Intervenor services coordinators Gabriel Lombardo and Rochelle Pereira provided an international audience with an overview of how Sensity has managed the novel coronavirus pandemic and examples of existing and alternative techniques used to help individuals who are deafblind understand and adapt to COVID-19 challenges.
Their 45-minute presentation, The New Reality of Living a Pandemic Life, was part of the first ever Deafblind International webinar series held on Zoom from June 22 to 26, based on the theme Living with Deafblindness in a New Reality. About 3,700 people from around the world registered for the webinar series.
Rochelle noted consistent routine is so important for people in Sensity’s services.
But all of a sudden, that was taken away by COVID-19. They couldn’t be out in the community, they couldn’t visit their families.
Sensity responded to the health dangers posed by COVID-19 by suspending non-essential travel, limiting the number of people coming in and out of the residential settings, restricting visitors, including parents, and/or travel to family homes.
So how we can better support individuals who are deafblind gain a stronger perspective on this particular virus and support them in adapting to the current ways of living? Rochelle said.
It meant creating “new” consistent routines.
Many activities become online or virtual, such as games night, paint night, music therapy, escape rooms, workouts and yoga. But they continued to follow the routine of being planned in advance to allow the individual to anticipate and become familiar with the activities.
“Staying connected is a top priority for us,” Gabriel said. Video conferencing platforms such as Zoon were used to help individuals stay connected to family members and friends.
“As a coordinator I connect with my families and the people we support in our services through Zoom and Google Meet online once a week. This is just to touch base with them and let them know we are there to support them and be with them through this pandemic answering questions they have,” Rochelle said.
COVID-19 brought new concepts to teach, such as social distancing.
A measuring tape and length of rope were tactile cues used to teach the two metres/six feet required for social distancing, Gabriel said.
“Some of our clients even use masking tape to have markings where a person should be standing when they’re communicating,” he said.
One person in Sensity’s services began cutting out newspaper articles pertaining to COVID-19 to create an experience book related to the pandemic. Intervenors would assist with unfamiliar words and include them in the experience book for the next time he encounters them in an article.
When intervenors were issued personal protective equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks and gloves, that created another challenge. Individuals weren’t used to having their intervenor’s face hidden.
A surgical mask mounted on black cardboard created a tactile cue used to indicate to the person when it was time for their intervenor to wear a mask, Gabriel said. The cue became part of the person’s calendar system.
Rochelle noted that social distancing is not always possible with the deafblind community because they can rely on touch for communication, such as hand-over-hand communication or print on palm. It made following proper hygiene such as hand-washing or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer crucial for intervenors.
“What we have seen in the Sensity community is sometimes people we support don’t prefer stronger smells, so we urge the intervenors to use non-scented soaps or hand sanitizers,” she added.
Sensity developed partnerships with local stores, such as making group orders for groceries to enable contactless shopping as another means of reducing contact with outsiders.