Deafblind Care ‘Postcode Lottery’

Deafblind people in Scotland face a “postcode lottery” of services, it has been claimed. Glasgow man Michael Anderson, who has the condition, said there was a shortage of trained professionals, known as guide communicators. They are funded by local authorities and are available for between two and 25 hours per week in different areas. The Scottish Executive said it was working on a number of initiatives to help people and respond to their needs.

The charity Deafblind Scotland is liaising with First ScotRail to raise awareness among rail workers of the support needed by deafblind commuters.

ScotRail staff take part in practical exercises at its Training Academy in Glasgow, which is being run by Stephen Joyce, 33, who was born profoundly deaf and is now losing his sight.

Mr Anderson, originally from Surrey and now living in Glasgow, said there was “a world of a difference” from the familiarity of his own home to navigating roads on the way to the rail station.

Whereas he has a specific location for a dishcloth in his house which he never changes, outside his four walls he has traffic lights to negotiate and other obstacles to face.

“Things have improved in the past few years,” said the 65-year-old. Without a guide communicator I’m relying on rail staff or other rail users to help me.”
He added: “I don’t have the freedom to travel anywhere. Everything has to be planned days in advance.”

Deafblind Scotland, a charity which works with about 700 deafblind people, is liaising with First ScotRail to raise awareness of the challenges they face.

The organisation’s Jill Robertson said it exists to enable deafblind people to do what they want and help integrate them with society.

At the Training Academy, Mr Joyce advises how best to help deafblind rail users and helps staff become more confident in how they deal with them.

Deafblind people need contextual information to help them. The most effective way to communicate with deafblind people is using the deafblind manual.

First ScotRail’s Julie McComasky said it was also working with Capability Scotland to find out how it could improve rail services. She said other bodies within the rail industry should consider introducing similar training schemes.

A spokesperson for the executive said: “While it is for local authorities to deliver services on the ground, we are working with a range of partners including the voluntary sector on a number of initiatives to further improve access to care services and support for this group.”

The executive’s Sensory Impairment Action Plan is aimed at improving access to community care services for all people with sensory impairments and should be in place by 2007, the spokesperson added.

“Our steering group, including members of Deafblind Scotland, is presently working on a training strategy, and basic awareness training for social care staff is being developed with funding by the executive.

“We are also preparing guidance for social work to highlight the action that needs to be taken to meet the needs of this group.

“We are working towards doubling the numbers of British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, including funding the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI) to work with five universities to develop and deliver a training course for BSL tutors designed to increase the number of trainee interpreters significantly.”