Help for Those With Special Needs
PEOPLE who have no sense impairments generally give little thought to those who do, unless they are members of their own family. Yet, the matter deserves attention. In Britain there is debate about how those who are sense impaired can be integrated into the community.
Jack Ashley, a British Member of Parliament who is deaf, points to the need of understanding. “Most people are ignorant of the problems of the deaf,” he explains. “Above all, [the deaf] need understanding from hearing people, appreciation of the gravity of their disability, and respect for their individual qualities which are unimpaired, except in the imagination of others.”—Italics ours.
Just because people are deaf does not mean that their mental faculties are in any way impaired. Yet, one bright young woman who cannot hear says that some people seem to view her as mentally retarded. When she and her husband had an interview with an insurance salesman, he asked why they were staring at him. On learning that they were both deaf and trying to lip-read, he readily understood.
Similarly, it is not unusual for some to feel ill at ease when around the blind. So while most may want to help when a blind person is waiting to cross the street, not all stop and do so. Why? Often because of uncertainty about the blind person’s reaction to the offered assistance. The blind, however, generally welcome help when it is offered in a natural, polite way, even as help might be offered to someone elderly or someone who may seem to need help in carrying a heavy load. How fine, therefore, to conquer feelings of unease and kindly offer to help!
If you had to give up one of your five principal senses, you would probably choose to do without your sense of smell. It is considered less important than the other senses. But a woman who lost the ability to smell lamented: “I felt handicapped in all kinds of ways. I’d always loved cooking but it was impossible. I’d either over-season or under-season.”
So even the loss of this seemingly less important sense can be tragic. Ellis Douek of Guy’s Hospital, London, says: “You have to take [the loss of the sense of smell] very seriously. The majority of sufferers are very distressed and some actually become clinically depressed. They feel they are living in a colourless world. Smell can have a more profound emotional content than people realize.”
The degree of sense impairment may differ greatly from one person to another. One may be totally deaf, having no residual hearing, while another may find it difficult to hear under certain circumstances, perhaps when there is much background noise. Actually, most deaf people can hear some sound, even though they cannot hear speech. It is similar with vision. Some people are totally blind. But in the United States, a person is considered legally blind if he can only see from 20 feet [6.1 m] (with glasses or contact lenses) what someone with normal sight sees from 200 feet [61 m].
Help From Technology
To deal with the varying degrees of impairment, skilled professionals have a whole range of devices to measure the extent of disability. For example, technicians use equipment to establish the level of hearing. Then doctors try to determine the type of impairment. Is the problem due to faulty transmission of the electrical impulses to the brain? Is the impairment correctable with surgery?
Similarly, optometrists and ophthalmic consultants measure the eye’s capabilities. Their findings help doctors determine the cause of the sight defect and possible treatment. About 95 percent of all cases of blindness are said to be caused by disease, and the rest by injuries.
Once the cause and scope of the sense impairment has been identified, the question of help can be addressed. Technology offers some answers in the form of appliances that enhance the impaired senses. For the hearing impaired, there are hearing aids, which are battery-operated devices with an earpiece that is sometimes molded to fit inside the person’s ear. These take advantage of residual hearing in an effort to give a deaf person some ability to hear speech. For the visually impaired, spectacles or contact lenses are often prescribed. Even such simple items as magnifying glasses have proved a boon to many. Others have been helped by corneal transplants.
For those who have lost their sense of smell, the trouble can sometimes be traced to nasal polyps, sinus problems, chronic colds, allergies, and rhinitis. Many of these conditions can be treated and cured medically.
Although medicine and technology can often improve the situation of sense-impaired people, there are other important sources of help.
Since a medical procedure may not always be successful or desirable, many sense-impaired people have sought to circumvent the sad consequences of their disabilities by living up to their fullest potential. They have done so by developing to the full the abilities and talents that they possess. One person who did this was Helen Keller, a famous author and lecturer, who was both blind and deaf. But there are many other sense-impaired people who have excelled in various fields.
When a handicapped person feels challenged to develop his or her skills, the result is often greater independence and self-respect, not to mention the aid that such a motivated person can be to others. Janice, who is both deaf and blind, notes: “There is great strength in compensating. It is amazing to see how Jehovah God made us in such a wonderful way that we can compensate for some loss.”
