled by the norms of our society” (Think Dual Sensory, 1995, Department of Health).

Deafblindness affects an individual’s ability to access mainstream information and services, engage socially, conduct daily tasks and get out and about. If the appropriate care and support is not provided, the inability to perform these activities can lead to diminished independence and confidence which often leads to isolation, anxiety and depression.

A history of firsts for Deafblind UK

1928 – Launched as The National Deafblind Helpers League by a small group of deafblind people and carers to offer mutual support and understanding in the face of ‘unjustifiably cruel and hard’ conditions

1929 – ‘Braille Rainbow’ the first magazine for a deafblind readership launched. During WW2, it was considered so important that it was one of very few publications exempt from paper rationing. Today called ‘Open Hand’, the magazine is produced in five different formats.

1948 - Arthur Sculthorpe, General Secretary of the National Deafblind Helpers League, made the first broadcast appeal by a deafblind person on the BBC, raising more than £6,000.

1963 - Rainbow Court opened in Peterborough comprising of 12 flats designed to enable deafblind adults to live independently - unique in the UK. Refurbished flats continue to be used today. A “see by touch” garden created in 1990 has plants chosen for texture and fragrance.

1999 - Dr Philip Gafga became the first deafblind Chair of a national voluntary organisation. He led the establishment of our National Centre for Deafblindness in Peterborough, with its unique deafblind heritage exhibition.

2009 - Dr Rosemary Sandford became the first woman Chair. She gained her PhD from the University of Newcastle in 2011 for her thesis on the deafblind poet, Jack Clemo and is the Editor of Open Hand.

2012 - Deafblind UK launched About Me and i-decide; social enterprises that utilise the charity’s experience to deliver expert services to a wider range of people.