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Befriending and digital support helps Sheila to improve her confidence

Sheila with her tablet

Sheila was born profoundly deaf and has recently developed macular degeneration; an eye condition that causes the loss of central vision. “Being deaf, I feel my eyes are very important; especially for lip reading and using British Sign Language (BSL), so losing my sight has been devastating.” She said.

As Sheila’s condition worsened she found it more and more difficult to get out and about and to do the things she loves. As a result, her confidence has deteriorated. So she contacted Deafblind UK’s befriending service and was matched with Nicole; a young lady who is training to be a BSL interpreter. Nicole enjoys using sign language and working with people in the Deaf community. She wanted to enhance her skills by working with other BSL users, so it seemed like the perfect match.

Nicole regularly visits Sheila in her home in Sutton Coldfield. They have enjoyed getting to know each other and spend time talking about Sheila’s time as a teacher and Nicole’s family in Ireland.

Sheila said: “Meeting Nicole has been so lovely; I look forward to seeing her, I enjoy her company and our conversations. Nicole and I share the same passion and knowledge about deaf awareness and I like that.

I enjoy telling her my stories and I can see her becoming a wonderful interpreter in the future. Nicole is my friend, we have fun together, we help and support each other – she has increased my confidence massively.”

Befriending has increased Sheila’s confidence so much that she has decided to take the plunge and learn how to use a tablet computer; something she never thought she would be able to do!

For many years, Sheila has used a fax machine to communicate with her daughters. But as fax machines are fast becoming obsolete, they began to find it increasingly difficult to maintain contact with each other and decided to review other options.

In April 2017, Sheila and her daughter met Deafblind UK’s Digital Inclusion Officer, Tim, who spent some time reviewing their situation. Tim then recommended that Sheila tries a tablet computer loaded with Synapptic; a software package designed for people with vision and hearing impairments. He coached her in how to use the tablet, making sure that she was learning at her own pace. Sheila quickly got the hang of it and was delighted at the chance to borrow a tablet from Deafblind UK until she decides to buy one.

After just a few months, Sheila could confidently communicate with her daughters in real time through emails. She is also learning how to use video calls so that she can communicate with her daughters using BSL.

Read more about Deafblind UK’s Digital Inclusion project here.

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