Many people who are blind or deaf become lonely. They lack companionship. How can this vital need be filled?
Sometimes pets can help. The useful cooperation between humans and animals finds perhaps its greatest expression in guide dogs for the blind. Guide-dog trainer Michael Tucker, author of The Eyes That Lead, believes that life with a guide dog opens up a whole new world for the blind, giving “freedom, independence, mobility and companionship.” A counterpart to dogs for the blind are ‘hearing-ear’ dogs for the deaf.
Yet, pets have helped many other impaired people. An organizer of a program to provide pets for the sick and the elderly comments: “You only have to see the joy they get. People who are so withdrawn they can hardly speak to anyone will respond to an animal.” Of course, the advantages of having the company of a pet have to be measured against the responsibility of caring for it.
Although a unique bond may grow between the sense-impaired person and an animal, it is by communication with other humans that greater help is available.
To promote better understanding between those whose senses are impaired and people who want to help, there needs to be good communication. But how is this possible when the very senses normally used in this process are impaired? That is where Braille, sign language, and lipreading prove helpful to many.
In 1824 Louis Braille, a 15-year-old blind student from France, developed a reading system based on a series of raised dots and dashes. Five years later he published the now famous dot system based on cells of six dots, with 63 possible arrangements representing the alphabet as well as punctuation and numbers. For the visually impaired, learning Braille represents a considerable commitment in terms of time and effort. Rather than viewing this as too great a challenge, the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) volume Working With Braille offers this assurance: “It must be emphasized that the perception of Braille characters is well within the capabilities of our tactile [touch] senses.”
Studies of Braille reading techniques show that those who achieved the highest speed and best reading skill with Braille were those who used the index fingers of both hands. They move their digits smoothly over the raised dots, achieving the reading speed of up to half that of a person visually reading print.
The growing availability of publications in Braille, as well as on audiocassettes, provides the visually impaired person access to many literary treasures. Foremost among them is the Bible, which can be obtained both in Braille and on cassette tapes from the publishers of this magazine. We also provide the books Listening to the Great Teacher and My Book of Bible Stories, as well as our companion magazine, The Watchtower, on tape. And beginning next year, Awake! will also be available on tape.
In regard to sign language, researchers J. G. Kyle and B. Woll say that understanding it is “the first step to breaking down barriers for all those in the deaf world.” Through this very effective medium of communication, the deaf feel at home with one another. It is a fine thing when those who can both hear and speak make the effort to learn sign language. In this way deaf and hearing people become more integrated, to their mutual benefit. Hearing people learn a new language and enrich their cultural experience, and deaf people gain greater access to the world of hearing people.
Interestingly, many people who are deaf from birth or from early infancy do not view themselves as being handicapped. The difference between them and hearing people is viewed as merely a language difference and a cultural difference. On the other hand, those who become deaf later in life through accident or disease often experience a much different psychological impact—a deep sense of loss. For many of these, sign language is a difficult remedy, since it requires learning an entirely new language. Many prefer training in lipreading and continued practice in maintaining their already developed speech.
Understanding how sense-impaired people feel as well as communicating with them does not remove the root of the problem. Their handicap remains. If it could be eradicated, then gone would be the inequalities, injustices, and problems that the sense-impaired suffer. Will that ever be?
[Box on page 5]
1. Knowledge. Try to discover as much as you can about your disability and how to relieve it.
2. Honesty. Be open and admit to your disability.
3. Empathy. Take the initiative to put others at ease and explain how they can best help.
4. Activity. To counteract depression, become involved in some physical or mental activity.
5. Courage. Compensate for feelings of inferiority by channeling your energy into activities you can do well.
[Box on page 6]
Help Others Can Give
1. Try to look at situations from the viewpoint of people with sensory impairments.
2. Include them in your regular activities. Do not isolate them.
3. Give them things to do that help them feel their worth.
4. Listen when they seek to communicate how they feel.
5. When you see a special need, do all you can to work with the disabled one in filling it.
[Picture on page 7]
Janice (left) is both blind and deaf, yet she shares fully in the Christian ministry
[Picture on page 8]
Pets can offer some measure of companionship