“Technology is important for aiding the people we support – from making a cup of tea to accessing the wider community”
Deanne Weller, a vision and rehabilitation specialist for SeeAbility, explains how the charity is helping people to increase their independence and quality of life
For Deanne Weller, there is no such thing as a typical day. “I work across 11 SeeAbility services in the northern part of the south-east of England – including day centres, residential homes and supported-living facilities suited to a range of different needs – and my role is completely varied,” she says.“This afternoon, for instance, I will be working with someone on how to interact with staff in a supermarket as, due to his sight loss and autism, he finds it hard. After that, I’ll be teaching a lady whose mobility has deteriorated how to use a new mobility aid, then helping someone who lives by herself to learn a new route to a shop she wants to be able to access independently. My job is all about supporting independence.”
Deanne began working as a vision and rehabilitation specialist at SeeAbility 17 years ago, after seeing the difference she could make to the life of someone with sight loss. “At first, I was working for the charity as a support worker, and I remember a rehabilitation worker teaching someone we supported how to make a cup of tea. I was insistent I could make it for her, but he showed me what he was doing and I watched her learn to do it herself. I wanted to be part of that teaching process – helping people to reach their potential and be able to do things that they’ve always wanted to do.”
Helping people with sight loss and multiple disabilities – including autism and learning disabilities – to live as independently as they can and fulfil their potential is a main focus of SeeAbility. “We have a team of support workers, vision rehabilitation workers, positive behaviour support analysts and speech and language therapists, among others, who are all working towards the same goal.”
The money raised in The Candis Big Give will help to extend the charity’s support reach by providing new technology to aid with communication, specialist sensory equipment and home adjustments, which will give people greater independence and a better quality of life. “One of our homes needs some key adjustments, as most of the people living there use wheelchairs to get around outside and they can’t access the garden currently. We want to make clear pathways so people can self-propel themselves up, and create some pleasant places to sit in in the garden with sensory lights, and things such as trampolines and swings.
“When someone has a visual impairment, their surroundings are hugely important, and making small improvements such as adding additional rails for support and having the right lighting can make the difference between someone being able to do a task or not. We also try to provide multisensory equipment in many facilities, which people can interact with by pressing switches and touching surfaces. These are relaxing spaces where people can get away from it all when the world feels a bit overwhelming, and they also encourage people who may feel nervous about moving around to explore and learn in a safe environment.”
The charity is also keen to invest in new technology. “This is hugely important for aiding the people we support in many tasks – big or small. We work with one lady who loves a cup of tea but struggles with waiting for help, so we have taught her to make her own using a machine where rather than having to pick up a kettle and try to aim and pour, she can put her cup under it and press a button. She’s now fully involved in the process, which decreases her frustration and reliance on others.
“We also often connect electrical equipment to a power link, which makes any piece of equipment switch-accessible. The people we support can then use a large switch to turn their hairdryer on and off, for example if they struggle with fiddly smaller buttons. We also work with a lady who has connected her iPad to switches so she can control how long she is watching TV programmes for, as online TV shows can often roll on and on with one episode after the next and she may not always be able to alert staff when she’s had enough.”
Technology also helps the people we support to access the wider community “There’s a real need for more iPads for the people we support, as they are great for helping people to communicate with their loved ones and others. Virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa open the door for many people to access standard technology, so they can easily find out what the weather will be or Skype their mum or dad without having to navigate a flatscreen or rely on someone else to do it for them.
“Technology opens up choice and independence and empowers people. For some, independence may not necessarily be living a life like we do, but it might be being able to make their own meal or vacuum their own room, which many of us take for granted but for some people is the ultimate goal. Given the right support, equipment and surroundings, the people we support can achieve far more than they thought was possible and live their lives to the full.”
SeeAbility (the Royal School for the Blind) supports people with sight loss and
multiple disabilities – such as autism and learning disabilities – through its residential homes, supported-living facilities, day centres and outreach services. Its aim is to help people to live as independently as possible.The charity will use the money raised in The Candis Big Give to extend its support for people with learning disabilities, autism and sight loss by providing new technology to aid with communication, sensory equipment to help with relaxation and learning, or home adjustments. The money will be used across all its homes, wherever it is needed.
For more information, call 01372 755 000 or visit seeability.org.